I have a fun activity that I like to do in educational settings when we are talking about children and their relationships with others. Typically, we use the term social development when referring to this topic. The activity is called “Who Do You Remember?”
I ask those present to think about the people that they most remember. To begin with, they are supposed to consider the persons in this world who have made headlines and had “great” accomplishments. Who are they? Can they list their names? I asked them to list the last five individuals in each of the following categories:
Miss America Winners
Nobel Peace Prize Winners
Academy Award Winners for Best Actor or Best Actress
In several years of doing this activity, I have never had any individual be able to name five individuals in each of these categories. Or four. Or three. The most someone has been able to name is two of the “last five” and occasionally a couple of others who were in the category in the past. The one time a man in the audience named two of the last five Miss America winners, his wife and several other women got pretty interested in why he was so “up to speed” on Miss America. Poor guy.
Following this portion of the activity, I ask those present to consider persons in this world whom they have known and respected. Who are they? Can they list their names? I ask them to try listing four individuals in each of the following categories:
- Influential Teachers
- Friends in Need
- Persons You Love
In contrast to the earlier categories, I have never had an individual not be able to name at least one person in each of these categories. Usually, each person easily lists three to four persons in each category. And then comes the final question: So, what is the difference?
Consider for a moment who has made the most difference in your life. Is it a Nobel Prize winner? An actor or actress who wins an Academy Award? Or is there someone else? Consider for a moment the mother, the father, the teacher, the coach, the grandparents, the bishop, the friends – the people who pass through our lives and the lives of our children.
It is generally not the people who receive headlines or applause that make the most difference in our lives. Few of us remember the headliners of yesterday. These are persons who are accomplished in their fields. But the applause dies. Achievements are forgotten. Accolades and awards are buried with their owners.
Whom do we remember? It is our family and friends and those we connect with and care about that matter most to us. The people who make a difference in your life are not the ones with the most money, the most fame, or the most awards – they are the ones who care.
How do we raise children so that they become people who care for others and have good friendships? A child’s social development, or how he grows in developing relationships with others, is an important factor in his growth and happiness. Parents should take time to pay attention to their children’s relationships and what they can do to make them happy and positive.
How Important Are Good Social Relationships?
Happiness in life so often comes from interacting with others in loving ways and building good relationships. Career success also depends on being able to cooperate and get along with others. Parents can do much to help children develop good relationships and provide a model for them to follow.
I very much like the suggestion by two educators, Diane McClellan and Lilian Katz, on how we consider the importance of relationships when it comes to our children’s development. They note that there are risks associated with social development challenges that include poor mental health, school dropout, poor school achievement, employment difficulty, and other issues. Then they make this compelling observation:
“Relationships should be counted as the first of the four R’s of education.”
Indeed, if you think about it, relationships are central to a child’s education and growth. Children grow only as they interact with others around them. Children learn to read only in a relationship with someone they trust. Another scholar of child development, Dr. William Hartup, has made the following observation about the importance of good social relationships for children:
“Indeed, the single best childhood predictor of adult adaptation is not IQ, not school grades, and not classroom behavior but, rather the adequacy with which the child gets along with other children.” 
Parents and other adults need to give significant attention to the social relationships of their children. A child’s ability to get along with others is perhaps the most important factor in how he or she will succeed as an adult.
The Value of Friendship
It is important for children to have opportunities that develop their social skills. This means developing friendships, or at least good social relationships, with other children. Dr. William Hartup notes that friendships provide four basic functions for human beings.
Friendships furnish: (1) Emotional resources – such as having fun and dealing with difficult situations; (2) Cognitive resources – for solving problems and learning; (3) Social opportunities – including learning to communicate, cooperate and gain entry in a group; and (4) Relationship models – to learn important skills for later relationships like dating and marriage.
Since I am an educator and a professor, I am prone to blather on and on about how to define friendship, why it is important, what its key components are, what are the mechanisms of influence that parents have on friendship, and so on. I will resist that tendency. Let me highlight the value of friendship with a short story, and then provide some “action steps” that parents and other caregivers can use to assist children with friendships.
When I was a senior in high school, I once asked a close friend of mine if he was available to do something on a weekday evening. He told me that he was not available that night. I wondered who might be more important than I was. When I found out later who it was, I thought to myself that certainly I had to be more interesting company. Only later still did I learn that my friend had chosen to spend time with another young man who simply needed a listening ear and a friend’s support. This other young man had been struggling and had reached the point of having suicidal feelings. He had even made a decision to attempt suicide, until someone reached out to him to listen and be a support-my friend. I am glad that this man, who remains my dear friend to this day, chose in those moments to be a true friend to someone else who needed his support.
