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How to Help your Child make Friends

We caught up with Dr. Mary Alvord, a psychologist with over 35 years of clinical experience, to talk about the importance of relationships in a child’s life, specifically friendship. Often parents worry about their kids not having enough friends or having friends they think are prone to poor decision making. The friendships kids make and keep at an early age can have a large impact on their behavior and decision making process in the long run. Here are just a few of the great insights Dr. Alvord shared with us:

“Research shows that even having one close friend serves as a protective factor against bullying.”

When it comes to friendships, quality is more important than quantity. Sure, everyone would like to have a large group of friends, but in reality, most of us benefit more from few good friends that understand us on a deep, personal level. Having good peer relationships can help reduce the threat of risky behavior and they also aid kids into thinking for themselves.

As a parent, you can help your child understand what a good friendship looks like by telling them about how you spend time with your friends.

“Parents serve as role models. When they’re a good friend to others they model behavior.” 

Sharing how you personally spend time with your friends and how you listen to them can help your kids see what a healthy friendship looks like. How to treat each other, talk to each other, and most importantly – how to help one another.

Kids can also benefit from being asked situational questions. You can practice how to react to hurdles and seemingly tough situations at home, so that your child is equipped to handle different scenarios when they’re on their own. This will not only allow them to react confidently, but also prepare them to think for themselves in a variety of situations.

“Negative thoughts and therefore negative emotions and resulting behaviors are more likely when you don’t have a friend to help you get perspective. We share with friends, and we learn from friends.”

This insight from Dr. Alvord can apply to people of all ages. It’s reminiscent of those movies and TV shows where the main characters are a trio of best friends that depend on each other to confront and survive their encounters with bullies. Having a good support system outside the home can help kids build self-esteem and focus their attention on positive behaviors. If you don’t have anyone to turn to, like a friend, when you need a peer-to-peer reassurance of yourself, it can be hard to build confidence. This can have a long-lasting negative impact on your self-esteem and how you interact with peers later.

 “There are moments of the day that are for ourselves and to explore.”

It’s important to note that too much structure in your child’s day is not healthy. Kids need to be bored sometimes. They need to have unscheduled moments where they can learn to be alone with themselves and explore their surroundings. “So many kids are over-structured. Without the time to learn to act on their environment.” Kids need free time to get to know themselves and explore their own potential. Fostering creativity; the ability to improvise and create conversation and impromptu-moments with friends is critical for personal growth.

“When kids don’t have good relationships they’re more apt to not think for themselves.”

Having good peer relationships can help reduce the threat of risky behavior. When kids are surrounded by good influences, chances are they’ll be encouraged to make decisions that they want to make. A good friendship should encourage your kids to be the best they can be and give them a little push to want to succeed.

Did you like Dr. Alvord’s post? Check out her video series on other parenting topics – covering everything from drinking in front of your kids to social media best practices.


Dr. Mary Alvord is an Adj. Assoc. Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

Co-Author: Resilience Builder Program for Children and Adolescents

Co-Author:  CD’s & digital versions: Relaxation and Self-Regulation Techniques for Children and Teens, and Relaxation and Wellness Techniques (adults)

Recently released book:  Conquer Negative Thinking for Teens (New Harbinger Publications)

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