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Making New Friends

Making New Friends…And Keeping Old Ones, by Dr Richard Woolfson

In the next couple of months, some of the children you mind will start school for the first time, while others will return to a familiar classroom and playground. Either way, friendships will be uppermost in their minds – most children want to be popular and to have pals in school.

And they are quite right! A child with plenty of mates has a number of advantages over a lonely child, including:

more fun. A friendly child generates a happy atmosphere, in which the others around her are relaxed and pleasant – and the result is that everyone has more fun together.
more play. Being popular, she is never short of other children who want to work with her on classroom assignments, or to play with her in the playground.
more self-confidence. The positive reaction from her peers increases her self-esteem – friendships boost her self-confidence.

Of course, not everyone you mind has to be outgoing with plenty of friends. So don’t immediately start to worry if one particular child in your care doesn’t have loads of pals. The chances are that she is perfectly happy not being the centre of attention, and that she is friendly in her own quiet way. However, it’s always worth checking out whether or not a quiet child would like to be friendlier, or to be more popular. Maybe she would like help from you to make new friends.

Facts About Friendships
Psychological research has found the following:

children who have shy parents tend to be shy themselves and tend to have fewer friends – and they are usually very happy with themselves.
friendships between children aged five or six can change very quickly, even from one day to the next. Peer relationships are more stable by the age of nine or ten.
some toys encourage children to form friendships through play (for instance, a bat and ball, a skipping rope), while others encourage solitary play (for instance, a jigsaw).
a child’s pal is usually similar to herself in terms of age, level of physical ability and personality; like attracts like, in childhood friendships.

Making & Keeping Friends – 5 Core Skills

cooperation. She’ll get on better with others when she can take turns in a game, when she can share her toys and sweets, and when she can listen to what they have to say. Children like their friends to be cooperative.
communication. In school, other pupils expect her to chat; that’s why a child gets on better with her classmates when she is prepared to make “small talk” (for example, asking “What’s your favourite game?”) than when she sits in total silence.
impression. A child will not have many friends if she looks miserable all the time. The plain truth is that children prefer being with others who smile. Encourage her to smile in the presence of her friends, even though she might find this difficult.
posture. By standing close to other children, by making good eye-contact with them and by laughing when they laugh, she uses non-verbal communication to express her desire to be friendly. Positive body language is an effective social skill..
sensitivity. Nobody likes a child who hits out in frustration or who throws her books around in temper. Develop her ability to express her feelings verbally, not physically, as this will help boost her ability to make and keep friends.

How You Can Help
Children can learn a lot about how to make new friendships, and how to keep old ones, while they spend time in your care – you can make a huge impact on them. For instance, suggest games that require cooperation. Playing together is one of the best techniques for teaching children how to be friendly, especially games that involve cooperation rather than competition. And show them how to share and take turns. Some children may have no experience of this until they first set foot in the nursery. Don’t be impatient with the child who complains about sharing or who always barges to the front of the queue; instead, explain to her that the rules benefit her as much as the others, and let her know you are pleased when she does share.

Remember to praise the children you mind when they show kindness. Even without your guidance, there will be times when one of them helps the other, perhaps with a drawing or with their homework. When you see this happen, make a big fuss and let her know how pleased you are – this reinforces the caring action and makes it more likely to be repeated in the future.

When a fight occurs – as it surely will – advise the children how to sort out their disagreement. Resist any temptation simply to separate the two bickering youngsters when you discover them arguing with each other, as they won’t learn anything positive by that strategy. Instead, calm them down, sit them in separate chairs so that they face each other, then try to help them resolve their argument peacefully. It can also help to teach them how to compromise. Since friendships often become strained because two children want the same thing at the same time. One way round this is for the children to reach a compromise so that both have access to what they want. For instance, when a child and her friend disagree over what game to play, you can suggest that they first play one game and then the other.

Another useful strategy is to give the children ‘helping’ tasks when they are with you. Give them specific jobs that involve caring for others. For instance, one child might be asked to help another tidy up the mess in the toy corner, or perhaps an older child might help someone younger with her reading assignment. Friendliness amongst children is strengthened by caring actions.

When Things Go Wrong
You may find a child you mind confides in you that nobody likes her in school. Don’t over-react – there is always a possibility that she just feels sorry for herself today, and that she’ll feel differently tomorrow. So stay calm the first time she makes such a negative remark.

On the other hand you may in fact find that the child is right – in other words, when you think about it you realise that her claim “they don’t like me” is accurate. Ask yourself the following questions:
Does she mention the names of other children when she talks about school?
Have you seen her mix with other children recently?
Has she been invited to parties over the past few months?
Does she get on with the other children you mind?

If the answer to most of these questions is “no”, her friendships are probably weak. In that case, set aside some time specifically for teaching her those social skills and strategies that can have a positive impact on her relationships with her peers. In addition, check out if there is a specific incident that has triggered this loss of self-confidence, and offer practical advice where possible. It could be, for instance, that she had a disagreement with her pal. If so, advise her about ways to resolve the conflict. Perhaps suggest that she approaches her former friend, that she says clearly that she would like them to make up, and that she should ask her friend to play with her again. A basic strategy like that could be sufficient to get the friendship back to the way it was.

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