For a while, your child’s social life is pretty much dependent on you. Really small kids can’t exactly go out and meet other singles at a bar, right? And if your kids are not going to school because they are being home-schooled (or because they are still too small), there is a danger of their social lives becoming mommy, daddy and… nothing else. While at first this might not seem like a big deal (they are happy, right?) in can actually have devastating consequences for your child’s social development.
Why is it important?
At every age, developing friendships helps children with their mental health and well-being. Friends also help children with their social development and emotional well-being. While having older or younger friends is not precisely bad, it becomes a problem when there are no people in your child’s life that are close to his age. This is because children need to relate to others as equals to learn important social skills. If they feel like they are in equal footing with their friends, they might be confident enough to keep each other in check. Kids who have friends are more likely to have a healthy self-esteem and be more confident. They also usually perform better at school and are overall happier than kids with no friends.
How can you help as a parent?
So, having friends their own age is really important for children to grow up happy. How can you help as a parent? The first thing is kind of obvious: provide them with opportunities to make friends. Figure out what kinds of activities they would be interested in trying and then find a local group of children. Network with parents at the child care or the school and see if you can arrange play dates for your youngest children. For your older children, make sure you are not overcrowding their schedule so they actually have time t play and develop friendships with their peers. If you see your child is having some trouble getting along, it might be useful to talk to them and go over what they may or may not do during a play date. Children are still learning the things that come naturally to us as adults. It’s okay to remind (but not nag) your child to smile or use the other person’s name. You might become a sort of “coach”, but that can be very beneficial to children. Next time they have friends over, instead of asking if they would like something to drink, remind your kid to do it. Finally, if your child comes to you with a friendship conflict, listen to them and help them come up with a solution. Storming off to yell at the other kid’s parent is not going to help.