Think back to your early school days--remember the kid who was particularly well liked by everyone? What qualities did he or she have?
Children who are well liked by others have some common characteristics:
- They are friendly to others;
- They show empathy and compassion (are aware of and help others in distress);
- They are sensitive to others and have good communication skills;
- They dress nicely (not expensively!) and have good hygiene;
- They are well rounded and will try new things;
- They are comfortable with themselves--they don't "try too hard."
If a child can interact successfully with peers, self esteem and confidence in his or her abilites will continue to increase and the resulting companionship and emotional support of peers will be a huge boost to the child's sense of wellbeing.
These early friendships help the child learn emotional commitment to others which is essential in forming long term relationships as an adult.
As long as we are remembering our school days and the kids who were well liked...on the otherhand, think about the kids who were rejected and avoided by their peers---the kids who weren't invited to parties or after school activites. These children often act impulsively or lack self control. They may also be aggressive, hostile or disruptive. Children who seek flamboyantly to be the "teacher's pet" or relish the part of the "tattler" are usually shunned in the lunchroom and playground as well. Physical appearance as well as behavior can also play a part. Although excessive shyness may add to the difficulty of making friends, it is usually the lack of social skills as described above that are the problem.
What can we as parents to to encourage the behaviors of friendly children?
1. Read lots of stories to your child that focus on examples of friendship. Ask questions about the stories and have them think about and name the qualities of the characters that make them a good friend.
2. When watching movies or TV programs, discuss the examples of characters who are being good (and not so good) friends and those who are acting socially appropriately (and those who are not)--their possible motives and of course, the consequences of their behavior.
3. Try this exercise: have your child make a list of "Things I Do to Be a Good Friend" and a list that starts with "I Like a Friend Who..." This will encourage them to think of what it is to be a friend and reinforce appropriate behavior when a situation presents itself at school.
4. Read an age appropriate book about manners/social skills. One that I love for elementary age children (it may be out of print) is the Weekly Reader's Book of Manners by Lucille E. Sette. It is simple and straightforward and discusses many common social situations in which children find themselves. (My adult children can still repeat the rhyming statements at the end of each lesson)!
5. Allow your child lots of say in choosing his or her clothing and hairstyle (they know best what's accepted and approved of in their school environment) and most important, teach them physical self-care and grooming skills. Take care of medical and physical problems right away--one little girl suffered needlessly the entire school year with the unwelcome curiosity and repulsion by her peers over the warts on her hand.
6. Don't get too involved (no hovering!). One mother, worried about her son's lack of friends, sent him to school with weekly treats for a time and then invited all of the kids over for a pizza party. When he quit bringing the treats, his "friends" disappeared. This left him feeling more lonely than ever with the message that "friendship" was conditional on something outside of himself. It would have been better for him to gradually find his way and develop one or two friends that accepted and liked him "just as he is!"
7. Remember that children (and for that matter teenagers and adults) need only one or two truly good (best) friends. While it is important to be friendly and to interact socially appropriately to all others, it is not necessary to have a Facebook full of "friends" in order for one to be validated and considered important. Reflect on your philosophy of the role friends and friendship plays in your life and think about how this may be affecting your child.
8. Role model being a good friend and being friendly yourself--the most important lessons a child learns are not those he hears but those he observes.