Dr Richard C. Woolfson
Your child has now started school, where you probably hope he will be sociable and well-liked. You know that a child who is friendly and popular has a number of advantages over his less popular peers, including:
+ More pals More peers enjoy his company, and therefore more children want to be with him.
+ More fun A friendly child generates a happy atmosphere, such that those around him feel relaxed and pleasant. The result is that everyone has more fun together.
+ More play Being popular, he is never short of other children who want to share their toys or play with him at his home and in the school playground.
+ More self-confidence The positive reaction from your child’s peers and from the adults in his world increases his self-esteem – it feels good to be liked.
Of course, not every child is outgoing. You have no need to worry if your child doesn’t have lots of friends. It’s possible he is perfectly happy not being the centre of attention, and that he is friendly in his own quiet way. However, it’s always worth checking out whether he would like to have more pals than he does at present.
KEY SOCIAL SKILLS
Although evidence from psychological research suggests that children are, by nature, social animals, some children do have to learn how to be friendly. One of the key social skills that helps to foster social relationships in childhood is the ability to share. Genuine sharing involves a child giving something of his own without expecting to receive anything in return. A difficult skill to acquire, sharing is an important positive social talent as nobody would want to play with a child who isn’t able to share his toys. Sharing is a sign of trust and friendship.
Similarly, cooperation is a vital ingredient when making new pals. It is not possible for children to play together and share in a common activity unless they are able to cooperate. To get along, they must learn to work together, listen to others, follow agreed rules and support one another.
Another social skill that will enable your child to make friends is the ability to communicate emotions and desires, since it is more socially acceptable to voice one’s feelings rather than simply acting on them impulsively. Watch how your child behaves in the company of others, paying close attention to his verbal communication as well his body language. Some gestures such as shouting, scowling and clenching fists are aggressive, while others such as smiling and showing approval are pacifying. Pacifying gestures improve social relationships, so encourage those.
And lastly, social confidence is essential too. The first few moments in any social encounter require the greatest amount of this. Popular and friendly children use effective “opening strategies” when meeting new peers, such as introducing themselves or organising a game to play.
HELPING AT HOME
Improve your child’s ability to make friends by encouraging those important social skills. Playing games together with your child at home is one of the best techniques for teaching him how to be sociable, especially when they involve cooperation rather than competition. For instance, a game with two bats and a ball, a card game, or a jigsaw that you can complete together encourage him to develop this skill. Practise sharing and taking turns, and don’t forget to praise him whenever he plays well cooperatively with you or his friends.
Even without your guidance, there will be times when he makes new friends. When he tells you about such occasions, make a big fuss and let him know how pleased you are that he was so sociable. This boosts his confidence, so he will easily be able to make more new friends in the future.