Helping children make friends and keep good friendships in a pandemic

(4 minute read)

We recently wrote a blog post about the gift of friendship. There we shared some pretty good reasons why friendship is great.  Friends keep us happy and healthy, and even just knowing that we share a connection with somebody can help us feel less alone.

So how can we help children make and keep good friendships, especially in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic?

Children are diverse

First of all, children are different and they interact with others differently. Some might prefer to keep to themselves and observe, while others want to be the centre of attention. Some might currently be feeling stuck or lonely, while others are happy to be connecting more with family. Reflecting on what their norm is and how they feel about their friendships now is a good place to start!

Teaching social skills

Developing good friendships requires lots of skills that we can practice wherever we are. Even though children see their friends less right now, they can skill be developing their social skills while at home! Here are some examples of skills you can help them grow in.

1. Regulating emotions

We can practice regulating emotions at home. Talk about emotions with children. Ask them every day how they are feeling. Try not to dismiss their bad moods and difficult feelings. Instead, talk to them about why they are feeling that way. Try to give them suggestions for how to handle these feelings.

Children will be able to handle their emotions better if they are shown warmth, not withdrawal of affection, when their behaviour is difficult. This includes responding to them instead of reacting in high-stress situations, and is related to helping them develop resilience and self-control.

2. Knowing how to participate in conversations

You can model positive social behaviour wherever you go. How you talk to your neighbours or to someone in the supermarket are opportunities to show children how to positively engage with others.

Having conversations with family members while eating dinner is also a good simple way to develop this. You can give children ideas for how to engage with others this way. Teach them questions such as “What was the best part of your day?”, “If you could have any pet, what would you choose and why?”, or “What is your favourite ___?”

3. Developing empathy and kindness

Help children recognise when someone is upset, and help them show kindness. You could bake something for a friend who is having a tough time, why not try our Oreo Truffles recipe. You could send a postcard to someone whose pet is ill. Nurture kindness by helping children show kindness to themselves as well as to others, through various random acts of kindness.

4. Knowing how to apologise and how to forgive

The best way to develop this in children is to model it. If you make a mistake or lose your temper, try to apologise to your child. This is the most powerful thing you can do. While it might seem weak, it is the best way of teaching children that we all make mistakes and that taking responsibility for them is the only way to make amends and repair relationships.

Teaching children how to express remorse isn’t just about saying sorry. Also help them consider what they can do to make the situation better.

Equally, help children to be understanding and forgiving of other’s mistakes. Again, model this through warmth and forgiveness when they make a mistake. You can also help them to consider the other person’s point of view.

Opportunities to connect with friends

Besides teaching social skills, it is also important to look for opportunities to connect with others. As well as in school, this usually includes looking for sports activities, book clubs, music clubs or religious groups.

Connecting during the pandemic

During a pandemic, it is a lot more difficult to do this. Here are a few helpful ideas by Vincent Iannelli on how to help children connect with others, make friends and keep friendships during the Covid-19 pandemic.

  • Find a pen pal and send each other letters or cards. This can be a distant cousin, someone from school or even someone from another country!
  • Help children create online hangouts with their friends. You can help them organise watching a movie together, having a virtual sleepover or scavenger hunt
  • Encourage children to study together. They can be connected through video while doing homework or reading a book they are meant to read for school
  • If possible, encourage face-to-face meetings with friends. If they live close-by, perhaps they could meet outdoors, either on their own or with you nearby. Remember to keep social distance, and it’s a good idea to wear a mask as an extra precaution!
  • Play online games. There are lots of online games that can be played over different websites and apps. Make sure that you know what they are playing, but this is a great way for kids to communicate, collaborate and problem-solve together.

Click here to read the article by Vincent Iannelli with the original list of tips.

Things to keep in mind

Some children might struggle with the above ideas and not want to engage with others in these ways. Equally, sometimes other children might not want to engage. Forcing friendships is usually not a good idea.

It is normal for friendships to have ups and downs even without a pandemic. It is still just as important to help children make good friends, who will be kind to them, as it is to be a good friend who is kind.

We are living in a very difficult time, and it is impossible not to feel lonely and isolated at times. Be realistic about this and understanding. But keep in mind, and help children remember, that we will get through this and that friendships will be recovered and new ones will be formed.

For more tips on helping children make friends, see:

https://www.parentingscience.com/kids-make-friends.html

https://health.clevelandclinic.org/8-ways-help-child-make-friends-school/

https://www.verywellfamily.com/making-and-keeping-friends-2633627