School has just started and as parents, we are eager beavers in wanting to help our children settle well in school and seeing them make new friends. When my firstborn entered preschool, helping him make friends was a top concern for me as I thought that if he had friends, he would enjoy going to school more. Thus, I would ask him regularly after school if he had made any. His response to me was mostly nonchalant as compared to when I asked him about what he did at school which would usually lead to an animated retelling of the snacks he ate, toys or games he played and activities he did.
I quickly realised that my son didn’t think making friends at school was as big a deal as compared to what he was actually doing at school. So what can we as parents do to help equip our children with the skills they will need to make friends, even from a young age?
Model good manners
Nobody likes to hang out with someone who is rude and obnoxious. As I observe my children interacting with each other or with other children, I see the importance of teaching them good manners from young. Children are by nature, self-centred and if not taught, they will not want to take turns, to play nicely or mind their Ps and Qs.
It is important for parents to remember that the social rules of interaction are both caught and taught. Even as we want to teach our children to be polite, to take turns, to queue up and to share, we also need to model these behaviours at home and outside. For example, if you ask your children to queue up for their turn at the slide, you should also be queuing up when you buy food or your children will be questioning why the need to queue at the playground but not at the food court. I had personally witnessed this at a playground when a mother asked her child to queue up, probably succumbing to the stares of other parents when her child was pushing other children away and forcing her way to the front of the slide, and her child protested by saying that she doesn’t queue up either!
“Even as we want to teach our children to be polite, to take turns, to queue up and to share, we also need to model these behaviours at home and outside.”
Empower our children
Avoid hovering over our children when they play and becoming overprotective but allow our children the space and freedom to learn how to handle and resolve conflicts as well.
Mothers are usually more likely to rush to our child’s aid than fathers and this was something I had to learn. I have a natural tendency to step in when I see my children being confronted with challenges, for example, when another child snatches their toy or pushes them around at the playground. However, I am reminded by my husband that I cannot always be there for my children and I need to instead teach them conflict resolution skills, empowering them on what to do when facing such situations, rather than rescuing them every time.
Take time to assess if it is a situation that our children are adequately equipped to handle and intervene if necessary, for example, bullying by another child. We should also seize such opportunities as teaching moments and talk to our children about their feelings and discuss strategies to handle such situations in future.
Playdates are great opportunities for our children to bond with other children and develop their social skills. As an introvert, I learnt to step out of my comfort zone to befriend the mums of the other children in my son’s class during times when parents gather for school events such as sports day or concerts. This allowed us to set up playdates for our children during the school holidays and helped our children to stay connected with their school community, making the return to school after a long break much easier.
Embrace your child’s uniqueness
I have 2 boys who have very different personalities. One is more reserved but when he warms up to you, he won’t stop talking! The other is a daredevil and will not shy away from crowds. However, he is very adamant about things done his way or else! The way they interact with other children is very different and I have learnt to work with those differences when organising playdates. While the daredevil child would love to have a boisterous time playing with many children, the reserved child would have a more enjoyable time playing with just 1 or 2 other children.
“The way they interact with other children is very different and I have learnt to work with those differences when organising playdates.”
With both my children attending a new school this year, I am still interested to observe how they interact with the other children in class. However, instead of asking whether they have made new friends, I will be asking them “What did you enjoy about school today?”
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