Teaching Kids the Art of Friendship


Whether it’s at home, school, or at the park, friendships during our youth are probably one of the most basic concepts we learn as children.

I have vivid memories of a special friend I met on the monkey bars as a child. Her name was Michelle, and every day we would meet at that playground, creating wild adventures using our imagination, traipsing from the slide to the swings, laughing and playing for hours. It’s pure, honest, and often comforting; knowing that someone likes you and likes the same things you do.

Surveys show that friendships play a crucial role in the development and well-being of children in several ways:

Social Development: Friendships help children learn important social skills, such as cooperation, communication, negotiation, and conflict resolution.

Emotional Support: Friends provide emotional support and companionship, which is vital for children’s emotional well-being.

Self-Esteem: Positive friendships contribute to children’s self-esteem and self-confidence. Being accepted and valued by peers boosts children’s sense of self-worth and helps them develop a positive self-image.

Cognitive Development: Friendships offer opportunities for cognitive development as children engage in collaborative play, problem-solving activities, and discussions with their peers.

However, friendships are bound to have conflicts, and that’s where teachers and parents can help children by implementing a preventative plan for guiding children on how to be a good friend. It all starts with the gradual introduction of basic communication concepts that often elicits emotions. The key is to help children identify those emotions and provide examples of positive ways to deal with them.

Here are seven tips for teaching kids how to be a good friend:

1) Explain the concept of ‘communication’ and how one person listens or ‘hears’ what the other person is ‘saying’ as the other person speaks. Demonstrate in a role play where the child talks and then you talk over them. Ask them how that made them feel and if they thought you actually heard what they said.

2) Ask the child to define a ‘friend’ and what it means to them to have a friend. Have them name a friend and why they enjoy having them as a friend or what makes them special.

3) Explain the concept of sharing physical objects, such as toys or food, and provide an example. i.e., a friend comes over for a playdate and you have a toy your friend wants to play with. But it’s your toy, and you wanted to play with it. However, your friend is only there for an hour, and you can play with it all day after they leave. How do you think your friend would feel after you said yes and handed them the toy?

4) Demonstrate the acceptance of disappointment. Ask the child: How would you feel if the same day you went over to your friend’s house to play and they did not let you play with their favorite toy? If the child responds with ‘sad’ or something similar, explain that sadness is often called disappointment, and it’s okay to feel that way. Educate them on how sometimes things don’t always go our way, but that’s okay because there are so many other ‘toys to play with’ in life. Provide an example from your personal life, if possible, of disappointment.

5) Explore the concept of sharing ‘thoughts and feelings’. Ask them: Do you think it would be okay to share your feelings of sadness and/or disappointment with your friend? Tell them that sharing feelings in a kind way is a positive thing to do. Maybe their friend did not know they hurt your feelings. Practice sharing feelings in several role plays.

6) Revisit the term friendship and what it means to ‘support each other’. The dictionary defines a ‘friend’ as a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard, or a person who gives assistance; a patron or supporter. Ask them who they would call or talk to if they were sad/mad/hurt/confused (besides yourself). Ask them if their friend would say the same about them if asked the same question. Explain that this is called ‘support’ in a friendship and that it takes both friends to make it work, just like each of the two wheels on a bicycle.

7) Introduce the concept of ‘speaking up’. Sometimes a child may feel they are not being heard, even though there are friends and family all around them. Explain to them they are never alone, and all they have to do is ‘speak up’ and talk to someone about how they are feeling or what is hurting them. Give an example of a child who has their feelings hurt by a friend who called them a hurtful name. They say nothing for days because they are ashamed and think others will laugh at them. Then, they told a friend who listened, and reminded them how wonderful they were, and the friend felt so much better afterwards for speaking up. Remind the child that a friend could also be a teacher, family member, or other adult in their life.

Take the time during play, mealtime, or bedtime to introduce these concepts, your child will benefit from the comfort and support of a lasting friendship.

Overall, friendships are integral to children’s social, emotional, and cognitive development, playing a significant role in shaping their well-being and sense of identity. Furthermore, healthy friendships can last for years and add value and insights to a child’s life for years to come. I often think of Michelle and what had become of her, as I lost touch when she moved away to Nevada when I was twelve. I’ll never forget our adventures and the special bond we created as friends.

Cheryl Denise Bannerman is an award-winning, multi-genre author of ten published works of fiction. When she is not writing, Ms. Bannerman is running her 28-year-old virtual B2B Training and Development company based in Orlando, Florida.


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