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5 Simple Steps Teach Your Child Friendship Skills for Life

Making and keeping friends is a central part of entering school. Teaching your child pro-social friendship skills is a valuable part of your relationship with your children.

Where do you begin?

  1. A few great books have been written on friendship skills. Ones from the American Girls library include: Friends: Making them and keeping them; The Feelings Book, and Stand Up For Yourself and Your Friends. For middle school children and teens Queen Bees and Wanna Bees is a must-read for parents. Middle School Confidential by Annie Fox is a practical skills based book for middle schoolers. For parents who wish to coach their teens to health and wellness, The Parent as Coach by Diana Sterling is amazing for parents of teens.
  2. Healthy friendship skills begin with confidence and self-respect. Children who have self-esteem are able to be kind, share, and include others in their friendship circles.
  3. Knowing your own social style and what is unique about your child is another fine starting point. Emphasizing that everyone is different and we are all special in our own ways enhances acceptance and tolerance among children.

Here are a few, little discussed, tips on helping your children develop their friendship skills.

  1. As young as age four you can begin to help your child discover his or her personal style. What kind of child is yours? Help her see that she is bright, funny, articulate, caring or thoughtful. Teach her how to recognize positive social skills in others so she chooses skillful friends who are likely to share her values.
  2. In order to help your child see when she is using pro-social friendship skills, comment specifically on what your child does in her friendships that shows she cares. “When Jose hurt his arm and you offered to sit with when he could not play, that was a kind thing to do.” “Offering your sister your sweater at the skating rink when she was cold was a thoughtful thing to do.”
  3. Teach your child to observe the behavior of others non-judgmentally in a manner that helps her to see how other people behave. Talk with her about how other people respond to that behavior.
  4. As your child gets older help her develop the ability to observe the impact of her behavior on others.
  5. Giving your children the words and actions to: a. enter into and exit social groups, b. include other people in their group and c. recognize what characteristics your child wants in his or her friends is invaluable.

Talk with your children about what makes a good friend. Write a short story or a book on what one does to show respect, integrity and honesty. If there is a school-mate who criticizes others or mocks others, that is not a friend you wish for your child to choose as a close mate. Draw distinctions between kids who are willing to lift one another up and those who desire to feel powerful by cutting others down.

Here are some sample social skills you might wish to introduce to your children one skill as a time.

Role-play with your children, create positive conversations with your children and teach them the importance of learning these skills.

Sample List of Skills

• Accepting “No”

• Accepting Consequences

• Apologizing

• Arguing Respectfully

• Asking a Favor

• Asking Questions

• Being a Good Listener

• Being in a Group Discussion

• Conversational Skills

• Declining an Invitation

• Expressing Empathy

• Following Rules

• Good Sportsmanship

Developing friendship skills can be fun. So practice, play and enjoy with your children. Friendships will follow.

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This post reflects Dr Kenney’s “The Family Coach Method” used in practice by thousands of families worldwide. The Family Coach Method is ‘rug-level,’ friendly and centered on the concept of families as a winning team – with dozens of age-appropriate sample conversations and problem solving scenarios to guide a family to the desired place of mutual respect, shared values and strengths. The goal is to help children to develop the life skills, judgment and independence that can help them navigate the challenges of an increasingly complex world.

 

How to Bring out Your Kids’ Best Behavior

If you’re the parent of a perfect child – one that never whines, argues, lies or misbehaves – this article isn’t for you. But if your child is guilty of any (or all) of the above, don’t despair. He’s just doing what most kids do. So how do you go about changing his negative behavior? Use positive reinforcement, says child behavior expert Noel Janis-Norton, author of Learning to Listen, Listening to Learn (Barrington Stoke Ltd). Here are some tools you can use to bring out the best behavior in your child:

Descriptive Praise

Instead of lecturing your child when he does something wrong, praise him when he does something right. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But for many parents, it’s trickier than they think. “Because humans are more inclined to notice what’s wrong in a situation, we are much more aware when there’s a problem,” says Janis-Norton. “It takes hard work and discipline to notice when children are doing things right, such as not whining or not interrupting.”

