How to help your youngsters kickstart their friendship skills
Learning how to be a good friend is a vital part of growing up, but the pandemic has kept many youngsters away from their peers so their social skills may have taken a knock. Here, former primary school teacher Laura Steele of education resource experts PlanBee reveals the four must-haves to make friendships flourish
Good friendships can have such a positive effect on a child’s life, providing them with a sense of stability, inclusivity, and self-esteem. Children can learn so much about the world, and discover who they are, through their interactions with other people. So what are the essential skills for friendship?
Empathy is when you understand the feelings of others, even though you might not share them. This is a crucial part of a successful friendship. Children who feel that their friends understand them, and are there to comfort and help them, will not only feel a greater sense of well-being, but their friendship will be solidified too, as they know that they can trust and rely on each other.
You can help your child to develop their empathy skills by discussing different emotions - how they make them feel, and why. Encourage them to think about how characters in a book or a film are feeling, and what, if necessary, they could do to help them. Explain to older children that people might experience and react to emotions differently, e.g. if some people are upset, they might cry, or become quiet and withdrawn, or even become angry.
Talking and listening
Sometimes, knowing what to talk about, especially to someone they have just met, can be difficult. Encourage children to ask questions to find out more about their new friend (e.g. who is in their family, what their hobbies are, what sports they like to do) and remember these answers, so that they can form the basis of future topics of conversation, as well as ideas for activities they might do together. This helps children to quickly find things in common, which is a good basis for a successful friendship.
If a child doesn’t feel listened to or heard in a friendship, it is unlikely to be a successful one. However, especially for younger children, it can be difficult to understand that a conversation is a ‘two-way street’, and that the more you listen, the more you learn and understand about your friend. Make sure you model good listening skills for your child - giving them eye contact when they are speaking to you, being attentive to what they say without interruption, and responding appropriately.
Sharing and compromising
In the most successful friendships, the ‘give and take’ is balanced. Children learn that if they give to others, they can get some of what they want too. For younger children, sharing can be a tricky skill to learn. Help your child to see that sharing is good by explaining that this means everyone can have fun, point out sharing in others, and reward sharing with praise. For older children, the skill of compromising is essential. When your child and their friend want different things, first let them talk about what they both want, and then encourage them to find a way to ‘meet in the middle’, so that both of their needs are being met. Children will also begin to learn that letting a friend ‘have their own way’ now means that in the future, they will also get this opportunity, and vice versa.
Children do not always know how to fix a ‘fall out’ within a friendship. Usually, one or both children can end up feeling hurt or angry. It is important that (after a cooling off period if necessary) children are encouraged to explain to each other about how they are feeling, and why. It may just be a simple misunderstanding which is solved there and then, or you may need to facilitate further discussions and offer possible solutions to the problem. Once you have helped children through this process a few times, hopefully they will be able to use this framework to manage future disagreements themselves.
If you are looking for some more structured but fun activities to help your KS1 child learn about friendships, take at PlanBee's Being Kind to You and Me three-lesson pack.
Now that you have some ideas on how to help your child develop and maintain friendships, here are some fun activities that they can do outside together this summer:
● Go on a picnic! Older children could plan the day - choose the location, decide on the food (either create a shopping list or cook/bake some items themselves), and pick the activities/entertainment they would like - from relaxing and reading books to playing frisbee or charades!
● Find a small plot in the garden or allocate a few tubs for children to plant their own flowers or vegetables, then watch them grow! Once established, they could give the budding plants as gifts, or even organise a plant stall on their street. Younger children could be helped to make a fairy garden, or simply have fun with a ‘mud kitchen’!
● Organise a scavenger hunt around your local area, including a list of things to see or find. Children could record their finds on a simple tick list, or even take photos of each object. Take a look at PlanBee’s free I Spy… Outdoor Challenge Cards for some ready-to go scavenger hunts! Older children may wish to devise the hunt themselves, using clues or riddles too.
● Create an obstacle course or hold a sports day in your garden or the local park. Children could organise the timetable, choose the events, and even make some medals or award certificates!
● Get into some outdoor art! Younger children could use coloured chalks on the ground to create (impermanent) masterpieces, whilst older children could make art from nature, in the style of the sculptor Andy Goldsworthy. Rock painting (and then placing the rocks elsewhere for others to find) is also a fun activity.
● Make a friendship book, either for a friend or with a friend, including photos, drawings, and memories of funny moments or things they have done together. Children could also create a memory box, using PlanBee’s free Friendship Memory Box Template.
● Get creative and make a handmade gift for a friend, e.g. a bookmark, a framed picture, a friendship bracelet, or bake a cake.
You can also download these four great FREE PlanBee resources:
I Spy...Outdoor Challenge Cards:
Friendship Memory Box Template: https://planbee.com/products/