As parents, we try to prepare our children to go back to school by reviewing their letters and numbers, helping with summer reading, and making sure they've got all their supplies. But are we preparing them socially, to get along with others, and emotionally, to make friends?
Having friendships is beneficial at any age. Recent research has shown that as an adult, having strong friendships can actually promote health and well-being by reducing stress, improving self-worth, and increasing happiness.
But in order to have friends, one must be a good friend — and learning how starts early. Teaching children to be good friends involves focusing on important social skills such as empathy, respect, and listening skills, and the best way to teach your child how to be a good friend is to model these behaviors yourself.
Show kindness and empathy. Younger children, particularly those in preschool, may find it difficult to take on another's perspective. However, we should still work to foster empathy. Good friends are kind friends. They look out for each other and support each other during difficult times. Foster kindness in children by pointing out acts of kindness, and by showing helpfulness and kindness to them and to others. When your child is upset, name their feelings, show them empathy and support them through their intense emotions. Bring attention to their strengths and genuinely communicate to them your appreciation of their acts of kindness.
Listen and connect. Good friends are good listeners, and good listeners are connected. Model connectivity by practicing active listening skills with your child. Look at them when they talk to you. Put down your smart phone and really listen to what they are saying. Encourage your children to try and understand how someone may be feeling by asking questions. Show them how to respond to someone who may be upset by listening and being encouraging.
Show respect. Friends demonstrate respect. Teach children how to be respectful of others' feelings, personal space and property, by explaining ways they can express their own feelings in a healthy manner. For example, explain to your child that he shouldn't call people names, or say hurtful things. In addition, good friends also show respect for themselves. So show your child how to retain their self-respect by pointing out ways to identify a toxic relationship. This could include bullying or emotional manipulation. Encourage your child to communicate their needs and feelings respectfully and to stand up and be assertive when someone is hurtful to them or others. Encourage your children through genuine communication and appreciation of their strengths and this will give them the courage to express themselves through genuine communication.
So as we get our kids ready for school, remember that while school supplies are important, so are the supplies to create successful social skills.. Those skills will lead to a greater emotional awareness, and will ensure that your child not only succeeds academically, but also socially throughout his life.