Can I help my child to make friends?

As adults, we all naturally vary in our social-emotional and interpersonal skills. Children are no different. Some kids thrive socially and find that they effortlessly attract friendships.  For these children, opportunities for play and social interaction are abundant.  For other children, social behaviour appears more hesitant, they feel awkward in social situations and don’t not know how or what to say to fit in.  In many cases, a hesitant child doesn’t know how to show others that they want to be friends, or once the friendship has been started, how to maintain the day to day relationship.

While some parents intuitively feel that they become less  of an important social influence as children become older, studies suggest that parents still have an important role to play in friendship formation in the secondary school setting. Brofenbrenner’s (1979) model draws two  interacting systems of family (parent behaviours) and school (peer relations).  In this conceptualisation, each domain changes in influence over a child’s development. In middle childhood, while the sphere of peer influence expands and increases in dominance, parents are still an important social influence.

Parent emotion coaching. It is an unfortunate reality that children who find themselves of low standing amongst their peers are at greater risk for ongoing difficulties.  For these children, parent child emotion coaching could help.  For a child with friendship difficulties, learning to deal with strong emotions in a pro-social way could ease tensions with peers.

Emotion coaching in middle childhood (around the ages of 9-11) involves both overt (i.e. talking through emotions) and observed (i.e. demonstrating emotional behaviour) teaching about emotions. Overt emotion coaching can take place when a young person expresses an emotional response.  For example, they burst into tears and scream in frustration, or break an object in anger. In these situations, the parent can use the opportunity to help the young person to identify, understand, express and regulate the particular emotion at hand. More regulated emotional responses can be reviewed. For example, it can be suggested the the young person talk to someone about the problem, before reaching the point of emotional overload.

With observed emotion coaching, a parent can model a regulated response to an emotional situation.  In other words, the parent is showing by doing, and demonstrating how strong feelings can be managed.  Times of stress are the ideal situation in which to model taking time out, asking for help and importantly, remaining calm and kind with others.

An effective parental emotion coach has a number of set behaviours.  You may like to try these at home.  Research suggests that they may help your child to be viewed more positive socially and ultimately to help your child in her quest to make friends.

  • being attentive and responding in a timely fashion
  • validating your child’s experience of emotion
  • being encouraging and empathic
  • offering practical advice for emotional regulation
  • helping to find solutions to the problem at hand

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