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Making and Breaking Friendships at School

By: Claire Pateman - Updated: 25 Feb 2013 | comments*Discuss
Friendship Shyness Aggression Social

Making friends is a natural part of school life and so, unfortunately, is breaking some of those friendships. Some children find the whole process of making friends just as daunting as that of dealing with what happens when friendships go wrong.

It is important that parents, and guardians, are able to recognise when there is a potential issue and offer their child the best support.

How do Children Make Friends?

Research has shown that, even at a very young age, children appear to assess potential friends using a number of core questions. What they are looking for in a friend is positive traits that answer these questions:
  • Are they fun to be with? Positive characteristics include a sense of humour, cooperative, resourceful, participatory. Negative traits include aggression, bossiness, disruptive and low cognitive skills.
  • Do they make me feel good about myself? Positive characteristics include supportive, kind, responsive. Negative traits include insulting, demeaning and non-responsive.
  • Do we influence each other in a positive way? Positive characteristics include cooperative, responsive. Negative traits include aggression, bossiness and resistant.
  • Do they help me reach my goals? Positive characteristics include cooperative and helpful. Negative traits include disruptive and impulsive.
  • Are they trustworthy? Positive characteristics include reliable, honest and loyal. Negative traits include aggression, dishonesty and betraying confidences.
  • Are we similar?

Of course, the importance of each question changes with age. For example, very young children are more concerned with whether a child is fun to be with.

How to Help Your Child Make Friends

If you think that your child is having trouble making friends, then you need to look at the potential reasons why this is happening. Shyness is often an issue, particularly when starting a new school. To be honest, the best way of tackling shyness is to lead by example. Make a positive effort to introduce your child to new people and encourage them to ask questions to find out what the person is like, and they will soon learn that they can begin to interact more with others. Teachers can help in the classroom, but you need to work on this out of school too. Inviting new classmates over for tea or joining them in the park after school are both great icebreakers.

Perhaps the problem your child has making friends relates to the core questions and they actually display some of the negative traits mentioned. If this is the case, then you need to address the issues. For example, if they are not good at sharing, then you need to teach them how to share. All of the negative characteristics that put other children off being your child’s friend can be corrected with a little patience and guidance. You should talk to your child about the consequences of their actions and encourage them to change so that they can make more friends.

When Friendships go Wrong

Young children will often swap and change their friends at a seemingly rapid rate. It is not unusual for your child to be best friends with someone one day, and not the next. Chances are that they will be back to best friends again within a day or two, but it is important that you ask them the reason behind the breakup to ensure that you can offer them the right support.

One of the main causes of friendship breakups is that the friend has begun to play with another child. This can leave the first child feeling left out and upset. Teaching your child that people can have more than one friend is key in this case. Once they realise that friendships can be shared, they will not feel rejected. Of course, if the reason behind the breakup is more serious, such as aggression, then you may need to discuss it with their teacher.

There may be occasions when you are concerned about the influence that a friend is having on your child, and may want to discourage the friendship. This is never easy, but the first step is to discuss the situation with your child. If you still have concerns, then you need to raise them with their teacher.

Some children prefer to have one or two close friends, while others enjoy being with a lot of different children. Making and breaking friendships are all part of growing up, and help children develop social skills. Your child will choose their friends, but you can help encourage them by teaching them the positive characteristics that will help them relate well with others.

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