How to help your child rekindle friendships at any age

How to help your child rekindle friendships at any age

A new school year is often full of promise, but a lot hangs in the balance this year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is endorsing a return to full-time in-person learning with proper COVID-19 precautions.

Some of the motivation for returning to in-person learning stems from the toll in-home learning may have on children and teens. A year after the first COVID-19 cases in the United States, 46 percent of 977 parents surveyed noticed symptoms of a new or worsening mental health condition in their teen.

“Children who were isolated during the pandemic had less opportunity to learn the social skills needed to build healthy relationships,” says Laura Luff, an integrated care psychologist at Fellsway Pediatrics in Boston Children’s Primary Care Alliance. “They were not able to benefit from the pleasures of friends or learn resiliency and conflict resolution skills.”

Although much of the work is done by children themselves, Luff suggests a few ways caregivers can offer support at every age. Cultivating strong friendships isn’t easy for every child — pandemic or no pandemic. Neurodiverse children or those with behavioral or mental health needs may require additional external support for themselves and their caregivers. Here’s how you can help your child make and keep friends — at any age.

Our earliest friendships

Childhood friendships are key for mental and physical health. Preschool friendships help children develop social and emotional skills, feel a sense of belonging, and decrease stress.

“Our earliest friendships give us practice for our adult relationships,” Luff says. “They help us learn what to expect from a good friend and set expectations for adult relationships.”

Toddlers — some of whom have spent more than half their lives in the pandemic — are not immune, but they appear to be less fazed. Many experts agree they likely won’t be permanently impacted. After all, even in quarantine, young children absorbed new experiences with their parents, siblings, and pets.

Elementary school friendships

The shift from pre-K to kindergarten may be more challenging. “Children in transition years like kindergarten were most likely to be impacted by the pandemic,” Luff says. “It was especially hard for them to make new friends during remote learning.”

It may take a couple of playdates before preschool and elementary-age children begin to feel comfortable with peers and friends. If your child continues to have difficulty connecting with old friends, or with making new ones, try to listen closely and adapt to their needs.

“Focus on helping the child try different strategies to figure out what works,” Luff says.

Middle school friendships

In middle school, friends start confiding in each other and trying to solve each other’s problems. Their friendships help them learn to express their feelings constructively. Some research also suggests that close friendships at this age can help children deter or manage bullies.

By the time a child turns 12, they’ll understand that trust and support are the bedrock of any quality friendship. In turn, they often become less threatened if their friends have other friendships and more empowered by their strongest bonds.

curaJOY Contributor
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