Skills to Help Children with Relationships
What if our children grew up in a world:
- Where all people were just naturally kind and thoughtful because that is how they would want to be treated?
- Where people readily recognized how others were feeling and responded in ways that were respectful and supportive?
- Where we were all able to quickly sort through our sometimes complex and confusing feelings and have just the right response to the challenge that confronted us?
- Where every child had at least one good friend?
Kindness. Empathy. Managing Emotions. Skills for Friendship. These are some of the core ingredients that our children need to be successful in relationships. They are also essential in helping us to prevent the harmful effects of bullying. Bullying is mean behavior. The activities and strategies on these pages are designed to prevent or reduce the harmful effects of bullying and mean behavior by starting early! You can make a difference in your child's present and future by using these ideas today.
Kindness is the state or act of being kind. It begins as an internal experience. Kindness is something that comes from inside of us. Kindness can be learned.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Empathy helps us have compassion for others. Empathy can be learned.
Emotion Management is a set of skills that helps a person to identify, express, and regulate the intensity of emotions that are experienced. Managing emotions helps us be predictable friends and to solve problems. Emotion management can be learned.
Friendship Skills include the skills listed above and also the important skills of communication and problem solving together. Friendship skills are the foundation for all meaningful relationships. Friendship skills can be learned.
The skills that help protect our children from bullying behaviors can be learned at an early age...much sooner than kindergarten! Parents have a wonderful opportunity to strengthen these skills every day in young children.
Tips for encouraging kindness and empathy
Notice when your child is doing the right thing
If your toddler shares his toy with a sibling or offers to help you to clean up a mess, be sure to describe their behavior and offer specific praise.
EXAMPLE: Joey! That was so kind of you to share your bear with your sister. Thank you! Or...Joey! You noticed that I have a mess here and you are helping me to pick it up. That is really nice of you!
Model what kindness, empathy, emotion management and friendship skills are
Children learn from watching their parents in action. When you treat others with kindness, your child is more likely to imitate you. When you are upset, if you are able to calm yourself down, your child will begin to learn this also.
EXAMPLE: When we were in the car driving to the store that driver behind us was so angry he was honking his horn. So when he drove by, I just smiled and waved and did not get upset. I wish people were not in such a hurry!
Label and describe feelings
When your child is expressing any emotion, help them to develop their words for that feeling and describe what the feeling looks like to they can better recognize it.
EXAMPLE: I can see that you are mad about not getting to go outside right now. Your face is red and you are talking loudly. Or...It looks like you are sad right now. You look down. Your shoulders are slumped and you have a long face. Are you disappointed your friend could not come over to play?
It is never too late in the day to remind children of a good behavior that you want to reinforce. At dinner time or at the end of the day share with your child something that they did or said that demonstrated one of the above skills and let them know that you are proud of them.
EXAMPLE: Sarah, one of my favorite parts of the day so far was when you helped clear off the table so we could put the groceries away. That made my work so much easier! Thank you!
Use of stories and situations to discuss a social skill
Look for opportunities to teach your child about desirable and undesirable behaviors.
EXAMPLE: When we were at the park playground do you remember how that little boy got so mad when his mom said that they had to go? I felt bad for him. He was disappointed. But I also know what it is like to have chores to do, probably like his mom had. What do you think he could have done differently?
Teach verbal and non-verbal signs of emotions in others
It is important for children to recognize what different feelings look like in others. Look for opportunities to point out different emotions.
EXAMPLE: I could tell that our neighbor was getting frustrated with their dog because he was starting to raise his voice. Or...Dad is yawning and rubbing his eyes. I think that he is tired!
Progress, not perfection
Remember that your child is in the process of learning these skills. This means that they will not do these skills well every time! Children (and adults) make mistakes. The goal is to create an environment where children can learn from their mistakes.