Education should include making friends

Developing friendships is an important part of a child's education. [Thinkstock image]

When children are younger or have special needs and are placed in social settings that are too difficult for them, they can feel left out or isolated, which often results in inappropriate, attention-seeking behavior.

My daughter-in-love Leigh is principal of Green Oaks School in Arlington, Texas, a private school for children with Down syndrome. She has observed some of the children in her school are often lonely because they do not have basic skills leading to social competence ― self-control, social awareness, group participation and cooperation, communication, listening ability and social decision-making.

Leigh believes this can be improved by teaching children how to develop friendships.

In addition to special needs children, I suggest any parent of any child, particularly a younger child, would be wise to do the same.

Developing friendships is an important part of a child’s education. Begin early to provide kids opportunities to practice. Since children love to pretend, an adult can begin by playing with them pretending to be their peer. Slowly introduce some challenging situations in which the child may need to share, give up an item or make a more challenging decision. Model for them what to say and how to behave.

Think of this role-playing as “dress rehearsal” and give them opportunities to practice with other family members ― parents, grandparents or older siblings.

It is also important to create opportunities for them to spend time with playmates and play groups at a similar developmental level. This will increase their chances of experiencing successful social interactions, which in turn will lead to more self-confidence.

As you prepare for a new school year and buy the required supplies and appropriate clothing, don’t forget another important part of preparation ― teaching your child how to make friends. Sharing common interests and having good social skills usually results in friendships that are comfortable, well matched and long lasting.