The key is to notice – and casually comment on – every little thing that your child is doing that is right, just OK or not wrong. “Descriptive praise is a powerful motivator,” says Janis-Norton. “It catches kids doing the right thing and inspires them to think of themselves as considerate and capable people. The rationale is: What you notice, you get more of.”

Traci McPhereson, 34, of Los Angeles, has seen it firsthand: “My 4-year-old twins responded almost instantly to descriptive praise. I’d say, ‘I see you’re not hitting your sister’ even when my son was just sitting on the floor doing nothing. Sometimes I feel insane saying stuff like, ‘You’re not whining and crying!’ or ‘You’re not sucking your thumb!’ but hey, it works! The positive changes in their behavior have been enormous.”

Reflective Listening

When a child is upset, parents instinctively want to defuse the situation by asking her what’s wrong and then giving advice. Or if she explodes with anger, they’ll get angry, too, and yell at her to stop it. In both cases, parents can calm things down simply by showing empathy, using a technique that Janis-Norton calls reflective listening. “That’s when a parent mirrors what the child is feeling. “It helps to deal with the emotion that’s dominating the child and get it resolved.”

It takes discipline on your part to step back and think before you respond, but the payoff is huge. If your child has lost his temper and is throwing things around, you could send him for a time-out and make him even angrier. Or you could take a step back and say, “You must be very angry about something. I’m sorry that you’re so upset. Can you tell me what happened?” Chances are your child would stop for a second to think about how he feels.

It’s often hard for a child to put what she’s feeling into words. “But when you use reflective listening, over time it will teach your child a vocabulary for expressing her feelings so that she doesn’t bottle them up inside and act on them inappropriately,” she says.

Action Replays

The next time your child misbehaves, be kind and rewind. Instead of scolding, repeating, reminding or lecturing, Janis-Norton suggests you try what she calls an action replay. “This is how parents can follow through with the rules they’ve established with their kids,” she says. “It’s simply asking the child to do things again, but this time the right way.”

Randall says dinnertime is the perfect opportunity to utilize action replays in her house. “My daughter, who’s 3, hates to use her fork,” she explains. “Whenever she starts to eat her food with her fingers instead of her fork, I say, ‘Let’s do that again. Show me how you’re supposed to be eating your food.’ Once she uses her fork, I give her descriptive praise, like ‘See, you knew just what to do,’ and then everybody’s smiling again. It’s nice to be able to avoid arguments that may have otherwise erupted.”

“Plus, doing an action replay will boost your child’s self-esteem,” concludes Janis-Norton, “because she’s now proven to herself that she can indeed succeed.”

Heather Randall, 39, of Sun Valley, Calif., most recently used reflective listening when her daughter had a nightmare. “I went into her room and asked her to tell me about it,” she explains. “Instead of responding with, ‘Don’t worry, it was just a dream, go back to sleep,’ I said, ‘You’re so frightened. Nightmares can sure be scary, can’t they?’ She stopped crying, thought about it for a second, and replied, ‘They sure can.’ After that, she nodded right back off to sleep.”

Raising Kind, Sensitive Children After a Year of Social Distancing

“Why should I care how he feels? He’s not my friend.”

“So what if I made him cry. He’s a wimp.”

“How was I supposed to know he would take it so bad? I was just joking.”

Sensitizing children to how someone else feels is a significant and serious enterprise. Kids can’t do this alone – they must be supported, supervised, and encouraged to develop sensitivity and consideration, and parents play a key role in this endeavor.

The true parenting challenge is to use those unplanned moments when a child’s behavior is unacceptable as a learning tool to become more responsive to the feelings of others. Besides, that’s always the best kind of lesson: one that helps the child discover for herself why she should be kind and realize her uncaring, insensitive actions may affect others by understanding how the other person feels.

