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5/14/15blog post

does your child have a close friend?

Our happiness as adults is largely dependent upon the quality of our relationships with others. The same is true for our kids. Close friendships typically develop by the preteen years, and they are critically important for our children. The close bonds that our children develop with peers provide meaning, emotional support and protection during childhood’s tough times. The absence of a best friend during childhood is suggestive of increased mental health problems later in life.

Relationships take time, attention, and lots of complex skills. Friendships require compromise, communication, listening, empathy, problem-solving, tolerance, and sensitivity to the feelings of others. These things don’t come easily or naturally to children.

Don’t confuse popularity with friendships. The latter is typically transitory and superficial. Having a close friend requires a much more sophisticated set of interpersonal skills.

When kids tell me they don’t have a close friend, I focus our discussion on the skills that kids need to maintain friendships. Most of the problems I discover typically involve issues with communication. Kids are terrible listeners. They enjoy talking, but have a hard time attending to and understanding the thoughts and feelings of others. They wait for someone to stop talking so they can express their own point of view, rather than trying to really understand another’s perspective.

Here’s how parents can help their kids develop good relationship skills:

  1. Talk to your kids as much about relationships as you do about their school grades. Your child’s success in life is more influenced by their skills in solving relationship problems rather than algebraic equations. Help your child appreciate that others may have very different points of view, and that understanding is more important than judging. Ask lots of clarifying questions. Your job is to listen and coach, not talk and dictate.
  2. Be a kid-friendly home. Make your home a comfortable place for your child to interact with peers. Show interest in your child’s friends when they visit, but don’t interrogate them. Never embarrass your child in front of a peer.
  3. Try to understand why your child doesn’t have a close friend. Friendships are based upon mutual interests. Is your child involved in activities that connect them with children of similar interests?
  4. Avoid overscheduling. Relationships take time. It’s difficult to stay connected with a close peer if your child is overwhelmed with lots of structured activities after school.
  5. Be cautious of technology. Kids tell me that social media helps them stay connected with their many friends. I’m not sure. Technology helps them say words to other kids, but I don’t know if social media really fosters closeness and connections.