Location: Bradley Hospital

Kids and Friendships: How Much Involvement Should Parents Have?

Parenting Matters Minute:
Teens and Sleep

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Parenting is often confusing. It's difficult to know when to intervene and when to let your child handle things. When it comes to your child's socialization, Ronald Seifer, PhD, a specialist in early childhood development at Bradley Hospital, has helpful advice.

Be a Socialization Role Model

Seifer stresses that children model their social behaviors after their parents. The best way to teach your child good socialization skills are to practice them. Show your child how you share with, are considerate of and appreciate your friends. Ensure that conversations with your friends and acquaintances are what you would want your child to mimic.

If your child does not learn socialization skills in early development, Seifer warns that it may be difficult to alter already learned behavior. Many parents try to practice social skills with their child in the home when they begin to have socialization difficulties, expecting that the child will exhibit those skills elsewhere. Seifer says this is not always the case. "It is very hard to transfer skills from one setting to another. Forced skills that have not been learned during early development have a tendency not to stick."

Enlist the Help of Others

If your child is having difficulty, Seifer recommends enlisting the help of others, like teachers or coaches, who spend time in the settings where children are having difficulty. Ask them to pay special attention to situations where appropriate social behavior can be encouraged and rewarded. Also, some organizations run formal social skills training groups that might be beneficial. Check with your child's school for information about local classes that might be available.

Keep an eye on things. You may want to schedule a classroom observation. Seifer says that sometimes children that have difficulty at home are actually doing well in other settings. It is helpful to speak to the teacher to see what he or she observes. If the situation is particularly concerning, it is always best to contact a professional for advice.

Cater Parental Involvement to Age

Parents need to be consistently involved in the socialization of younger children. Young children depend on their parents to create social situations. However, child socialization should involve structured events as well as non-structured socialization opportunities.

Parents often schedule their child's social life with such activities as soccer, piano lessons and swim clubs. Seifer cautions that often child socialization becomes "parent-centered instead of child-centered." The danger is that your child may become reliant on structured interactions. They may not properly develop independent socialization skills and have difficulty making friends without help from their parents.

As a child becomes more independent, usually between the ages of 10 and 14, direct involvement should decrease. At this point, monitoring should become the parental focal point. Your child should be able to make friends without your support. However, they are not yet mature enough to handle every situation. You must ensure that your child is not making poor choices, having trouble making friends, bullying others or being bullied.

Don't Push

Your child will make friends at their own pace and in their own way. Pushing your child to socialize or trying to choose your child's friends can create anxiety or resentment.

Seifer cautions, "Forcing friendships that you value as positive, or prohibiting friendships that you consider harmful, is a tricky issue for parents. The most important thing is to strike the appropriate balance of exerting parental control while maintaining a positive parent-child relationship."