Magazine article Work & Family Life

Children's Friendships and Why They Matter

Magazine article Work & Family Life

Children's Friendships and Why They Matter

Article excerpt

Call them life skills or plain old "people skills"-there's no doubt that some of the most important lessons our kids will learn don't happen in a classroom but, rather, with another child or a group of children-in the sandbox, carpool, jungle gym, soccer field or just sitting together on the bedroom floor.

Here are a few of the positive skills children can learn from their friends-and parents can help in this learning process:

*Solving problems and resolving conflicts

*Making decisions and distinguishing between right and wrong

*Handling teasing and verbal barbs

*Learning to assert themselves and stand up for what they believe

*Understanding different points of view and nurturing empathy

*Developing identity by seeing themselves in relation to others

*Learning to cooperate, take turns, get along in a group and share

*Regulating emotions and developing self-control

*Learning humility, being modest and recognizing their shortcomings

*Developing trust and loyalty

*Acquiring confidence and courage in stressful groups and situations

*Communicating feelings, opinions and needs

*Taking responsibility, owning up to mistake and making apologies

*Bouncing back and acquiring resilience

*Having fun, laughing and keeping things in perspective

What makes it harder for friendships to flourish today?

While we can see how important friends are, at the same time we recognize lots of factors that make it more difficult for kids to make and sustain friendships.

Because of Columbine, 9/11 and other scary incidents widely covered on TV and in the press, parents are dealing with an atmosphere of fear and anxiety about our children's safety. As a result, doors are locked, children's mobility is restricted and neighborhoods are less friendly and supportive. At the same time, many children as well as adults are overscheduled and rushed, leaving less time for friends.

Many schools too have cut recess or other unstructured times when kids could learn friendship skills. Much of the available play time is super-organized, adult-led and hypercompetitive. There's little opportunity for kids to form their own teams, make their own rules, learn to settle disputes and just play for fun-without worrying about pleasing their parents, winning that trophy or getting that scholarship.

The role of parents

Parents do have a tremendous impact on children's ability to make friends and form meaningful relationships. Here are some questions to consider.

* Are you setting a good example? What kind of friend are you? Do you use friends for personal gain or social status or just call them when you need a shoulder to cry on? Do you tell your kids not to talk about people behind their backs but spend hours on the phone gossiping?

* Do you orchestrate or supervise every minute of your child's time with friends? If you criticize the way children try to make friends and constantly suggest better ways to handle situations, you will prevent them from gaining their own friendship experiences and skills.

* Is your home "friendship friendly?''Do you have a comfortable, relaxed environment that makes friends feel welcome? With friends you may not like, do you take the time to sit down and find out who they really are? Try not to dismiss your child's friends without appreciating what it is about them that your child values. …

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