How to Teach Kids About Friendship

Social and character development is a large part of a child’s life. Although they can and do form social bonds on their own, it can be beneficial or even necessary to teach kids how to have positive social interactions and maintain relationships. There are ways you can teach kids about friendship. You can start by exposing them to friendship, then talking about what friendship means, and then teaching them how to handle conflict.


EditExposing Kids to Friendship

  1. Model being a good friend. Kids are always paying attention to the things we do and say whether we realize it or not. One easy way to teach kids about friendship, then, is to let them see you being a good friend. Modeling friendship will give them an example of how friends act and reinforce some of the things you teach them about friendship.
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    • Let kids see you interacting with other people in a positive way. For example, allow them to overhear you greeting a friend or colleague warmly.
    • For instance, you might tell your kids, “My friend is a little sad, so I need to be a good friend and try to cheer him up.”
  2. Provide opportunities to socialize. Children of all ages enjoy spending time with their peers and socializing is an important part of their development. By providing structured and unstructured time for kids to socialize you can teach them about friendship.[1] These opportunities will give them real-world experience in making friends and maintaining friendships.
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    • If you’re a parent, then set up a play date for your kids. Stay for a while to monitor how the kids interact and to meet the other parents.
    • If you are a teacher or mentor then try to encourage positive interactions between peers by assigning group activities and giving the kids opportunities to learn and play with one another.
  3. Show them other friendships. Just as kids watch adults, they also learn from other people and situations around them. There are examples of friendship all around that you can use to teach kids how to have positive social interactions.[2]
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    • For example, if you’re watching TV with your kids, you might say, “ Wow! They seem like they’re really good friends. Look at how they act with each other. “

EditTalking About What Friendship Means

  1. Talk about emotions. Explain that no matter how old you are, it is natural to have negative emotions and selfish thoughts. However, in order for us to develop friendships, we need to take control of these thoughts and replace them with love and empathy. Start talking to your children at an early age about emotions and self-control, and show them how to practice taking control of your emotions by acting as a positive role model on a daily basis.[3]
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    • Children who are taught early about emotional self-control, and are exposed to positive role models, are better able to maintain that self-control, empathy, and problem-solving skills. This will ultimately help them to establish long lasting happy friendships.
  2. Discuss being loyal. A large part of teaching kids about friendship will include talking to them about what it means to be a friend. When you talk to them, explain that being friend means sticking with the people you care about and sometimes even taking up for them.[4]
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    • For example, you could say, “A good friend doesn’t stop playing with someone just because someone new comes around. They try to play with everyone.”
    • Or, you might tell them, “Sometimes friendship means standing up for the people you care about if someone else is bothering them.”
  3. Talk about how to support someone. When you explain what friendship means to kids, it can be useful to discuss how to be there for someone and support them.[5] Let the kids know that friends are there for one another when things are fun and going well, but also when things aren’t going so well.
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    • You might tell them, for instance, “Friendship means holding your friend’s hand or just listening to them when they’re upset.”
  4. Emphasize honesty. It’s hard, if not impossible, to be a good friend If you aren’t being truthful with the people close to you. Explain to kids that a big part of friendship is being honest with others about how you feel, who you are, and everything else.[6]
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    • For example, you might tell your kids, “Friends trust each other and are honest with each other about who they are, the things they do and don’t like, and more.”

EditTeaching Children Ways to Handle Conflict

  1. Talk about resolving conflict. Kids are still learning how to monitor their emotions and handle situations appropriately. As such, there will be times that they don’t get along or act very friendly. It can be tempting to step in with a solution when you see this happening. Instead of trying to solve their problems for them, you can teach kids about friendship if you teach them to think critically and resolve their own conflicts.[7]
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    • For instance, you might ask, “You have great problem-solving skills. What’s one way that you guys can all play the game?”
    • Or, for instance, you might say, “How do you think friends should handle a situation like this?”
  2. Give them feedback. While kids can do a good job at using their problem-solving skills and resolving conflict, sometimes they may need assistance. You can teach them a lot about friendship and conflict resolution by giving them feedback about the situation and their behavior.[8]
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    • For example, if two kids are arguing over a toy, you might say, “I don’t think this is the way you all really want to handle this. Let’s take a time-out and brainstorm solutions.”
    • Or, you might say, “I like how you guys are working together to come up with a fair way to handle this situation. That’s good problem-solving. Keep going!”
  3. Make use of teachable moments. Teachable moments are natural events and situations that occur that give you a real-world opportunity to teach or reinforce something you already taught. When you’re teaching kids about friendship, look for those moments in the day when you can emphasize something you’ve taught them about friendship.[9]
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    • For example, if you’re out with your kids and notice some adults arguing, use it as an opportunity to talk about conflict resolution.
    • Or, for instance, if you’re watching a webisode together and see two of the characters disagreeing, you can talk to the kids about how the characters handled the situation.
    • You may also want to assist your child with reading body language. You can do this by showing them with your own facial expressions and body language and explaining, what they convey.
  4. Be authoritative rather than authoritarian. Children who are raised by authoritarian parents are more likely to have low levels of esteem and low self-worth, as well as greater hostility, rage, and controlling tendencies. These can make it quite challenging for children to develop healthy, long lasting relationships with their peers. They may even lead to mental health concerns later in life.[10]
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    • An authoritarian parent is one who usually avoids discussion of issues that may arise, and will more likely jump to control the particular behavior or situation through punishment.
    • An authoritative parent is one who approach issues with warmth and compassion. They gently guide a child with a behavioral problem through rational discussion, and provides explanation of the reasons for the rules.
    • Children who are raised in an authoritative environment have less aggressive behaviors, are more self-reliant, and have an easier time with developing great friendships with peers.

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