4 Ways to Help Kids Make & Keep Friends, Especially in a digital world

Having friends is such a joy, especially for kids. We all need someone to laugh and share our thoughts with. When kids are young, they seem to make friends easily. But as they get older, making new friends might not be so easy.


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For my son the change happened in third grade. First we changed schools so the kids and the teachers he knew last year changed. Adding to that, third grade came with more responsibilities, a bit of bullying and other "big boy" social challenges. It seemed my son changed friends from week to week. Friends this week but not friends next week. It wasn't easy at times. For both of us!

Now that my son is going into the fourth grade, I'm preparing (both him and myself) for the ups and downs of childhood friendship. Especially in a digital world. I've discovered this comes with it own challenges.


To help me figure some things out, I reviewed "Growing Friendships: A Kids’ Guide to Making and Keeping Friends", a social development primer that gives kids the answers they need.

The book was written by Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Princeton psychologist and children’s friendships expert and Christine McLaughlin, a parenting and health writer.

The book features cartoons describing common friendship problems. A narrator explains what’s happening and offers research-based tips about what to do; the stars of the book, a cat and dog, wander through the text offering goofy suggestions.


Both my son and I liked "Growing Friendships" since it offered real examples my son might have to deal with. We were able to go over the examples and discuss them together. This help us both feel more confident about dealing with friendship issues that may come up this school year.


I also interviewed Dr. Kennedy-Moore and found her tips very helpful, so I'm sharing them with you.

How can children make friends, especially in the digital age?


Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore: Kids make friends by doing fun things together. Research tells us that for most kids, electronic communication supports and supplements their in-person interactions with friends but doesn’t replace them.

Playing with apps or videogames or creating movies are enjoyable ways for friends to spend time together. Texting and snap chap can help kids stay in touch with friends outside of school.

On the other hand, electronics aren’t required for young children’s friendships! Kids can certainly make or deepen friendships by, say, playing soccer or digging for worms together.

Use your judgment, as a parent, about what types and how much electronics are right for your child and your family.



What can be done when your child gets dumped by a friend?


Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore: Unfortunately, friendship break-ups are common for kids. One study found that among first graders, half of best friendships didn’t make it from fall to spring. Among fourth- and eighth-graders, about one quarter didn’t last the whole school year.

Being assigned to different classrooms in a new school year can also contribute to friendships fizzling. Sometimes friendships end after an explosive argument; more often new interests or new relationships cause kids to move apart.

Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore: Feeling dumped by a friend is painful for kids, so offer some extra loving and avoid criticizing your child at this vulnerable time. Hearing something like, “See? Didn’t I tell you you were being too bossy?!” will compound your child’s misery (especially if it’s true!). This is a moment for comfort and hugs, not teaching.

You may feel tempted to contact the school or the other parents to demand that the other kid be nice to your child. Don’t. Except for case involving a power difference and genuine peer abuse, it’s usually best for kids to manage their own friendship rough spots. You can comfort and coach, but don’t try to solve the problem for your child.

Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore: If there’s a third wheel involved in the break-up, your child may feel angry and jealous. Demanding that the friend give up the new relationship never works. Trying to get along with the friend’s new friend might work.

Sometimes the friendship break-up is temporary. After some time for tempers to cool or once the kids are regularly together again, they may start to enjoy each other’s company and the friendship will revive.

Sometimes it’s necessary to move on. At a calm moment, help your child identify other potential friends or ways of meeting new friends and plan get-togethers to fan the flames of those relationships.



What makes some kids popular?


Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore: Children tend to describe popular kids as attractive, athletic, wealthy, nice dressers, and “not boring.” Some popular kids are kind and friendly; others are socially powerful but not well-liked.

This latter group tends to deliberately exclude people or spread mean gossip in order to increase their own status. These kids are both admired and feared by their peers.

Social media can make popular kids both more visible and more powerful. There’s some evidence that popularity is linked to risky behavior such as smoking, drinking alcohol, and sexual activity in high schoolers.

Encourage your child to develop genuine friendships, rather than focusing on popularity.



How can kids resolve conflicts with friends, especially in the digital age?


Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore: Smart phones, gaming systems, and computers make it easy for kids to communicate with their peers, and also open the door to mistakes and misunderstandings. It’s easy to misinterpret words without tone of voice, facial expression, or body language to give context.

Also, children may post things impulsively through digital media that are then copied, forwarded, or widely shared.

Tell your child, if a conflict starts electronically, don’t try to settle it electronically! Either stop responding or try to talk in person to work things out. Definitely don’t drag other people into the conflict, because that just makes it bigger and uglier.

Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore: Sometimes kids need a break from each other to settle down. An hour, a day, or a week may be enough. After that, they may be able to reconnect just by acting friendly toward each other. It’s not always necessary for kids to discuss issues.

Sometimes it’s important for kids to speak up and ask for what they want. Silent fuming can destroy a friendship. You may need to help your child figure out how to use an “I” statement to say, “I don’t like it when you…” “I want you to…” This will be easier for the friend to hear and respect than harsh accusations.

A sincere apology is often a good way to get past a friendship rough spot. Conflict takes two. I like Dear Abby’s advice: The person who is least wrong should apologize first!


Great tips and advice from Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore. These tips along with the examples in "Growing Friendships: A Kids’ Guide to Making and Keeping Friends", will hopefully really help kids, including my son, manage making and keeping friends.


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