Developing intimate friendships in childhood is important, given the critical role friendships play in social and personal identity, social support, and physical and psychological well-being. Studies show healthy relationships can suppress levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) during stressful times, limit the toll hardship takes on our health, ward off mental health issues and help us avoid risky behaviors. Moreover, a longitudinal study out of Harvard has shown that what keeps us happy and healthy throughout life is not fame or money, but close relationships.
Parents are instrumental in teaching children how to make friends and maintain relationships. One study followed children ages five to ten and discovered those children whose mothers helped them learn how to manage negative emotions were more likely to have positive friendships at age ten than peers whose mothers did not provide this support.
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Adults and children who continue to nurture friendships through shared moments, cocreated memories, and live interactions can create deep relationships that withstand the test of time.
Consider the following strategies to help kids build relationships:
- Make Time: Since parents dictate the schedule outside of school, it’s important to set aside time for your children to spend time with friends, as well. Encourage older children to invite a friend or two over to your house. For younger children, reach out to the parents of your children’s classmates so you can proactively schedule play dates.
- Show Appreciation: Teach children to appreciate others by making it a regular habit to communicate to loved ones how important they are to you.
- Work It Out: Instead of stepping in to resolve conflicts for your children, give them the tools to work it out on their own. Four useful tools for moving through conflict include taking personal responsibility for your actions leading up to the conflict, listening to the emotions of others, finding common ground, and learning how to agree to disagree.
- Share with Others: Teach children to enjoy sharing by regularly sharing your favorite things with them, such as food, trinkets, and books, and discuss how it feels for both of you. Find opportunities for you and your family to share with people you care about or want to get to know better. Encourage your children to swap books, toys, or clothes with friends, too.
- Weed Out Negativity: Negative relationships can be taxing to your family’s emotional and physical health. Work to eliminate toxic relationships in your own life, and share honest, but age-appropriate explanations about relationships you choose to eliminate, and why. Talk with kids about the tenets of being a good friend and the importance of being respected in a friendship. Meet your children’s friends and inquire about their friendships so you can identify any unhealthy relationships and help your child move past them.
Now, it’s your turn: What do you do to help your children cultivate healthy relationships?