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'Starts from a very young age': An expert's guide on helping your child develop quality friendships

By Nikolina Koevska Kharoufeh |

Navigating your child through the formation and breakdown of friendships can be tough as a parent C a part of life that can lead to much joy, but also heartbreak.

So to celebrate International Friendship Day ?and explore the responsibility parents have to help their children build these relationships, 9Honey Parenting spoke to Paediatric Psychologist Amanda Abel.

"Friendships are such a big part of how we learn important social skills and this starts from a very young age and continues throughout our lives!"

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Girl Supporting Sad Boy Sitting Alone on Playground
Many parents experience the struggle of seeing their kids get hurt by their friends. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

As a mum herself, Abel understands that while all children have different experiences when it comes to friendships, it's important for them to have friends around.

Aside from learning to navigate feeling such as empathy, negotiation and communication, it also has a lasting effect on their own view of themselves.

"Having friends can increase self-confidence and happiness in children while also decreasing stress," Abel tells us.

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So as parents it's important to encourage their kids to form friendships and guide them through the relationship, from a young age.

"Teaching our kids to reflect upon the friendship dynamic means they are able to consider the varying effects that each of their friends have on them," she says.

And this isn't an easy task for parents. Some kids may struggle with forming friendships and others may find maintaining relationships difficult.

Amanda Abel.
Abel is a mum herself and knows all too well the struggle of navigating your childs' friendships. (Supplied)

Mum Jane Park, who boasts 3.4 million followers on TikTok. highlighted this issue during a video where she revealed her young daughter had suffered her first friendship breakdown.

"My heart hurts. It made me sad because I want her to develop friendships where she can be her full self and be appreciated and be loved," the mum said.

The admission attracted millions of views and support from parents who experienced the same feeling of helplessness.

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Though Abel says there are a few signs that parents can look out for that their child may be experiencing difficulties in their friendships.

"If they are complaining of having no one to play with at school. Avoiding social events like parties or school events," she explains.

"Or in younger children, clinging on to parents for the duration of social events with same-aged children is a sign they may be struggling."

Photo of a two children riding the skateboard down the city streets
Parents can find it hard to step back when it comes to interfering with their children's friendships. (Getty)

Also offering a few key tools parents can use to help guide their child towards solving the problem, "Talking to your child about the concept of friendship is really important." she says.

Further to that, ?as a parent you can help facilitate a friendship.

"Allow your child to consider their own interests, and to think of any other children they know who share those interests. Then encourage opportunities for interactions between the two," Abel who is behind the Toddler Toolkit suggests.

"If your child is younger, arrange a play date. For older children, encourage your child to start up some conversations with the potential friend."

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The ?Paediatric Psychologist says one of the easiest ways kids can find other children they get along with is by playing a team sport or enrolling in a social hobby.

"They'll meet children with similar interests so the hurdle of finding social opportunities is at least overcome."

Though one of the more challenging areas of parenting when it comes to friendship, is sitting back when we see our children be hurt by their friends.

Charlotte is a mum of three and is now expecting her forth.
Charlotte is a mum of three and is now expecting her forth. (Supplied)

Something ?mum Charlotte Shallcross, who's currently expecting her forth child, knows all too well.

"Recently my six-year-old son was at a rugby clinic, and some of his friends were teasing him about being small, which really upset him," she tells 9Honey Parenting.

"All I wanted to do was scoop him up and make everything better C but this is part of life and he has to learn how to handle these things."

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Charlotte who is the Executive Producer - Local Production (Queensland) assisting with of 9GO!'s newest Kids TV show, Earth Science Investigators, believes it's important for parents and children to understand friendship.

Hence why she and the team has investigated the topic in their latest episode available on 9Now.

"It's almost like the first little inkling of how they'll survive on their own and seeing that they'll be OK without you by their side."

'Buddy Bench' concept us used across schools to encourage kids to form friendships.
'Buddy Bench' concept us used across schools to encourage kids to form friendships. (LinkedIn)

And it seems it's not only parents and experts who are helping to facilitate better education around friendship and push kids into forming valuable relationships with their peers.

An anonymous story shared to LinkedIn continues to gather the attention of thousands of parents, sharing an interesting strategy a school is using to foster friendships in the playground.

"The buddy bench. When someone feels lonely or they have nobody to play with, they sit there and kids ask them to play," the post explained alongside a photo of a bench painted bright red in a schoolyard.

A welcoming way kids are being encouraged to spark conversation and find a buddy.

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