Teaching Kids Friendship-Making Skills

by Michele Borba

childhood friendsLet's face it, some kids just seem to make friends easily. They're invited to all the birthday parties, attend the sleep-overs, are chosen first for teams, and are sought after as everyone's friend. If we could peek into their future, we'd see them continuing to succeed socially throughout their school years, as well as for the rest of their lives.

Child psychologists find popular kids have one thing in common: they've learned the skills of social competence at an early age. Like most skills, the skills of friendship are refined through trial and error. So, the more opportunities kids have to try out what works with others and what doesn't, the greater likelihood social competence will develop.

That puts a lot of kids at a disadvantage. Kids who hang back and are shy, kids who haven't had many social experiences, kids who never learned these first critical friendship-making steps, or kids who have poor social models to copy are kids handicapped from developing the skills of social competence. Not knowing how to join a group or meet new friends will haunt them the rest of their lives. As well-liked kids continue practicing their social skills, kids lacking the skills will continue to lag socially behind others. Finally, the pain of social rejection will set in.

The good news is that social skills can easily be taught. Studies from UCLA and Duke University (as well as countless of other child development institutions) prove that even children with the lowest skills in social competence can be helped. And teaching those skills can do nothing but enhance children's social confidence and expand their potential interpersonal fulfillment.

Four Proven Ways to Help Kids Learn Friendship-Making Skills

These next steps show you how to teach your child any skill you think he needs to enhance help him get along with others. The examples are based on one of my clients to help you see how to apply the strategy.

Zoe's father volunteered to go on the class field trip to see for himself if the other kids really were as mean to his daughter as she said. Just sitting in the back of the bus and watching how Zoe interacted with the other girls convinced him he wasn't hearing the whole story. He instantly saw how bossy she was, and how she always bulldozed herself into groups without watching to see what the other kids were doing. She was obviously turning the other girls off. Now that he knew her problem, how could he help her change?

Child development experts, Sherri Oden and Steven Asher worked for years with children who had problems fitting in. They discovered their social successes dramatically improved when taught specific friendship-making skills. You can use the same steps to help your child learn any social skill. By teaching your child one new skill at a time and practicing it over and over until she can use it on her own, you can help your child make new friends and improve her social confidence. Here's how Zoe's father taught his daughter new social skills.

Step One: Focus on a Skill Your Child Lacks

waiting impatiently to join the gameLook over the Friendship Building Skills Test and choose one skill your child lacks. Choose the easiest one to teach!

Zoe's father knew his daughter needed to learn many skills: she was bossy, used a loud voice, argued frequently, didn't take turns, and played too aggressively. The first thing he needed to help her learn was to wait and watch the group, before barging in.

Friendship-Making Skills: Here are a few top friendship-making skills that researchers say are critical to our children's social competence (and ALL are teachable):