How can I help my child . . . ?
- make friends and maintain healthy relationships
- communicate and interact effectively in age-appropriate ways
- make good decisions when with peers
What are Relationship Skills?
Friendships and positive social interactions are important for a child’s emotional and mental well-being. They are wired to connect with peers, make new friends and find a group where they feel a sense of belonging. In order to develop and maintain positive friendships, children need to develop relationship skills.
Part of developing good relationships skills means knowing how to make friends, handling the ups and downs of friendships, managing conflicts, communicating, and maintaining healthy boundaries. Young children need support it developing these skills and adults can help them through teaching them and modeling these positive behaviors at home.e
Good relationship skills involve
- communicating appropriately in different situations and with different people
- being a good listener
- working cooperatively with others
- resolving conflicts effectively
- resisting peer pressure
- standing up for themselves and communicating their needs in a relationship
Children with autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, or other forms of neurodiversity may have a hard time making peer connections, recognizing social cues, and knowing how to react appropriately in social situations.
These skills are closely linked to self-awareness and social awareness skills.
Why do Relationship Skills Matter?
We all need relationships. Research shows that when we feel a sense of connectedness and belonging, we feel happier and more confident, and we do better at school, work, and in life. Healthy friendships help children develop their identity and when they are surrounded by positive influences, this type of peer pressure can be good. Studies have shown that these relationship skills can be taught and learned at any age, even to younger children.
Relationship skills are critical life skills that help children:
- make friends and maintain healthy, respectful relationships
- feel connected, happy and confident
- stay motivated and feel positive about school
- show leadership
- express their ideas and feelings clearly
- handle social challenges and solve interpersonal conflicts
- be successful in school and at work throughout their whole lives
Read through these statements and think about how much this does or does not describe your child. Read through the activities and resources below to find ways to help strengthen this skill in your child.
Character traits / skills
|has one or more close peer friendships|
|cooperates and works well with others in a group|
|is generally kind, caring, and helpful toward others|
|is generous about sharing their belongings|
|shows interest and listens to what others have to say|
|(with support) is able to talk and listen respectfully in order to work out problems or disagreements|
|takes responsibility and apologizes when they make a mistake or are in the wrong|
|forgives others who upset or hurt them|
|is able to stand up for themselves and others in a respectful way when necessary|
|resists peer pressure and encourages positive behavior in others|
|Review your answers to the survey. Were there any traits or skills you marked, “Somewhat describes my child” or “Does not describe my child”? If so, there’s no cause for worry. The great news is these skills can be taught, even to older kids and teens, and you can help! Read [this section] to learn how.|
Connect & Communicate:
Most of what your child learns will come from what you model at home and with others. They will see how you interact with friends, resolve conflict, listen and communicate with them and with people you are close to. For that reason, developing your own relationship skills will be an important part of educating your child. There are some ways that you can model these behaviors by interacting with them in positive ways. Check out the topics below and ways that you can begin talking about them with your child.
- Listening: When talking to your child, especially about important things, get down on their level and look them in the eyes. Try to summarize what they hae said so they know you understand them. You can also say things like “It sounds like you really liked playing at school today because……” to help them feel heard and understood.
- Resolving Conflict: When conflict arises in the household, use that time to model resolving it well. There are resources below to help you do that. You can start by saying “I see that you are both upset right now. Let’s take some time to cool off before we talk about what just happened.”
- Teaching Compromise: Teaching kids that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. If you want to go to the park and they want to go home to play with friends, think of a choice that you both want to do or plan to spend a little time in both places.
- Talking about friendships: Discuss the friends in their lives and why they like them. You can also share who some of your good friends are and why you like having them in your life.
- Empathizing: WHen something happens that upsets your child, take time to talk about what is bothering them and why. Validate their feelings and do not try to fix what they are experiencing. When children receive this from their parents and caregivers, they are more likely to do it with others. Start with “I see that you’re upset. When Paul took the book from you while you were reading it, it made you feel sad. I totally get that.”
