Empowering Your Child to Build Healthy Friendships

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It can be difficult for parents when kids start to have disagreements with their friends or feel left out of social situations. From ages 5-11, kids are starting to build relationships with people outside of their family and home while learning their place in the larger world. It’s a great time to build new relationship skills like conflict resolution, but this rite of passage can also be painful for kids and parents alike. Here are some ways that you can help your child navigate friendships in their early years:

Use “I am” affirmations

Kids who are going back to school or starting out in a new social like summer camp might feel insecure or uncomfortable. Practice using positive affirmations with your child so they remember that they are supported wherever they go. Some examples of positive affirmations include:

  • I am a great leader
  • I am kind and funny
  • I am going to have fun today
  • I am ready to meet new people

Affirmations can also ground your child in self-understanding and help them make decisions about the kinds of activities they enjoy and how they can work best in group scenarios.

Take time to reconnect

Kids learn the majority of their social skills from parents and trusted caregivers first, so how you model skills like conflict resolution really makes a difference. Plus, conflict is a natural part of any relationship, so you don’t have to feel bad about practicing. When you have a disagreement with your child, the most important part is reconnecting after it’s over. Most parents experience times when they wish they had reacted differently, so this reconnection can be your time to apologize, explain how you were feeling, and how you want to handle the situation in the future. Give your child space to do the same. Then, you can reconnect with a hug, a dance party, or literally shaking off the argument. Having a safe, secure place to come back to models this for your child so that they can be proactive about reconnecting when they have a fight with a friend.

Practice listening and noticing

Kids are great observers, so start getting into the habit of helping them notice verbal and non-verbal cues from others. You can start when you’re watching TV or a movie. Talk about how you can tell what they characters are thinking or feeling when they meet new people. You can also pause and rewind to the moment before a conflict to give your child a chance to identify the social cues that the characters show. You can also give examples in your own life about how you listen to others when they speak and pay attention to body language. Talk about a time when this strengthened a relationship and a time when you could have resolved a conflict more effectively through listening.

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