Such is the value of friendship.
Friendship Tips for Parents and Kids
This is an action-oriented, numbered list of tips that parents and others can use to consider things to do for assisting their children with friendships. It’s meant to be used. Copy it and hang it on a refrigerator, cupboard door, or other place in your home. There is no better service you can perform for your children than to help them learn to get along with others and develop caring friendships.
1. Acknowledge brothers’ and sisters’ feelings about each other. Stop all hurtful actions. Help children use feeling words such as “You sound really angry” or “You wish she would ask before playing with your teddy bear.” Getting along with others outside the home is taught by getting along with siblings in the home.
2. Treat children uniquely, not equally. Think about your own siblings. Would you appreciate matching birthday gifts, or would you rather have something chosen especially for you? Give each child the time and attention he or she needs when the child needs it.
3. Learn to accept there will most likely be some normal bickering among children. When your children need help getting beyond it, don’t blow up – offer real help. Acknowledge their anger, reflect each child’s point of view, describe the problem, let them know you trust them to work out a fair solution, and give them space and time to resolve it. If the children are too upset and the situation looks dangerous, stay close and help the children work it out peacefully with problem solving.
4. Introduce your baby and child to others. Teach your child from toddlerhood how to gain access into a group by modeling how you do it yourself and inviting him or her in too.
5. Show your child how to act positively with other children. Young children who have a difficult time with being too bossy or aggressive do well playing with slightly older children. Those children who tend to be quiet or hold back do well playing with slightly younger children while they learn social skills.
6. Notice when children are being appropriate or doing well with friends, and talk about that. Recognize and build on their positive experiences and successes. When trouble strikes, make corrections as positively as possible.
7. Schedule play dates for short amounts of time to begin with. Help your child to plan some possible choices of activities for the play date before the other child arrives. Start with one friend at a time. Crowds are overwhelming to children who aren’t used to them.
8. Have your child list ten activities he would like to do with you and invite a friend. Do one such activity a week for ten weeks. Focus on one or two specific friends to invite each time.
9. Teach your son or daughter to make eye contact, say hello, and offer a suggestion about playing together.
10. When your child gets upset with a sibling or friend, let him calm down and then ask why he became upset. Ask him to think about how he might have responded differently. Practice two or three different responses with him.
11. Start a neighborhood game of tag or hide-and-seek. Invite your children and others to participate and join the game. You help children break the ice with each other by being the focus of the activity to begin with, and then you can guide them into association with each other.
12. Ask your children who they’d like to invite over to play. Help your children make the invitation and plan two or three activities to do with each child’s friend.
13. Get your child involved in an organized social activity such as a youth club (4-H, Boy or Girl Scouts, etc.), sport (soccer, etc.), or other group. Provide encouragement. Recognize that, especially for children below the age of ten, such activities should be much more about developing social skills than they should be about competition or achievement.
These aspects of such activities will become more important later.
14. Organize a small group of parents for a weekend outing with your kids to watch a ball game, go fishing or hiking, or have a picnic.
15. Play family games such as board games, charades, hide-and-seek, or other activities. Help your child learn to participate and take turns.
16. Talk to your children about how they feel about their friendships or interactions with others. Focus on small, positive interactions and successes.
17. Read stories or books to your child that highlight children’s friendships. Ask your child what he or she thinks and what ideas the story teaches about being a friend.
18. Encourage your children to practice appropriate social interaction such as sharing toys, asking for favors, saying “please” and “thank you,” etc.
19. Meet regularly (every couple of months) with your child’s preschool or school teacher. Ask the teacher to provide you with feedback on your child’s social behavior and experiences with peers in the classroom setting and at school.
20. Learn the ability of your child to develop friendships and resolve conflicts. Each child is unique in temperament and some may struggle more than others with these aspects of social development. Some children may need more assistance than others, depending on their age, maturity, and personality style. Support your child as much as needed.
Friendship is important because it partakes of love. It is one of the most enjoyable aspects of living. My favorite Biblical story of friendship is that of David and Jonathan. Their friendship was simply that, true friendship and loyalty based on virtuous living and commitment and mutual trust. 1 Samuel 18: 1 states that “the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” The great prophet Abraham rejoiced because he was called the “Friend of God.”
Where do our own children learn the virtues and develop the capacity for such friendship? In the home. At the knee of their parents. In small conversations and little moments shared between a mother and daughter, a father and son. Friendship with God is one of the great aims of eternal life. Friendship with each other eases our burdens, blesses us with reconciliation when it is needed, and strengthens us in love.
The Savior, Jesus Christ, himself said:
“This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” (John 15:12-14)