Want to Help Your Kids Make Friends (and Be a Good Friend)? Teach Them These Skills.

Remember how the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz wanted to find a heart? Or how the Grinch (who stole Christmas) had a heart that “grew three sizes” after he saved the Who’s village from imminent destruction? These are metaphors for finding friendship, and kids are just as eager to help their hearts grow and find friends too.

Friends seem to come easily sometimes; other times, friends can seem really hard to find. There’s a psychology to friendship that has gotten a lot of attention over the past century, with everything from Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” to “The Circles All Around Us” and “The Survival Guide for Making and Being Friends”.

These and other studies of childhood friendships deal with certain sets of skills that kids need to develop in order to make and keep friends. These include:

    • Emotional Skills
    • Self-Regulation Skills
    • Social Competence Skills

Emotional Skills

Emotional skills deal, obviously, with recognizing and understanding your own emotions. You’ve probably had many conversations with your kids about how they’re feeling: Sad? Happy? Angry? Confused? Or into more complicated emotional territory like connection, acceptance, and rejection. You’re already helping your kids develop their emotional skill set this way, so that when they meet new people they can feel more confident navigating the emotional tide.

Self-Regulation Skills

Self-regulation skills have to do with controlling those emotions. Not lashing out when you’re angry, not throwing a tantrum when you’re frustrated or confused. These are hard skills to master, even for adults. For making friends, kids need an environment where they can feel comfortable regulating their emotions without feeling rejected or hurt. Good sportsmanship, whether on a traditional sports team or in a karate tournament, teaches self-regulation skills. Other kids respect that self-restraint (being a good winner, a good loser), and this can help your kid make friends.

Social Competence Skills

Social competence skills come as the result of trial and error. Kids tell a funny joke, but at an inappropriate time—and the joke gets no laughs. We’ve all had awkward experiences like these, and (hopefully) we learn from them. Again, gaining social competency depends on an environment and community that isn’t going to judge you for your mistakes, just encourage you to learn from them. A positive environment, in other words. Ideally, school classrooms, volunteer communities, and pursuits that involve working as a team provide the positive charge for kids to become more socially competent and make long-lasting friendships.

In the end, making friends starts with you and your interests, because you’re at your best making friends when you’re doing what you love. Of course, martial arts is a wonderful way to make friends, with like-minded, respectful students all out to help each other do their best. Find out how our black belt community can lead to new friendships for your child.

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