How to help your child make and keep friends

| 06 Sep 2017 | 04:02

    When Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore was a child, her family moved a lot. Each move meant she would leave her old friends behind and walk into a new classroom with a new group of people.
    She was forced to become an expert in making friends, she said.
    Now, after years as a clinical child psychologist, she has published a guide to friendship for kids, “Growing Friendships: A Kids’ Guide to Making and Keeping Friends."
    The book lays out common friendship pitfalls through cartoons and suggests ways children can deal with those problems form close friendships.
    “Having a close friend is one of the most important things for a child,” Kennedy-Moore said.
    The Foundation: Perspective and kindnessAccording to Child Psychologist Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, children with successful, long term friendships tend to make friends in many different areas of their lives, have friends outside of school and have one-on-one play dates, she said.
    Children develop close friendships through understanding how to deal with friendship’s rough spots with perspective and kind action.
    “It’s really hard to mess up kindness. Research finds the most well-liked kids are kind,” she said.
    In addition, if children develop friendships in various aspects of their lives, the possibility of being friendless is less likely. That way, if they break-up with one friend, they will have a few other friendships to fall back on.
    Matching the toneLearning to match the tone of the group is important for developing friendships because it echoes a larger principle: understanding perspectives.
    When a child can understand and match the tone of the group, they are more likely to be accepted.
    On the playground, parents often point to a group of children and tell their child, “Go ask them if you can play.”
    It seems polite, Kennedy-Moore said. But it’s more of what an adult would do to successfully join the group.
    Observational research of children on playgrounds finds that rather than first asking, a child should join the group without drawing attention to themselves, she said.
    Though blending is the best method for inclusion, it does not always work. Children may find themselves being excluded.
    A parent can guide their child through this by having them find someone else to play with. A single child or a group of more than three is most likely to include a new friend, she said.
    When to say 'no' and when to let it goSaying no is a difficulty many children encounter in friendships. Sometimes, they are pressured by multiple attempts by a friend to get them to do something they don’t want. This could lead to a friendship rough spot, Kennedy-Moore said.
    Giving children multiple ways to say no even when their friend is persistent will help them to avoid a rough spot with a friend and develop lasting friendship.
    “Children are usually grateful for the words,” she said.
    Kennedy-Moore suggests options of things to say in certain situations such as “No thanks,” “That’s just not my kind of thing,” “My mom would be so mad if I did that!” “I don’t like that idea.” “I don’t feel like doing that.”
    Forgiveness Forgiveness is another challenge that children face in friendships. Forgiveness guidelines can free children of bitterness and let them move on with their lives, Kennedy-Moore said.
    The guidelines are:
    If it happened two years ago, let it go.
    If it was a mistake, let it go.
    If it wasn’t that bad, let it go.
    If it happened one time on purpose, let it go.
    PracticeLearning to develop friendships will not happen all at once. A parent can guide children as friendships develop by giving them the space and guidance to make choices
    “Parents can be excellent social coaches…get the kid to engage in social thinking,” Kennedy-Moore said.
    Not the only one to go through ‘rough spots’ On average, only 50 percent of first-grader’ friendships and 25 percent of fourth and eighth graders’ friendships last a whole year.
    Rough spots are normal, Kennedy-Moore said.
    Friendships begin with sharing interests, she said, and it is good to have friends in many areas of a child’s life.
    Dr. Kennedy-Moore is a clinical child psychologist and child friendship expert who has written a blog for Psychology Today, contributed to PBS Parents and been featured on the “TODAY” show. Her book, co-authored by health writer Christine McLaughlin, was released in July 2017.