Martin Hoffman, a world-renowned researcher from the University of Michigan, discovered that the most common discipline technique parents of highly considerate children use is reasoning with them about their uncaring behavior. The parents’ “reasoning lessons” helped sensitize their children to the feelings of others, and realize how their actions have consequences.

It’s an important parenting point to keep in mind in those moments when we confront our own kids for any uncaring deed.

Seven Ways to Squelch Insensitivity and Boost Empathy

Here are seven ideas you can use almost anytime to tune up your child’s awareness of the feelings of others.

1. Praise sensitive, kind actions

One of the simplest and most effective ways of enhancing any behavior is by reinforcing the action as soon as it happens.

Whenever you notice your child acting in a sensitive and caring manner, let her know how pleased it makes you feel:

“Karen, I love how gentle you are with your sister. You treat her so softly, and it makes me so happy knowing how caring you are.”

2. Show the effect of sensitivity

Sensitive, empathic, kind acts – even small ones – can make a big difference in people’s lives, so point them out to help your child see the impact his actions made.

  • “Derrick, your grandmother was so pleased when you called to thank her for the present.”
  • “Suraya, did you see the smile on Ryan’s face when you shared your toys?”

3. Draw attention to nonverbal feeling cues

Pointing out the facial expressions, posture, and mannerisms of people in different emotional states sensitizes your child to other people’s feelings.

As occasions arise, explain your concern and share what clues helped you make your feeling assessment.

  • “Did you notice Grandma’s face when you were talking with her today? I thought she looked puzzled. Maybe she is having trouble hearing. Why not talk a little louder when you speak with her?”
  • “Did you see the expression on Meghan’s face when you were playing today? She looked worried about something because she had a scowl on her face. Maybe you should ask her if everything is OK.”
  • “Let’s read the book together and look for people who seem mad. Then we can make our face look the same way.”

4. Ask often, “How does he feel?”

One of the easiest ways to nurture your child’s sensitivity is to ask her to ponder how another person feels. As opportunities arise, pose the question often, using situations in books, TV, and movies as well as real life.

  • “How do you think the mommy feels, knowing that her little girl just won the prize?”
  • “The tornado destroyed most of the town in Georgia; see it here on the map? How do you think the people feel?”
  • “How do you think Daddy feels hearing that his mom is so sick?”

Each question forces your child to stop and think about other people’s concerns, and nurtures sensitivity to their needs. Ask those “how would you feel” type questions often.

5. Use the formula: “feels + needs”

Michael Schulman and Eva Mekler, authors of Bringing Up a Moral Child, reviewed studies and found that an effective way to increase sensitivity is to ask children questions to help them discover people’s needs and feelings. Such questions were found to expand children’s awareness of what people might be experiencing. As a result the children became more sensitive to how they might be able to help.

To use the idea with your child, look for occasions to draw attention to people’s feelings and then ask her to guess what the person might need in order to remedy the feeling. Here is how a parent might use the method:

  • Parent: Look at that little girl crying in the sandbox. How do you suppose she feels?
  • Child: I think she is sad.
  • Parent: What do you think she needs to make her feel better?
  • Child: Maybe she could use someone to hug her because she hurt her knee.

6. Explain your disapproval of insensitive behavior

Whenever your child displays insensitivity, be sure to explain why you consider the child’s behavior to be unacceptable and “insensitive.”

Simply explain what concerns you about the behavior, and how you feel about uncaring actions. This is the moment you make sure your child clearly understands what is wrong about the behavior, and why you disapprove. And you’ve helped your child shift his focus from himself to considering how his actions can impact other people. Martin Hoffmann’s research in moral development found that parents who consistently use “reasoning-type stretching lessons” raised more sensitive, caring, empathic children.

