Summertime social for kids

Top tips on teaching children how to recognize and be a good friend.

By GreatSchools Staff

Beyond manners

The unstructured days of summer can be hard for kids who struggle socially. But with the right support, they can also be a blessing. Whether your children are having trouble with bullying or just feel left out of the playground social scene, summer can be a great opportunity to make new friends and build social confidence. All of which will help when they go back to school in the fall.

What’s this got to do with you? Well, kids learn friendship skills by watching other people, and parents are the first and most important role models. But strong social skills go beyond teaching basic manners, of course. They include things like having empathy, showing an interest in others, starting conversations, giving compliments, and taking turns.

Here are some simple steps to build on your kids' friendship skills:

What's a friend anyway?

Don’t assume your children know what being a good friend entails. Talk about taking turns, sharing, helping and showing an interest in others and how these will help peers and classmates feel good and want to spend time with them. If you see examples of others doing these things, point them out to your children. “See how that girl let her friend have a turn with the jump rope? That’s a nice thing to do for a friend.”

Mingle more

The more your children interact with others, the better they’ll get at it. And having them meet a wide variety of people in different situations will give them lots of opportunities to practice under different circumstances. Even if your family is planning to stay home this summer, make sure your kids get out to places where they'll meet other kids — for example, the playground, the public pool, or the library. If they’re going to camp or taking classes, encourage them to talk to new kids and strike up friendships.

One "Hi" at a time

If your kids are especially shy, make a plan to help them get comfortable making new friends. Set small, daily goals — the first step might be to encourage them to smile and greet one or two new people each day. Once they've mastered this, up the ante a bit and have them add a conversation starter (such as a question about the other person's day or a compliment).

Just add drama

Since most social skills are learned by watching and imitating others, it makes sense to role-play the kinds of social situations that make your children uncomfortable or nervous. You might feel silly acting out an interaction between kids, but it really does help your children to practice in a safe place. Try several possible responses so that they understand there can be many outcomes to any interaction. If your children want to confront a friend who hurt their feelings, for instance, role-play an encounter where the other child apologizes, and another where the child continues to tease them. Talk about what the next step should be in each situation.

Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative

When you see your children making a kind gesture, make sure to praise them for it. “That was nice of you to give Joe another turn after he dropped the ball. That’s being a good friend.”

You’ve told your children what makes a good friend — now’s it’s time to talk about what will stop a friendship in its tracks. Teach them not to brag, put others down, be a sore loser, or hog conversations. If you hear them doing any of these things, gently remind them that a good friend doesn’t do that. Also ask your children how they think their friend responded. “How do you think that made him feel? Does it look like he’s happy?” It’s important for kids to understand the power they have on others, and this is a good way for yours to start.