National Best Friends Day is a perfect time to focus on kids’ social skills

Calling all besties, BFFs, and kinda’ sorta’s: June 8 is National Best Friends Day, a time to celebrate that one special person who knows us backward and forward and still loves us big-time! It’s also a great opportunity to talk to kids about friendship—and relationships in general—and to take a look at our kids’ overall social skills. Raising a child who gets along well with others yet knows how to draw healthy boundaries will create lifelong benefits.

The Women’s and Children’s Health Network, based in South Australia, on the “Social skills – for Children” part of their Kids’ Health website, defines social skills as simply “the ways in which we interact with others.” Certainly, some kids (and adults, too) are more shy or introverted. It’s less about being a “people person” than being a person who treats people well. Honesty, manners, kindness, empathy, gratitude, and the ability to share, compromise, and cooperate are super important. Being intentional about instilling these traits and consistent in modeling them, go a long, long way.

Kids’ Health notes that “everyone needs friends but some people have problems making and keeping friends.” Under “friendship skills,” they list things such as “cooperation and sharing,” “respecting confidences,” “keeping your word,” “praising others, no put downs,” and “acknowledging when you make a mistake.”

Basic good manners are essential. Everyone appreciates hearing “please, “thank you,” and when appropriate, “I’m sorry,” but a few sources emphasize that writing thank-you notes, sometimes considered a lost art, is a really important practice for kids in terms of cultivating gratitude, recognizing kindness, and building empathy. In “7 Habits of Parents Who Have Kids with Good Manners,” by Shelby Rideout, posted last summer to Mind Body Green, she urges that parents “introduce courteous words early” and reminds that “the key to good manners is to make them such a habit that they become automatic.”

Teaching these lessons begins early, and kids watch mom and dad closely for what they do as well as what they say. For example, if parents are short with one another or with kids, it’s important to apologize in front of those who witnessed or overheard. It shows our human imperfection and our willingness to acknowledge it.

The fine art of “give and take” is also important. Family Times, in “The Art of Compromise,” notes that “kids first learn about compromise and negotiation through play, and it’s often sibling rivalry that starts the ball rolling.” Think of the squabbles when kids want to play with the same toy or watch different movies. Or when you plan a family activity, but one child begs to do something else.

The article suggests that “the ability to compromise is one of the most powerful skills to foster in young children, and they learn it first from parents.” It includes many tips for achieving compromise; one is to introduce kids to the “win-win” solution in which both sides are “prepared to give something up in order to achieve what they each want.” For example, they might split time with a toy or take turns sitting through each other’s movie or program.

Gameplay is an excellent way to channel rivalry and finetune skills such gracious winning and losing, cooperation, collaboration, and turn-taking. The Counting Money, Telling Time, Spelling Words, and Making Fractions Learning Sets, each with a learning pad, four game boards, two sets of game cards, one set of quiz cards, and press-out pieces that go with them, offer lots of gameplay options for building essential academic skills along with those softer skills.

Many resources also highlight that bumps along the friendship road are common. For example, PBS Parents, in the “The Laws of Friendship,” notes that “As kids grow, the ground rules of friendships develop and change” and that “Conflicts with close friends are inevitable.” Just like adults, the opinion of their nearest and dearest are very important to kids. The article also says that “trios can truly be trying.” Most of us can recall from our own childhood days that when three friends get together, it can sometimes create challenges. The PBS Parents site notes that “Often, there’s an odd person out, so like the uneven legs of a stool, a trio sometimes tips over into conflict and disappointment.” The article suggests that some kids do better in one-on-one situations and some in larger groups.

Perhaps especially important, when we’re hearing so much about bullying, is that “Many children experiment with social power.” PBS Parents describes that “By the time kids are four or five years old, many discover that excluding or teasing someone makes them feel powerful and they find this exciting.” Kids also test their powers to see how effective they are,” which might include hurtful things such as telling friends not to talk to another child.”

Talking to kids often about treating others as they would like to be treated and resolving differences, as well as showing them how it’s done, will help make them happier and more successful and contribute to a kinder world.