  • “I’m very concerned when I see you treating your friends without considering their feelings. You may not treat people unkindly. Let’s talk about ways to be a kind friend.”
  • “That was insensitive: I expect you to treat your friends the same way you’d want to be treated.”

7. Set a consequence if insensitivity continues

If your child continues to display insensitivity towards others’ feelings, then it’s time to set a consequence. Remember, consequences must be meaningful, appropriate to the child’s age and temperament, and “fit the crime.”

The best consequences for insensitivity are also authentic ways for the child to make amends. For example:

  • Forbid your child from playing with a friend until your child understands he must treat others kindly. Your rule is: “If you can’t treat people nicely, you can’t play.”
  • Another option is to demand your child apologize sincerely to the recipient. This might be drawing or writing an apology or apologizing in person or with a phone call.

And keep on in your quest! Find those day-to-day moments to boost your child’s sensitivity. It’s our surest answer to reducing peer cruelty and making the world a kinder and more caring place.

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UnSelfie 140x210Teens today are 40 percent less empathetic than they were thirty years ago. Why is a lack of empathy—along with the self-absorption epidemic Dr. Michele Borba calls the Selfie Syndrome—so dangerous? First, it hurts kids’ academic performance and leads to bullying behaviors. Also, it correlates with more cheating and less resilience. And once children grow up, it hampers their ability to collaborate, innovate and problem-solve—all must-have skills for the global economy. The good news? Empathy is a trait that can be taught and nurtured. UnSelfie is a blueprint for parents and educators who want activate our children’s hearts and shift their focus from I, me, and mine… to we, us, and ours. It’s time to include “empathy” in our parenting and teaching! UnSelfie is available at amazon.com.

7 Steps to Modeling Respect for Your Children

Most parents expect their children to respect them. What are you doing to model respect? Here are seven simple steps to living with respect in your relationships.

  • Be a good listener – Give your child your undivided attention when they are speaking to you.Mother_And_Daughter respect
  • Be fair – Consider your child’s viewpoint and experience before stating your opinion.
  • Be honest – Tell the truth. Be accountable when you make a mistake.
  • Be polite – Use the manners that you expect of your children.
  • Be positive – Focus on the positive side of life. Your child deserves a role model that “lifts them up.” Compliment your children, observe what they do well and celebrate it.
  • Be reliable – Keep your promises. Show your child that you mean what you say. Do as you say and say as you do. Children see the truth through a clearer lens than do adults.
  • Be trustworthy – Keep your children’s heart-felt feelings and experiences private, show them that you can be a trusted adult who cares about their feelings and their self-esteem.

Showing your children that you respect them through your words and actions encourages your children to respect themselves, you and others.

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*This post reflects Dr Kenney’s “The Family Coach Method” used in practice for a number of years, and released for publication just this past September. The Family Coach Method is ‘rug-level,’ friendly and centered on the concept of families as a winning team – with dozens of age-appropriate sample conversations and problem solving scenarios to guide a family to the desired place of mutual respect, shared values and strengths. The goal is to help children to develop the life skills, judgment and independence that can help them navigate the challenges of an increasingly complex world.

Why Kids Really Lie – and How to Stop It

Kids tell little lies every day – about who spilled the juice and whether they brushed their teeth – but they don’t always mean to deceive. “Lying is a self-protective device that children learn to use at different ages and stages,” says education professor Sally Goldberg, developer of the blog Parenting Tips with Dr. Sally. “It’s perfectly normal, but how you handle it is important.”

Learning why kids lie is the first step in getting them to stop.

The Age: Toddlers

Why Kids Lie: Kids as young as 2 and 3 may tell simple lies (e.g., “I didn’t try to sit on the sleeping dog”), usually to avoid something unpleasant or to get something they want. But they don’t always grasp that fibbing is wrong.

Coming Clean: Don’t accuse your child of wrongdoing and ask her to fess up; that just sets her up to lie. Instead, focus on why her action is problematic. “When the dog is sleeping, he gets scared when something lands on him. He squealed because he was startled, and he may even be hurt.”

