Every parent wants their child to be well liked, to get along with others and to make good friends – it is confirmation that your child will have happiness in their life, be able to find and is developing sound mental health. In an effort to influence their child’s interactions with, and responses to others, parents may make suggestions about kindness, giving invitations and having good manners, but actually teaching a child how to be friendly is not necessarily something that every parent will set out to do. But exuding friendliness is a skill – and one that can be taught – even to the child with a more reserved temperament.
Friendliness is about approaching others and also being approachable. Approaching others means being proactive – taking the initiative to connect with someone – rather than waiting for someone else to make that first move. Being approachable means appearing as though that initiative will be welcomed. Both behaviours require knowledge and skills – body language, verbal ability – and practise – and that last one is actually more important than the personality qualities that the child may have inherited.
Here’s 6 ways to teach your child how to develop the body language and the verbal skills of being friendly.
1. Talk about friendliness
Talk about friendly people you both know; discuss what makes that person appear friendly; catch your child being friendly – and comment on it; notice others being friendly and draw your child’s attention to it. Talk about friendliness as a skill – something that can be learned, and that like most things, gets better and easier to do with practise. And don’t accept the excuse of “I’m shy; I find it hard to be friendly” because although there is some truth in that, what it does mean is that the shy person needs more practise and more coaching. (Coming soon is a whole article on shyness).
2. Teach the “S.P.I.T. For Friendliness” acronym:
- Smile and say “Hello”
3. Smile and say “Hello”
What a difference a smile makes – the body language that speaks volumes – and one that’s unique to humans. Remind your child that their smile is ‘right under your nose, always ready for action’. When you’re walking into the playground with your child, remind them to say “Hello” to someone who’s walking past; they don’t have to know the child, they’re part of their school family, so a greeting is appropriate. And if another child notices them, the rule is they must always say “Hello” back – no looking away pretending they didn’t see or hear; no excuse of ‘that person’s been mean to me”; and if they know the child’s name, use it – your name is part of you; its personal for each of us – even if shared by many others. Have a fun competition of how many new people your child can greet in a week; how many new names they learn and how many times they’ve said “Hello!”
Everyone loves acknowledgment – however small – because it means appreciation, being noticed and valued. But some people can be a bit shy about giving praise; it might feel sort of embarrassing, be a bit too intimate and personal, and for some others it might seem too generous to acknowledge another’s efforts; because their belief is that praise is something to receive, not to give away.
If you want your child to know how to praise others, first start with raising their awareness of what it feels like to be praised – make them on the receiving end of your acknowledgment. And that doesn’t mean with the over the top variety of “You’re the most clever person in the whole world” or “You are so talented, I just know you’re going to be famous one day”, because that’s not genuine, it’s fake and phony and it encourages an attitude that praise is for being exceptional and successful, whereas it shouldn’t be reserved for only that – it can equally apply to failure or to not achieving something.
Here’s some examples:
- “Being able to calm yourself down after losing your temper is a real skill. Well done”
- “You must have felt proud that you kept on trying to solve that puzzle, even though you were becoming more and more annoyed”
- “When you smile like that, you look like you’re filled with so much love”
- “Spending time with you makes me very happy”
- “You’re very kind to younger kids which means you’re a really good person”
- “Your sense of humour makes you so much fun to be with”
And genuine praise is also about letting the acknowledgment stay with the person being praised without a ‘payback’ for the person giving the praise, as in:
- “I was so proud of you when you calmed yourself down after losing your temper”
- “I was so proud of you when you kept trying to solve that puzzle”
- “I just love it when you smile like that”
The most common invitations that children give and get daily is in their play; invitations to share an idea, to play a game, to go first or second or last, to pick a captain, to be the captain, to be the goal keeper or to keep the score. Friendly children invite a lot; they want other’s ideas, they give others the chance to be at the centre of the action, and so knowing different ways of inviting is important; knowing what to say. So practise different ways to invite with your child; help them become confident in different ways of expressing an invitation. Suggest the following;
- “What do you think about?”
- “Would you like to try this?”
- “What would you like to do?”
- “What do you think would be the best thing to do?”
- “Can you help me with this?”
- “Do you know much about this?”
- “Can I show you what I’ve done?”
- ” Can I teach you this game?”
And as always, the best way to turn a skill into a daily behaviour, is to use it; practise these phrases with your child yourself and notice it when they use them.
Talking is how we get to know others; once again a skill unique to humans. How much someone likes to talk is part of their basic temperament; the reserved person usually saying less than the outgoing more extroverted personality, and possibly also preferring one on one or small group conversations to the big audience or being the centre of attention. But regardless of innate temperament, developing conversational ability is also a skill and one that you can teach and develop in your child with these activities.
- 30 seconds
The whole family can play this game. Write down the name of some fun, 1 or 2- word topics such as ‘peanuts’; ‘blue hair’; ‘monkeys’ with each person choosing at random. They then have 30 seconds to talk about this topic – making it as sensible or bizarre as they want. Initially allow some preparation time and then graduate to none when everyone is feeling more confident. Award a prize for the most bizarre, the funniest, the most interesting, the most factual, the least ‘ums’ and ‘ers’.
- Getting to know you
This is a good activity for the classroom. In pairs, sit opposite your partner and set a time limit on finding out as much as you can about the other person, so one person stays as the questioner and the other the responder. Then swap places, and each person introduces their partner and tells what they have found out. The activity can be limited to 30 seconds or 1 minute after which everyone swaps partners. Talk about what questions were the most fun to answer; write those down and the child uses them during the week to get to know someone new at school.
- Who can I meet?
Make a goal with your child of having one conversation each week with someone in their class to whom they talk little. The conversation can be as brief as a few seconds and might initially start with an inquiry about a project they child is working on in the classroom or a comment on something they have done well. Then expand those initiatives to the lunch break and encourage a playground conversation with someone they’ve not talked to before. Emphasize that friendliness isn’t about having long conversations, but about connecting with someone else and acknowledging them.
What’s important to recognize is that friendliness is a skill, it can be learned and like many things, when regularly practised, it becomes part of the child’s behaviour.