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The importance of friendships
Friendships are an important part of childhood. Research has shown that children who have friends at school have better attitudes about school and learning. Even very young primary school-aged children highly value friendships. As children get older, friendships play an even more important role in their daily lives. Friends also help children to develop in a healthy way. For example,
- Friends help children to develop social skills, such as: problem-solving, communication, compromise, cooperation and conflict resolution.
- Through friendships, children develop emotional skills, such as: regulating their own emotions, considering others’ feelings and responding to others’ feelings.
- Friendships also help children to morally develop by learning to consider others’ views, needs, rights, and values, by learning about social norms, socially acceptable behaviour and about right versus wrong.
Helping your child to develop and maintain friendships
You play a very important role in helping your children to develop relationships with other people. Here are some helpful hints to assist your children to develop and maintain friendships:
- Develop a loving, accepting and respectful relationship with your children. This helps your children feel safe and self-confident and allows them to trust others. It also informs your children how to treat others and how they should expect to be treated.
- Talk with your children. Ask them questions. Actively listen to what they have to say. This helps your children to communicate with others and encourages them to communicate with you if they need help.
- Have clear and consistent rules at home that encourage your child to use acceptable behaviour and to understand the consequences of inappropriate behaviour. Children are not likely to play with children who annoy them. Children are more likely to play with children who behave in a way that they expect and that fits in with social norms.
- Model and teach your children skills in emotional understanding and regulation. Encourage your children to talk about their feelings. Acknowledge their feelings and help them learn ways to manage their feelings. These skills help your children to manage their own emotions and respond appropriately to other children’s emotions.
- Model and teach your children a variety of social skills. These skills help your children to know what to do when they meet children, how to communicate with children, how to interact and play with children and how to problem-solve, compromise and resolve conflict.
- Play with your children. Before they start school, play some simple games that children commonly play at school, such as handball, noughts and crosses, hopscotch, hand-clapping games, red light/green light, What’s the time Mr. Wolf?, duck-duck-goose and skipping rope. This will give them basic skills in playing common games so that they find it easier to join in at school.
- Give your children opportunities to interact with other children. Take them to the park. Join a play group. Organise play-dates. Enrol them in activities with a social element (e.g., swimming, music, dance, sport, etc.).
- Give your children some space to interact with peers without your interaction. This allows them to get to know each other and get along with each other on their own.
- Get to know your children’s friends. Encourage your children to have friends visit your home.
- Speak with your children’s teachers to better understand how they get along with their peers.
Common friendship problems
All children are going to find friendships challenging at some point in their lives. Children will have conflicts with their friends and change some of their friends as they grow older. While these experiences are normal and are usually short-lived, they can be difficult and upsetting for children. You should be concerned when these experiences occur regularly, are long-lasting or distress your children. Some common friendship concerns that will require your assistance are when your child:
- Has been bullied or has bullied others
- Gets into trouble with other children
- Finds it difficult to communicate with peers
- Finds it difficult to interact with peers
- Doesn’t show an interest in other children’s interests
- Doesn’t compromise
- Doesn’t cooperate
- Is disliked by peers
- Treats peers poorly
- Has trouble making new friends
- Has trouble maintaining friendships
If you are concerned that your child is having difficulties developing or maintaining friendships and you would like us to help, please contact us to schedule an appointment. During your first session we meet with you and your child to conduct a clinical interview to identify your child’s underlying social and emotional concerns. If we believe that your child might have a diagnosable disorder, we will suggest that your child undertake an assessment. Following these investigations, we develop a personalised, evidence-based treatment plan to help your child and your family.
The nature of your child’s treatment will depend entirely on your child’s unique friendship concerns. In most cases with friendship concerns, your child will need assistance in developing social skills, skills in emotional understanding and regulation and/or assertiveness skills.
The aim of our treatment is to develop and refine your child’s social skills in order to assist your child in developing and maintaining friendships. We provide your child and family with strategies and skills that promote social skills development and increase your child’s confidence in social situations by increasing your child’s capacity to read social cues, helping your child to understand their own and others’ thoughts, emotions and interests, helping your child to engage appropriately with peers and developing your child’s skills in cooperation, compromise and conflict resolution.
We use evidence-based cognitive behaviour therapy to treat friendship concerns. We use a range of cognitive behaviour therapy techniques, depending on your individual child’s needs, such as:
- Social skills training
- Emotion regulation training
- Problem solving training
We also use the following evidence-based therapy techniques:
- Social skills group programs
- Resilience group programs
For more detailed information on what to expect in your sessions with us, please visit our Appointments page.
If you would like help in understanding and managing your child’s social skills deficits, please contact us to schedule an appointment.