As parents, we all want our kids to make and keep good friendships. But for some kids, it s not so easy. Linda Morgan, editor of ParentMap, and author of the book Beyond Smart, gives us some tips to help our kids develop and improve friendships.

Why are those early friendships so important?
Friends teach our kids valuable social skills. About that give and take, how to deal with their own feelings and those of others.

With friends, kids learn to trust, figure out who they are and begin to build a sense of confidence and security apart from their families. We are becoming more and more aware of how important social intelligence is.

Why do some kids seem to struggle with this?

Some kids just don't have experience interacting with their peers. Many children don't get many opportunities to be around other kids outside of school.

Others, especially younger kids, need help developing social skills such as empathy, problem-solving and communication skills before they are comfortable making friends.

Personality traits can also affect a child's ability to make friends. Extreme shyness can come across as standoffish. Overly assertive types can simply seem bossy.

How can families help kids improve their friendships?

They can model relationship skills. Just as children learn language by hearing and imitating their parents, they also learn social techniques such as conversation and sharing, by watching and listening to the way their parents interact.

Parents can also help their kids develop social skills by setting up playdates. Arranging an activity, such as baking cookies or playing games, lets them interact with their peers and help them learn cooperation and sharing.

What else can parents do to help their kids develop friendships?

  • Volunteer: Volunteering is a good way for your child to make friends. By helping others in the community, young people build self-confidence and learn how to work with others. Kids can: Help younger children learn to read. Assist their peers as tutors. Help paint a mural or build a playground.

  • Join Groups: Sign-up your child for group activities such as art, drama or dance. Exposing him to different areas of play will help him learn to socialize. Get your child involved in sports. Kids really bond through sports and group activities.

  • Invite kids over: When the kids are very young, you'll do the inviting. But as they get to be grade school age, encourage them to set up their own play dates. Then give them time and space to interact and build a relationship.

  • Be supportive: We can support them by listening and acknowledging their feelings. But remember to keep this in perspective. Making friends is a lifelong process and will have its ups and downs. All children will experience some form of 'normal' hurts in their friendships.

For more from Linda Morgan, visit her blog on the ParentMap website.

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