Can Parents Affect Their Children's Ability to Make Friends?

Friendships are of paramount importance in the day-to-day lives of children 1. Friends provide fun, emotional comfort and validation for a positive sense of self. Professor Frederick Frankel, of UCLA’s Children’s Friendship Program, using research which demonstrated that people with good childhood friends were less likely to suffer depression as young adults, developed specific techniques that teach the skills needed to make friends. He and his team consider parents an important part of how children learn social skills. Parents can be instrumental as coaches and cheerleaders in helping their children develop the ability to make and keep friends.

The Impact of Parents on Childhood Friendships

Researchers at the University of Illinois Early Childhood and Parenting Collaborative cite three specific ways parents can affect formation of childhood friendships 1. (1) Maintain a strong and positive parent and child relationship, (2) be a parent supervisor at children’s playdates, and (3) assist the child in finding social opportunities with others. Because negative parenting interactions with children have been found to indirectly impact a child's ability to make friends, parents need to carefully consider how their own relationships with their children may be setting their kids up for frustrating play situations with peers. Parenting classes might be one place to begin to ensure that the family dynamics are strong and positive before the issue of friend-making is approached.

How Children Make Friends

Research shows that children tend to be friends with whom they have similarities, says Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, a psychologist who works with parents and children in social-emotional development issues. Kids are likely to initiate friendly overtures to others who are about the same age, ethnicity and gender. Shared interests provide common ground for play and also provide an obvious entry point for children being coached in establishing new friendships 1. Another important element in development of childhood friendships is that of shared fun 1. Children who can quickly establish play and fun activity with other children are more likely to be popular playmates.

How Parents Can Help Children Make Friends

Because children need to find common ground with others in order to make friends, parents can help by coaching their children in ways to find out what others are interested in. Have your child think of ways to talk to other children and ask questions to find common interests. Helping children recognize what makes a good friendship is another way to get kids to think about methods for seeking out friends with similar preferences. Adults can use their own friendships as examples for what works in being friends 1. "Dan and I like to play golf together," and "Maria is someone who likes the same movies I like," are comments parents can make which help children see friendships as that of sharing common enjoyable pastimes 1.

Increasing Opportunities for Friendships

Researchers at the University of Illinois also found that parents who worked to locate many opportunities for peer contact had children with more solid friendships 1. Parents can ensure that children have plenty of chances to make friends by encouraging them to join in games on playgrounds or by seeking out venues that are popular with kids, such as soccer camps, after-school classes and kids' library programs. Inviting other children over for playdates and coaching your child on how to be a good host is another way parents can directly affect the chances their children will learn to make friends. Without direct interference, parents can help provide choices of positive activities that will allow children opportunities to create shared fun.