Activities for teaching your child relationship skills:
What is a friend? This can be done at any age and your child’s responses will change and mature as they get older. Talk about people in their lives who they consider to be a good friend. Ask what makes them a good friend and talk about how they reciprocate that back.
Friendship Scenario Cards: Make a list of different ways a friend may act (both positively and negatively). Read them allowed to your child and have them identify if these are qualities of a healthy friendship or an unhealthy friendship?
Playdates: One of the best ways to get to know your child’s friends and foster their relationship is to get together with them or invite them over for a playdate. There are some things to start with a snack or a drink because that may help them feel more comfortable. You also want to give them some space but also make sure they know you’re available. Some kids may not feel comfortable in a new place and will want to know where the adult is at all times. Think about activities that both your child and their friend(s) will like. If this is a new thing for them, consider the timing and lean towards a shorter time frame until they get more comfortable with each other and you.
Books for Young Children on How to Make Friends:
Books for Older Elementary School Children about Friendship:
Bugs and Wishes (for younger children): One way that young children can start resolving conflicts is by using “bugs and wishes” statements. For example, they can say to someone else “It bugs me when you…….I wish you would…” It is an easy prompt that little kids can memorize and use whenever they need to confront someone about something they have done.
Teach I” Statements: Help your child communicate their feelings by using “I” statement with this template. It will help them become better at sharing how they feel with others constructively and peacefully. https://constructiveparenting.com/blog-i-statements-child-therapist-and-parenting-counselor-charlotte-nc/
The”Sandwich Technique (for older children):” Confronting a friend about a problem can be hard, even for adults. Most teens would rather avoid it altogether. “Sandwiching” the feedback between positive comments can help your teen give others feedback and stand up for themselves when they need to:
1) Start with a positive comment or a compliment.
“You’ve been a really good friend to me. ”
2) Start with “I” and describe the problem and how they felt.
“I felt hurt when I found you told others the private information I shared with you.”
3) Finish with a positive comment.
“I trust you and I know you wouldn’t hurt me on purpose.”
Practice Sharing and Listening: Part of being a good friend is being a good listener and asking others about themselves. You can do this easily by modeling it with your child and then having them practice with you. You can also acknowledge when you see them doing that with their peers.
Worksheet for Helping Kids Become Good Listeners:
Books about Listening for Young Kids:
“What if” scenarios: Write up or discuss various scenarios they may experience at school or with friends. Talk about what they would do and provide them with some language they can use. Some topics might include: peer pressure, bullying, cheating, and conflict.
Children’s Books about Peer Influence: https://thecolorfulapple.com/2020/08/books-peer-influence/
Contact & Collaborate:
Your child’s school along with local community organizations and other parents are great places to connect with for additional ways to support your child’s social development:
- Use your child’s interests to help them make new social connections. Find out what your child’s school, local community organizations, nearby area, or online organizations have to offer related to your child’s passions and interests.
- Help arrange playdates. FInd out who some of your child’s friends are and reach out to their parents to see if you can get them together.
- Learn how/whether your child’s school specifically addresses relationship skills, and how they help students connect with peers, make friends, and support the development of peer relationships.
- Learn what your child’s school and other organizations in the local community have to offer in terms of community service and volunteer opportunities.
- Join a local parenting group on social media.
Explore these resources for more ideas on how to support your child’s development of relationship skills.
Understood (article): Help Your Gradeschooler Connect with Other Kids
The Art of SEL (podcast): Teaching Relationship Skills
Sunshine Parenting (podcast): The Friendship Skills Every Kid Needs
Child Mind Institute (website): Kids Who Need a Little Help Making Friends
Greater Good Science Center (podcast); Teaching Kids to Fight Nice
The Parent Cue (podcast): How to Help Your Kid Resolve Conflict
Sunshine Parenting (podcast): Conflict Resolution Skills for Siblings
Relationship Skills for Neurodiverse Children
ADDitude (podcast): A Parent’s Guide to Social Skills Strategies for kids with ADD or Autism