When it comes to early childhood development, many parents focus on things like a healthy diet, regular exercise, and stimulating activities. Elementary school friendships are easily overlooked as something that has an influence on a child’s development, but they are more important than you may realize. Paul Schwartz, a professor of psychology and a child behavior expert, suggests that friendship contributes significantly to the development of a child’s social skills. Through friendships, children learn to be sensitive to another person’s viewpoint – they also learn the rules of conversation as well as age-appropriate behaviors.
Some of the other benefits of elementary school friendships include developing social skills through play, improving emotional and coping skills, an increased sense of belonging, reduced stress levels, and lower risk for anxiety and depression, Friendships can also have an impact on a child’s academic performance and may even discourage negative and deviant behaviors. For example, a recent study of 338 kindergarteners in six different public schools revealed that 10% had an oppositional defiant disorder. This condition typically develops during the preschool years and is linked to an increased risk for anxiety, depression, antisocial behavior, substance abuse, and criminal offenses in adolescence and adulthood.
In examining the results of this study, researchers found that more than 70% of the children who exhibited signs of oppositional defiant disorder had been exposed to harsh parenting methods. They also found that children who had friends in school exhibited fewer of these signs.
Some children struggle to make friends while, for others, it seems to come quite naturally. If your child is having trouble making friends at school, here are some things you can do to help:
- Encourage your child to greet other people. Teaching your child to say hello and encouraging them to interact with new people can help develop social skills that can be used to make friends. You can start with members of the family and work your way up.
- Develop social skills in increments. It’s important to start young, but don’t begin by suddenly dropping your toddler off at all-day daycare. Start with small doses of social interaction with family and friends then work your way up.
- Plan playdates at home. When your child is ready for some more extended social interaction, plan a playdate at home where your child will be comfortable. Choose activities that will encourage your child to stay active rather than something that requires a lot of conversation.
- Be present but not overbearing. As you’re working to develop your child’s social skills and friendships, it is important to be there for support, but you shouldn’t be constantly hovering around your child. When you schedule playdates, you should be around but let your child spend time with his friend.
- Play games with your child. Playing games with your child is not just a fun way to pass the time, it also teaches important lessons about collaboration and taking turns – these are important elements in a childhood friendship.
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