Kids and Friendship: A Parent's Guide

WebMD Live Events Transcript

Michele Borba, EdD, joined us on April 14, 2005 to discuss how you can teach your child the essential friendship-building skills that they need to find, make, and keep friends, as well as survive social pressure from peers.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Welcome back to WebMD Live, Dr. Borba. Thank you for joining us today. Just how important is it that parents help children develop friendship skills? Isn't this something that we learn naturally?

No. Friends play an enormous part in a child's development, much more so than we ever realized. It's probably the highest correlation to our kids' happiness and mental health and it's going to help them in every arena of their life. Think about it -- not just now, but with their employer, their colleagues, their adult friends, their spouse and their own children. That's why we have to prioritize it more.

How can we help without seeming to be an interfering or controlling parent?

Good for you, because both of those are what you don't want to do. Those hinder our children's friendship-making skills.

The first step is to watch your child closer without his knowing you're watching. Watch him when he's interacting with other children. See if there's any little red flag. One little thing he's doing that may be stopping him from making good friends or being a good friend -- like being bossy, too sensitive, always arguing, hot tempered, teasing or too shy. Target one skill at a time and that's the one you can teach this month.

"Your job as a parent is to always help your child find one good friend; they don't need lots of friends."

Let's talk about the shy child. What can you do to help without pushing your shy child into a place where they are not comfortable and happy?

Here are some points:

  • First, your job is not to change your child into an extrovert. Your job is to help your child feel comfortable with other kids. So you have to accept that your child is going to be a quieter, more reserved child. That's part of her temperament.
  • Second, she needs rehearsal. Before she goes into a big group -- or any group -- it helps to talk ahead of what the expectations are: who's going to be there, how many kids, how long?
  • Third, she likes to watch first before jumping in. Let her watch from aside; it helps her build confidence.
  • Fourth, if you were to teach one little skill that helps this child look more comfortable it is eye contact. Shyer children usually hold their head down and other kids like to be around friends who look interested in them. So teach her to look at the color of your friend's eyes when they're talking, then practice, practice, practice.

There's a complete makeover for shyness in Nobody Likes Me , as well as many other troublesome behaviors.

How can I help my 13-year-old with developing friendships? She's popular and smart, but cannot make a one-on-one friend. She is very sad over this and is never called on weekends to do things.

Your job as a parent is to always help your child find one good friend; they don't need lots of friends.

How kids choose friends when they get older is based on the "rule of similarity" -- you choose friends with similar interests. So your best hope is to help your child discover her interests. Does she like to draw or play an instrument? Is she outdoorsy, does she like to sew or read books? Find a club, an after-school activity or tutoring with other kids of the same interests. She's more likely to find a better friend that way.

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