The Age: Preschoolers

Why Kids Lie: Fear of punishment is still a driving force behind lying. But at this stage, kids have rich imaginations (“Elmo ate a cookie in my bed!”) that easily transform wishful thinking to reality. Boasting (“I can do 1,000 somersaults in a row!”) is the kid version of keeping up with the Joneses.

Coming Clean: Don’t bother arguing that Elmo is a puppet on TV. Simply focus on what happened – someone ate a cookie in the bedroom, which isn’t allowed – and suggest a way to fix it: “Should we go clean up those crumbs together?”

The Age: Elementary school kids/Preteens

Why Kids Lie: By this age, lying has become a misguided survival tactic. It’s not at all unusual for kids to lie occasionally to avoid punishment and skirt their chores, but now they’ll also lie to boost their self-esteem, impress their friends and otherwise assert control.

Coming Clean: Try to determine what drove your child to lie, and help her find better ways to address the problem. If she said she did her chores, you may need to adjust your expectations; if she insists there’s no math homework (because she’s having trouble in math), offer to do it together.

Parents need to teach the value of honesty, says Goldberg. Let your kids know that lying can hurt their credibility and relationships. Thank them when they tell the truth, even if it’s ugly. And model honesty yourself.

Teach Gratitude & Give Your Child a Healthier, Happier Life

Research shows us that adults who are grateful report having more energy, fewer health problems, and a greater feeling of well-being than those who complain. Most studies show that the more gratitude we show the healthier and happier we are.

The same goes for children. Children who express gratitude are more appreciative, more empathetic, kinder, more enthusiastic and generally happier. Grateful children look outside themselves and understand that others have needs too. They are more polite, usually better behaved and generally more pleasant to be around.

Kids who are not taught gratitude are forever disappointed and fight feelings of entitlement. They struggle with feelings that nothing will ever be good enough for them.

As parents, “Teaching our Children Gratitude” should be at the top of our to-do list. It doesn’t come naturally to our children. It is learned. Who better to teach, than us?

The first thing we might need to do is stop doing some of the things that parents have been doing for years. Avoid pointing out to our children that they are more blessed than others. That doesn’t teach them to be grateful. When it comes to meals, don’t tell them “you should be grateful for your food and eat it, kids in other countries are starving”. This won’t work either.

Instead…

We need to model gratitude ourselves. We must live lives of gratitude if we want our children to really learn to be grateful. That means they need to see us take care of others, including our spouse, write thank you notes, say “please” and “thank you” and show empathy. That means we need to complain less, criticize less, and strive to point out the positives, not the negative, in situations, and in people. This includes our children and spouses. We need to refrain from complaining about our children (and spouses), instead tell them how grateful we are for them. We need to show gratitude for adversity too. Remember, children will, for the most part, do what their parents do. That is why gratitude has to start with parents, in our homes.

Provide your family opportunities to take care of others. Start by encouraging your children to take care of other family members, and then help them find ways to actively take care of others outside the family. Let them help you as you take care of others. They will learn by example. The goal is to give them “grateful eyes”, so they begin to foresee the need before they have to be told.

Give your children responsibility. We are always more grateful for things when we have to do them ourselves. The same applies to children. Give them appropriate responsibilities. They will realize the effort and energy it takes to accomplish them, and become more grateful for the people around them that do things for them. (Like their mom and dad.)

Teach your children to write Thank you Notes. Insist that this be done. Teach them that it is part of life. Organize a thank you note station in your home that is always stocked with papers, envelopes, stamps and crayons, etc. (Let your children see you sitting there often also). Start when they are very small by having them draw “thank you pictures” and then you write the words to go with it. Then move on to notes that have most of the words filled in. Have children write what it is they are thankful for and sign their name. By the age of 7 or 8, it shouldn’t be a problem for them to write the entire notes themselves. Don’t worry about perfection. Worry that they are remembering to do it. And doing it.

