Today, children live in a complicated social world. All parents can remember feeling rejected or longing for attention from that one particular person that everyone wanted as a friend. Kids today are introduced to peer pressure and exclusion much earlier and more frequently than we were, due to media exposure of what is considered to be popular or “the in thing” at the moment.
Parents can help foster a sense of security in children as young as toddlers by modeling independence, so that rejection by other children doesn’t seem quite so devastating. Social skills can also be modeled from an early age, which will show kids how to treat others in a respectful way. Teaching children that people are important and deserve to be treated with respect are valuable gifts that will help them build strong friendships throughout their lives. Adults should make an effort to point out qualities in their children’s friends that they value. Clinical psychologist Dr. Lee Hausner says that reinforcing positive traits will send the message to kids that those are the things they should look for when choosing friends.
Unfortunately, children being mean to one another happens a lot. Preschool teacher Tom Hobson says that children rejecting each other during play is a very common occurrence. Parents should try not to overreact, but instead should talk to the child about what they are feeling and give suggestions for a different behavior.
Teaching young children how to repair rifts in their relationships is also a very valuable tool. Many times, parents force a child to give an apology before he is ready to do so. Premature apologies are usually not sincere. Letting a child work through a conflict and think about the reasons he is truly sorry will result in a more heartfelt apology. Children learn to fight and make up by watching the adults around them. If their parents don’t apologize and take responsibility for their mistakes, they won’t either. If they don’t see adults around them accepting apologies gracefully, they won’t know how to do that either.
The most important thing a parent can do for a child when it comes to social skills is to model appropriate behaviors. Even toddlers are aware when an adult in their life is not treating people with kindness and respect. We should teach children to value friendships and be respectful, so they can teach others how to treat them. This will ensure healthy and positive peer relationships.