US Nanny Institute on July 15, 2020
In today’s world, America’s children can be very isolated from their peers. They may not have close friendships and may rarely see other children outside of school, unless it is an organized after school activity or a rare “play date” arranged totally by the parents. The whole concept of spontaneous play seems nonexistent. Today’s children rarely have free time to just hang out and talk with their friends and are missing these types of opportunities to develop their social skills.
There are several reasons for this. First, children have so much entertainment available on a variety of platforms that they often do not realize they lack in peer-to-peer interactions. Playing games online with friends is not the same experience as playing with friends in person. Also, parents today may not let their children out of their sight because of the fear they will be abducted. Another reason that children spend less time with their friends is the increased pressure for them to excel academically and their participation in organized extracurricular activities such as sports, student government and drama.
Childhood friends are crucial to a child’s healthy physical, social and emotional wellbeing. Studies show that children who play frequently with active friends are far more likely to be physically active. Physical activity reduces rates of obesity and boosts development of a child’s fine and gross motor skills. It also leads to less stress and better sleeping.
For children, making friends is a vital part of growing up and an essential part of their social development. While not every child has to be the most popular child in the class, it is important for children to make friends so they can learn how to handle relationships. This teaches social skills such as empathy, negotiation, fairness, and social competence.
Childhood friendships allow children to comprehend the meaning of friendship and the concept of good friends. They learn how to communicate effectively, cooperate, and solve problems. As conflicts arise, children learn how to deal with adversity and navigate through conflict. Friendships allow the child to develop leadership skills as they play with others and allow them to make decisions – both individually and as a group – without adult ‘interference’ or micromanagement. The child will learn to control their emotions and respond to the emotions of others. As children establish new friendships, they get a feeling of building their own little community and they learn that everyone is different and unique.
Friendships provide children with more than just fun playmates and social skills. They help children develop emotionally and morally. Studies have found that friendships enable children to learn about themselves and develop their own identity. One study noted children who did not have friendships reported being sadder and feeling less self-worth than their peers.
Creating friendships helps a child develop life skills that increase their wisdom, self-confidence and self-esteem. The opportunity of playing freely with other children helps a child develop their imagination. Children feel less alone and isolated when they have friends they can talk to about their concerns, dreams and fears.
Like all interpersonal relationships, making friends is not always easy and childhood friendships are full of ups and downs. It is not always easy for children to know how to manage friendships and learning how to keep and make new friends involves a few skills young children need to learn and develop. For some children, these skills come very naturally, and they move easily to and from friendship groups, sharing their experiences and opening up to new people. For other children, the world of friendships can be much harder to navigate.
A child is not born with social skills. He needs parents and caregivers who take an active role in preparing him to interact successfully with his peers. A child learns from the adults around him and their interactions with others. The child watches and learns as adults meet new people and talk to them, tell stories and jokes, and cooperate with others. The child learns how to win or lose well, to apologize and accept apologies as well as to accept compliments graciously and show admiration and appreciation. Furthermore, the child also learns patience, respect, and consideration.
It is beneficial for children to manage and build their own relationships, even though as parents and caregivers we may want to take responsibility or interfere. There are ways we can help children navigate friendships without taking over.
Begin at an early age and teach children positive social skills such as sharing, listening and consider how someone else may be feeling. Let the child see how you interact with your friends. Make sure the child has the opportunities- to meet lots of different people. Give children the opportunity to meet other children with the same interests through clubs or sports. Children often choose their friends based on common interests.
If a child has a falling out with a friend, do not try to ‘fix it”. Arguments are a natural part of friendships, and children benefit when they learn to manage and understand them. The conflict many seem trivial to you but could knock a child’s confidence and self-esteem or even make them feel guilty. If a child is experiencing a dispute with a friend, have a conversation with them about how they feel and how their friend might be feeling. Share some advice, help them to understand that there are always ups and downs in friendships, and offer a path forward. Unless there is a safety or bullying concern, you should not directly inject yourself into the situation.
Help the child learn games and sports. Being able to play games and sports is important for school-age children. They do not have to be the best player, but it is easier to join in and have fun if they know the rules and have the basic skills.
Teach the child how to handle different social situations. If a child will be encountering a new or difficult situation, talk to them about it beforehand. A child who has talked it over and has a plan will be more confident than a child thrust into a new situation without preparation.
If you are concerned about a child making enough friends, stop to consider why this may be the case. Does the child prefer one or two close friends rather than a wide circle of friends? Neither preference is ‘better’ than the other. What matters is that the child is comfortable and happy with his friends. If it seems that a child has no friends, talk to the child’s teacher, school or family counselor, or pediatrician for additional guidance and resources.
As a parent or caregiver, you play a crucial role in the child’s social development. You cannot make friends for the child, but your love, patience, and support make it possible for the child to meet new people and make friends on their own.
The US Nanny Institute provides online childcare classes with certification programs based on a curriculum specifically designed to advance the skills of Nannies and Sitters. The Nanny Institute has over 30 college faculty with a passion for education and childcare, bringing them together to help childcare providers gain practical skills and qualifications that benefit their careers and the children in their care.
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