Early Learning and Elementary Friendships
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Early Years   Elementary  - December 2021
Helping your Child Build Friendship Skills
The benefits of friendship for children are similar to the benefits of having friends as adults, they contribute to our overall quality of life. Building friendships depends on a child‘s social skills and the ability to self regulate their emotions. Parents can play an important role in the  development of these skills.
It is important to keep in mind that during the elementary school years, family relationships are the biggest influence on a child‘s development. The care and love you give your child at home helps your child manage other relationships.
Why Friendship is Important
Making friends is a vital part of growing up and an important part of a child's social and emotional development. Friendships are important at almost every age. Even toddlers enjoy playing side by side with each other. So, it's never too early to help your child develop friendship-making skills.
Healthy friendships also can be empowering for kids, providing a sense of belonging and identity. In these situations, peer pressure can encourage them to take interest in positive activities such as food drives, volunteering etc. Friendships help kids build self-esteem and confidence. Children with solid friendships learn how to resolve conflicts and build social competence.
If you aren't sure if your child has friends, talk to their teachers to see how they interact with other kids at school. You can also ask your child about their friendships to get a better idea of how well they're making friends.
Helping Children Build Friendship Skills
Although friendship is an important part of life, making and keeping friends is not a skill children are born with. They learn through modelling and teaching. Below are a few suggestions on how to support your child's friendship skills: 
Build Conversation Skills. From taking turns while talking, to asking questions about others, learning how to start and maintain conversations with others is a skill that children need to refine. Until your child learns how to naturally take cues from others when having a conversation, equip them with questions they can ask like "What do you do for fun?" or "Do you have any pets?"

You also can use television shows as examples of how people have friendly conversations. Point out things like body language, tone of voice, and pauses in the conversation—all of which are important cues when talking with others. 
Build Empathy. Showing compassion and concern for other people in a healthy way can open the door to friendship. For this reason, you may want to work on your child's ability to empathize with others. Generally, empathy is our ability to sense others‘ emotions and imagine what they may be thinking or feeling.
Empathy can be taught, but there is one essential way to help a child truly integrate empathy. It is for them to experience empathy from a parent. When a child experiences empathy, they gain the capacity to have empathy.

For example, if your child has been emotionally hurt by another child you could say "you are so hurt, I’m here, I get it.” You do not have to fix the problem by explaining that the friend’s behaviour was wrong or insensitive. Just acknowledge the hurt. Empathy itself, is healing. 
Build self regulation. Research tells us that children who are able to regulate their emotions are more accepted by their peers. Children who lash out or overreact to negative situations are challenging to be around and are often avoided by other children. Therefore, it is vitally important that kids who struggle with regulating and acting on their feelings learn to handle difficult emotions in a constructive way. Help your child find coping strategies that work for them.

Build conflict resolution skills. Children eventually need to learn to solve their own conflicts with peers. They need to learn how to respond to teasing, unkind comments, losing, accusations, being left out, and peer pressure. Reviewing different ways to resolve conflicts and solve problems can help kids learn important life and relationship skills. 

Setting Your Child Up For Success
Arrange get togethers to help your child make friends. It is important to let them practice socializing in a supportive setting. Before the guest comes over talk about what it means to be a good host. What will your child do to make their guests feel comfortable?

Have them pick out a few games in advance. How will they know when it’s time to move on to the next game? How they will know if their guests are having a good time. Are they smiling? Laughing? 
Review how it went, paying attention to the behaviors you want to reinforce. Specific, labeled praise is most helpful, instead of ‘good job,’ you can say, ‘you showed good sportsmanship when you lost the game." 
Clubs are a good way to make friends because they provide built-in structure that help to minimize anxiety.

Parents can help kids rehearse ahead of time for a situation that makes them nervous, like going to a birthday party.

Joining school-sponsored activities and study groups can help them connect with their classmates.

Outdoor activities like soccer and baseball  provide a natural, safe way for children to meet new friends who share their interests.
Play at your school playground. This is a common place for elementary school kids to interact and form friendships.

Playing online games with familiar peers allows kids to communicate, collaborate, and problem-solve. These gaming friendships provide a natural jumping off place for meeting in person.

Having a specific activity to do can provide the children with something to talk about as they build the friendship. Bike rides, arts and crafts, movie nights, scavenger hunts, and hikes are all fun options. 
A Video for Children on Consent
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When Friendships End
Losing a friend can be as painful for kids as the end of a romantic relationship is for adults. It’s also extremely common.

Research tells us that friendship breakups are very common for kids. Half of first-graders’ best friendships and one-quarter of fourth-graders’ best friendships don’t make it from fall to spring...

Other Considerations
Respect your child‘s personality. When it comes to making friends, it‘s important to let your child be who they are. Try not to compare them to their siblings‘ social personalities or that of other kids you know. While some children are outgoing and love to have a lot of friends, others are happy having only a few close friendships. What‘s important is to celebrate your child‘s unique personality and specific needs. 
Help them find the right friends. One of the most important social skills is the ability to discern who might be a good friend. If your child finds themselves with friends who do not whole-heartedly welcome them, help them discover their real “team". It might be just a few other like-minded children.
If your child is comfortable with the number of friends they have, avoid turning the concept of making friends into a issue. Some children, are in fact quite happy with one or two close friends with lots of time to read and daydream. 
Wishing you and your family a wonderful winter break!
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