Dr Kimberley O’Brien has prepared a Podcast as part of an interview to a local Magazine on how to help children manage friendships during 2017. Enjoy the podcast and read the transcript below.
Quirky Kid runs our popular Social and Emotional Program The Best of Friends.
[00:00:00-00:00:17] Doctor Kimberley O’Brien introduces friendship challenges as children transition from the holidays back to school to start the year 2017.
Hi. It is Doctor Kimberley O’Brien here talking about best friendships as we move into 2017. The new school year often brings some challenges when it comes to friendships, especially when kids are just returning to school and maybe they’ve spent a lot of time with family over the holidays.
[00:00:21-00:01:28] On average, age 7 is when solid friendships begin to form between children, although there are many factors at play, such as when the child started spending time with other kids, as well as the gender of the child.
When do children start to form solid friendships? We know that this differs depending on the child. Some children are exposed to playgroups from the age of 2 or 3, and then preschool, so often kids are starting to form closer friendships if they’ve been in social situations for a longer period of time, whereas other kids who start school at the age of 5 and haven’t been to preschool or day-care sometimes feel quite shy in the company of other kids, so they may take a little bit longer to form some solid friendships. Generally speaking, around the age of 7 is usually when kids start to pair off in having one close friendship. Of course, this doesn’t always stay the same, especially for girls. Around eight years old girls will often have some challenges with their friendships, so that could be that jealousies start to occur, even competition between girls to try to win over certain friends, and when more popular girls could also start to take place.
[00:01:30-00:02:47] Quality and quantity are important when it comes to friendships. Parents should model having friendships with more than one person to encourage their child(ren) to do the same.
What can we teach our children about friendship? I believe it’s important to teach children that it’s about quality friendships, friendships that make you feel good all the time, not hot and cold friends where sometimes they’ll be nice and sometimes they won’t, because when friendships are unpredictable kids can often feel anxious about approaching that person, not sure whether they’ll be friendly or not. Having someone who’s consistently nice and kind is really important in a friendship.
You can also teach your children to have more than one friend, which I believe is important, rather than just a best friend because in my work with young people, sometimes having a best friend can inhibit the formation of other new friendships; they’ll become quite clingy with one person or they won’t want to go to school if their best friend is not there. Particularly in kindergarten if they’ve been paired up with one buddy or person, if they’re not there sometimes they don’t want to go to class, and they can become quite emotional.
I think it’s important for moms and dads also in the playground to model having a broader group of friends, rather than just one consistent friend that they talk to every morning or every afternoon because that gives them options when that person is not around.
[00:02:49-00:03:26] Encourage your child to acknowledge people around them, whether it be through verbal or non-verbal greetings.
What strategies can parents use to help their child develop strong relationships? As I said, modelling good relationships is a good place to start, always using eye contact and saying: “Hello.” So, greetings. If children don’t feel confident with verbal greetings, try non-verbal greetings, teaching them that just a nod or eye contact, a smile is just as good as a verbal greeting and they shouldn’t force themselves to say: “Hello,” if they don’t feel ready. Eye contact is a good place to start.
[00:03:33-00:07:06] School/playground observation by yourself or a professional is a good place to start to determine if there are other factors (such as bullying) affecting your child’s formation of friendships, and whether your child needs help developing their social skills or if there is an issue with other children at school which may require a schoolwide intervention. Also, weekly playdates are beneficial for the expansion of critical social skills, as well as “The Best of Friends” program at Quirky Kids Clinic.
What can you do if your children are struggling to build friendships? At the Quirky Kid Clinic, we’ll often go to the school and observe the children in the playground and the classroom to see what’s happening in their environment, because it might be that the young person is quite sensitive to bullies, exclusion, loud noises, or rough and tumble play. There are lots of things that can inhibit children from forming close friendships, so doing a good observation, or asking a school counsellor, or external psychologist to observe the playground is a good place to start to get an objective view of things. Sometimes class teachers can be helpful, but other times they may not want to be dealing with friendship issues; they might suggest that the children solve things themselves, which can also present challenges for young people. I think it’s good to help your child by doing the observation or having someone do it, and then putting some strategies in place to help.
For example, if there is exclusion or bullying going on, it’s more about addressing that issue rather than skilling the individual up with better social skills. Sometimes a schoolwide message about the importance of including others or something along the lines of being kind can really promote that inclusive practice in the school rather than pulling girls aside and talking to them directly; that can sometimes start more trouble in friendship groups. A whole-school approach is often more successful.
If you do think your child is having some struggles socially, the Quirky Kid Clinic also offers a “The Best of Friends”, a social and emotional learning program which was developed 12 years ago because of the constant referrals for individuals, usually parents saying: “I’m concerned my child is not forming close friendships.” That could just be from having a bad experience in the past and not feeling that they can trust new friends, or it could just be that they’re very shy and they prefer the company of one person rather than groups.
“The Best of Friends” program helps kids to develop one-on-one social skills first, with those greetings as we talked about, developing to-and-fro conversation skills, learning how to approach a group. It starts off developing the one-on-one friendships and then looking at how to have two or more friends, which is often slightly more challenging before even considering having a group of friends, which is even more challenging.We talk about having a very best friend or a best friend forever, it’s also very important to consider that’s quite a lot of pressure to put on a young person to maintain one friendship for a long period of time, so please consider having more than one person over for playdates (on a weekly basis is often good).
One at a time to start with so that kids can develop those one-on-one skills before having more than one friend. Having weekly playdates is a great way to develop social skills in a safe setting. You can observe the kids playing, and maybe give some feedback if that’s something you would do with your child, around how to help them to lead play or how to help them to take turns so that they can have more successful and longer playdates down the track.
[00:07:12-00:08:43] Kids who are distracted by devices or doing a lot of their social interactions online miss out on the opportunity to learn and practice their social skills. Face-to-face relationships need to be encouraged, demonstrated, and practised.
How is friendship changing for children in today’s society? I think that friendships are obviously moving more online, so social media is becoming much more important to early adolescents, and so face-to-face friendships are on the decline, while online friendships are increasing. I think it’s just so important to have lots of face-to-face time because there are so many subtle social cues that you learn to pick up when you’re spending face-to-face time with friends.
Those social cues can be missed if kids are spending more time online socialising. For example, social cues might be that you’re leaving a space next to you when you sit down so that someone can come join you, or someone might be looking for a seat and someone who picks up on the social cue would move aside and make some room for that person. Kids start to sometimes lose their ability to pick up social cues if they have their heads down, even at lunchtime using laptops or iPhones to play games rather than observing other kids’ play and observing the social nuances in the playground. Having more opportunities to play freely is a good way to maintain social skills, and parents are also encouraged to model those social skills by socialising more often themselves.
On that note, I hope that you have a really social 2017, and lots of great playdates at your house and also in the community.
Take care. I’m Dr. Kimberley O’Brien from the Quirky Kid Clinic. Please send your questions for my next podcasts.