Teach your children to be grateful for adversity. When things are hard, or uncertain, or don’t go as planned, we need to teach our children to be grateful. To recognize the blessings that comes from hard things. We don’t want to teach, “we are luckier, or better than someone else”. Instead help children see what can be learned, and how we can take what we learn into other situations to help others and ourselves.

Say “No”. Our children don’t need everything they ask for. It is important for us to be reasonable and say “No”. We also have to be careful rewarding our children for everything. We want them to do good because it is the right thing to do, and not because they get something, like a new toy or money.

Role Play. Practice saying “please” and “thank you” with your children. Role play situations (grandma gives you a new toy, or someone pays you a compliment). During the role play, talk about how others feel when we show them gratitude. Remember, children aren’t thinking about everyone else. They are thinking about themselves, so we have to teach them.

Point out the simple things. Teach children to be grateful for the creations around them, the seasons, the sunshine, the falling leaves and the rain. Children will quickly understand that there is beauty all around, and that it has come from something much bigger than we are. Celebrate creations. Jump in the leaves, splash in the puddles, and feel the sun on our skin.

With Thanksgiving on our minds, it is a great time to encourage gratitude in our children.

By starting new traditions now, we can hope to encourage gratitude year round. Here are some simply Thanksgiving Traditions that can help our families “think grateful”.

Make a Gratitude Chain

Cut long strips of paper in different colors. Each day have family members, or help little family members, write down something they are thankful for. Take your stapler or tape and hook the strips together to form a chain. Hang it where the family can see it everyday and watch it grow. On Thanksgiving have each person read what they have written throughout the month.

Fill a Gratitude Jar

Any jar will work. Cut up strips of paper and round up some pens and crayons. Put the jar in an obvious place in your home. Everyday until Thanksgiving, have everyone in the family write or draw a picture of something they are thankful for that day and drop it in the jar. Help small children. On Thanksgiving day, pull all the strips out and read them as a family. Talk about how it felt to show increased gratitude all month long.

Have Grateful Hands

Once a week, throughout the month of November, trace the hand of everyone in the family. Sit down every Monday and write down 5 things you have each been thankful for that week. We like to write one in each of the fingers, like feathers. Tape the hands to your kitchen wall throughout the month so everyone can see them. Use the hands as a centerpiece for your Turkey Table. You could even laminate them after the holiday and post all the old ones each year as your children grow. They will love seeing how their hands, and their gratitude has grown.

Gratitude Tree

Head outside and find a few sticks and twigs. Put them in a jar and cover them with some rocks to hold them in place to make your own “tree”. Cut a bunch of leaves out of “fall colored” paper ( or just use tags, or small slips of paper). We have even used real leaves. As you write down what you are thankful for on your leaves, tape them, or tie them to your tree. Use your gratitude tree as your dinner centerpiece on Thanksgiving day

Thankful Tablecloth (My Favorite)

Find a big tablecloth. Or make one the size of your table. You will want a material that has a tight weave and that is smooth. On Thanksgiving Day, trace each person’s hand on the table cloth and write in the middle of the hand something they are thankful for and the year. Fabric markers work best. Each year, on the same cloth, enact the same ritual. Your family will love not only seeing how their hands have grown, but they will love to see what they were thankful for in the past.

Once thanksgiving is over, don’t let the gratitude stop.

  • Each night over dinner, have family members express three things they are thankful for that day.
  • Encourage your kids to keep a gratitude journal. Help them write down one thing they are thankful for each week. Or, have little ones draw pictures of things they are grateful for. Encourage them to move up to every night.
  • Clear a “grateful space” on your fridge. Throughout the year, post anything your family members are thankful for. Encourage family members to contribute. It can become an everyday reminder of the people and blessings your family is thankful for.

Above all things, start by focusing on our own behavior. This in and of itself will help model and teach our children gratitude.

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