How to Teach Your Child to Be a Good Friend

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From a young age, most children will naturally gravitate toward others, developing strong friendships. However, learning how to be a good friend isn’t necessarily an intuitive skill. And may take more practice for some kids than others.

Some children who struggle with making friends and maintaining friendships may have lagging social skills and/or exhibit some behavioral issues. Tattling, physical aggression, and name-calling often arise when kids don’t have the skills to play well with others. A quiet disposition and social anxiety can also contribute to difficulty making friends. However, there are many ways to help your child develop friendship skills.

Teach your child how to be a good friend and you’ll likely encounter fewer disciplinary issues.

Instill Self-Esteem

The first step in teaching your child to be a good friend is to teach them to take pride in themself. Positive self-esteem helps your child to be themself and enjoy interacting with others. When a child has a strong sense of self, they won’t feel it is necessary to join in on bullying or other mean behaviors to make themself feel better or to fit in.

Additionally, a child with a healthy sense of self will make healthier friendships and avoid toxic relationships down the road.

Teach Social Skills

Appropriate social behavior isn’t innate. Role-play with your child to teach them how to have polite conversations with adults and with other children. Practice taking turns, sharing, respecting other people's boundaries, and showing care for their feelings.

Social skills that bolster friendships include learning how to say “no,” and how to accept “no” as an answer from another person.

Your child also needs to know how to apologize (and mean it!), argue with a friend respectfully, listen to others, express empathy, and be a good sport in games.

Read Books About Friendship

From Frog and Toad to Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin, children’s literature is rife with strong friendships. Use books as an opportunity to talk about what makes those friendships work, and what qualities the character displayed to foster their friendships.

Reading books about friendships and the issues that can sometimes occur can help them navigate their own friendships. Read books about lots of types of friendships, including with kids who are different from each other and who run into conflicts, to show your child how you can be respectful of differences and still remain friends.

Make New Friends

Sometimes, it gets harder to make friends as you grow older. Social anxiety, combined with a lack of opportunity, can create barriers to even saying hello to new people.

In addition to maintaining current friendships, encourage your child to take the initiative to make friends. It can be as simple as a smile and approaching someone to ask a question or even just to say hi. Tell them that takes courage to talk to new people but it can also be fun. This skill will serve them well in the long run. Instead of staying in the house, suggest they go out to the park or sign up for a class.

Challenge them to introduce themselves to someone new. You can also do the same. Show your child that it doesn’t have to be intimidating to meet a new person (while still instilling a sense of safety around strangers). You never know where your next lifelong friend might come from!

Model Healthy Friendships

Your child watches your behavior, even when you don’t think they're paying attention. Your child will learn how to treat their friends from the way you treat your peers. By being truthful to your friends, keeping your plans with them, and treating them well, you are modeling how to treat a friend.

You being a kind, respectful, caring friend teaches your child to be the same.

Find Teachable Moments

Learning how to be a good friend isn’t an overnight process. As a parent, you may run into situations where your child doesn’t act like the best friend they could be. Your child may have moments of conflict, drama, fights, and gossip with their friends.

Aim to turn any squabbles into teachable moments. Ask them how a good friend would have acted in the situation. Eventually, they’ll get the hang of it. With your guidance and a little practice, they'll turn into a caring, kind and trustworthy friend.

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.