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Relationship Skills

How can I help my child . . . ?

  • make friends and maintain healthy relationships
  • be aware of their own impact on others
  • communicate and interact effectively
  • solve interpersonal problems effectively
  • recognize and avoid peer pressure

What are Relationship Skills?

Friendships and social interactions often become more important in a middle schooler’s life. They want to connect more with peers, make new friends, and find a friend group where they feel like they belong. Social media and online communication become a common way for them to make new connections and expand their social circle.

Some middle schoolers thrive on social activity and having lots of friends. Others may enjoy spending time on their own or with a small handful of friends. And others who are shy or less self-assured may want to connect with peers, but may be afraid or unsure of how to get the ball rolling. Friendships can bring fun, a sense of belonging, and an opportunity for adolescents to relax and be themselves. On the flip side, these relationships–or feeling a lack of social connection–can also be a source of confusion, anxiety, or pain. 

Knowing how to make and keep friends, handle the ups and downs of social life, manage conflicts, communicate effectively, and maintain healthy relationships are all part of developing good relationship skills.  While your  child may become more skilled at this as they get older, there are ways adults can help move them in the right direction.

Good relationship skills involve 

  • communicating appropriately in different situations and with different people 
  • understanding how one’s own behavior and attitudes affect others
  • 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. Human beings are hard-wired to seek connections and form bonds with others. 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. 

Parents of young children often remind them to “use their words” and “play nice.” Even when they’re older, middle schoolers (and many adults!) are still learning and practicing these skills. They need reminders of how to communicate respectfully and get along with others. Studies have shown that relationship skills can be taught and learned at any age, even well into adulthood.

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

Check In:

Take this brief survey to identify your child’s strengths and areas for further development in the area of relationship skills.

Character traits / skills   My child… Definitely describes  my child Somewhat describes  my child  Does not describe  my child
has one or more close peer friendships 
enjoys making friends and new social connections
gets along with different types of people
cooperates and works well with others in a group
makes an effort to include others 
is generally kind, caring, and helpful toward others 
shows concern for others and their feelings
is generous about sharing their belongings
lets go of insults or mean behavior directed toward them, without taking it overly personally
appreciates others’ skills,  talents, and achievements and compliments or congratulates them
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:

You are the most influential person in your child’s life. They need your support to understand how to create healthy, respectful relationships. Through your relationships with family, friends, and others around you, you can be a role model for how to connect, communicate, and show caring and respect.

Start the Conversation:

  • Talk openly and often: A good conversation is like a game of tennis–it’s 2-sided and goes back and forth. Try to talk to your teen daily. Start real conversations and model good communication skills: Ask a simple question to open a conversation ( How’s _____ going? / How was ______? / What do you think about …? ) What are you planning … ? ) Really listen to their response. Ask follow-up questions to check your understanding, show them that you’ve heard them, and keep the conversation going.
  • Help them Become a Good Listener:
  • Talk about traits and qualities they like or admire in their friends: “Who do you enjoy hanging out with?” “You and (Friend) seem to get along really well. What’s she like?”
  • Help them recognize their own impacts (both positive and negative) on others: “Your sister really appreciated it when you …”; “I wonder how your dad felt when you said …”; I bet (your friend) felt happy when you…”
  • Teach them to talk through problems and conflicts respectfully: Rather than bottling things up or sweeping problems under the rug, try. “Can we talk about what happened this morning?” “ “I felt hurt when you ignored me and walked away…;”
  • Teach them “I” statements:
  • Emphasize compromise: Teach them to find middle ground. “Let’s keep talking and see if we can come to an agreement.”
  • Focus on what you’ve noticed: If you worry about peer pressure or negative peer influences, avoid expressing your opinion in a judgemental way. Instead, describe what you’ve noticed or ask questions: “It sounds like (Friend) doesn’t respect you very much.” “How did it feel when (Friend) did that?”

Activities for teaching your child relationship skills: 

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.

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?

“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.

The”Sandwich Technique:” 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.” 

Lesson on Caring:

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 teen’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 teen’s passions and interests. Whether it’s sports, music, math, science, theater, art, or something else–you can help them find peers out there with similar interests.
  • 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. Ask whether they offer any curriculum or programming specific to social emotional learning. These types of programs may be offered as extracurriculars or after school programs  and may be called “soft skills,” or “leadership skills.” 
  • 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.

Continue Learning:

Explore these resources for more ideas on how to support your teen’s development of relationship skills.

The Art of SEL (podcast):  Teaching Relationship Skills

Sunshine Parenting (podcast):  The Friendship Skills Every Kid Needs

Greater Good Science Center (podcast);  Teaching Kids to Fight Nice

The Parent Cue (podcast):  How to Help Your Kid Resolve Conflict

On Boys (podcast):  Teaching Boys Social Skills

ADDitude (podcast):  A Parent’s Guide to Social Skills Strategies for kids with ADD or Autism

Parent Cue (article):  31 Things to Say to Help your Teen Navigate Relationships

Your Teen (magazine)  3 Tips to Help your Teen Take the Lead with Peer Relationships

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