The Art of Friendship

by Ann Douglas

We spend a lot of time teaching our children practical skills, like how to tie their shoes and how to ride a bike. Sometimes, however, we neglect to help them to master an even more important skill: the art of being a friend.

Not every child needs to be taught this skill, of course. Some children are natural-born social butterflies. They seem to know instinctively what's involved in being someone's friend. Others need a little bit of help in learning what's involved. (Basically, they just need someone to show them the ropes!)

If your child falls into the latter category, you might be wondering what you can do to help the process along. Here are some tips from Diane Wolf, a professional speaker who specializes in parenting issues:

  • Don't expect too much too soon. It's not reasonable to expect an eighteen-month-old to be interested in playing with other children her own age. She's still too self-absorbed to have or be a friend. Rather than writing her off as the toddler world's equivalent to a wallflower, have confidence that her social skills will blossom over time. As hard as it may be to believe right now, her attitudes toward other children will change dramatically over the next two years. (Trust me, it won't be long before you'll need a calendar to keep all her playdates straight!)

  • Keep in mind that children may need to be taught the proper "protocol" involved in being a good friend. (Wolf refers to this protocol as "friendship manners.") When your children are very young, you might want to teach the importance of sharing (a hard skill for many preschoolers to master) and stress the Golden Rule ("Do on to others as you would have others do on to you.") As your children grow older, however, you'll need to make them aware that there's a certain code of ethics involved in friendship. That means coaching them important lessons like when it's appropriate for friends to have secrets and when it's not; and why it's not a good idea to gossip about one friend with another friend.

  • Praise your children when you see them behaving kindly toward their friends. Remember, that urge to share and be patient when you've got someone over to play doesn't always come naturally! When they handle things right in the friendship department, a healthy dose of praise is in order. "Try to catch them being good and point out what you like about the way they treat their friends."

  • Don't forget to walk the talk of friendships. Every parent knows that kids don't pay nearly as much attention to what you say as what you do. The best way to teach your children how to be a friend is to set a good example, Wolf stresses. Let your children see you modeling the very behaviors that you're trying to teach them about: listening, sharing, respect, and so on, she suggests: "I think that parents need to model friendship by the way they treat their own friends."

Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about pregnancy and parenting including the bestselling "The Mother of All Pregnancy Books." She regularly contributes to a number of print and online publications, is frequently quoted in the media on a range of parenting-related topics, and has appeared as a guest on a number of television and radio shows. Ann and her husband Neil live in Peterborough, Ontario. with the youngest of their four children. Learn more at her site, having-a-baby.com.

Copyright © Ann Douglas. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org.