Creating connections with other people is an essential part of the human experience. Whether we are young, old, or somewhere in between, having friends to share our lives with is important. At Appel Farm, one of our goals is that campers learn social skills and form healthy relationships with peers.
Friendships are vital to children’s healthy development!
Research has shown that friendships provide children with more than just fun. Friendships help children develop emotionally and socially by providing opportunities to learn important communication, cooperation, and problem solving skills. Children with strong peer relationships even perform better in school.
However, making friends is not always easy. Many children who struggle to connect with peers suffer from emotional and mental difficulties as a result. Unfortunately, because there is a negative stigma in our society about people who do not form friendships quickly and easily, many children do not get the resources or guidance they need to learn how to build friendships.
At Appel Farm, we understand the adults in a child’s life play a crucial role in their social development, and strive to provide our campers with the role models and resources they need to succeed. During our staff training we dedicate an entire session to, “How to Make (and keep) Friends!” The training focuses on reminding staff, who are older and more practiced at creating social connections, that our campers will need their help in making friends at camp, and outlines a few tips on how to identify and practice skills for quality friendships. We have had the pleasure of watching countless children, some who have never had a friend before, develop healthy peer relationships at camp.
It is always our hope that campers are able to transfer the skills they learn and practice at camp to their lives at home, but in reality it can be a difficult and scary experience for many young people. Imagine you feel like an outsider at your school, that people do not seem to like you or have things in common with you, perhaps they even tease you. Then you go to a special place in the summer, one where you are accepted for who you are; where you meet people who share your interests and appreciate your differences; where you start to make friends, and then all the sudden the summer is over and you must leave. That transition would be challenging for most people. However, the good news is that as parents you can take an active role in easing the transition by reminding your child of the skills they developed at camp and helping them put them in to practice at home.
Below are some great tips, taken right from our counselor training, to help you set your child up for success at home!
1.) Model good friend behavior in your own life.
It’s called “making” friends for a reason. Building friendships is an active process that requires effort. Many kids do not understand this, and believe that if it does not come “naturally” to them then something must be wrong. You can help your child understand that friendship take work by modeling good friendships in your own life. When your child sees you making an effort to get to know new people or spending time maintaining relationships with long-term friends they learn from your behavior. You are their role model.
2.) Provide opportunities for your child to spend time with other children.
This can be easier when your child is younger because you have control to set up play dates or invite their peers over to socialize, but it becomes more difficult as children age. One of the best things your child has been learning at camp is independence, and while we know it is hard, allowing them to continue acting independently at home is important. Maybe they want to talk on the phone, text, or chat while playing a video or computer game or perhaps they ask to go to movies or other activity where you will not be there to supervise. Regardless of how they are seeking to engage with peers it is important they have the opportunity to spend time with other children. Each family will decide on their own boundaries and guidelines for these interactions, but without the opportunity to engage with other children and practice their social skills your child might regress.
3.) Help your child learn to see from other’s points of view.
We pride ourselves on creating a diverse community at Appel Farm that brings together people from all walks of life with a variety of interests and talents. This environment helps children learn to see and respect other’s points of view, which impacts their ability to collaborate and problem solve in social situations. A great tool for encouraging this type of thinking in children (or adults) is to ask questions. When you and your child are reading a book or watching a movie, stop and ask them how they think the character might be feeling or why they acted the way they did. As children learn to think about and see value in other people’s points of view they become more capable of interpreting social cues and adapting when needed.
4.) Help your child manage negative feelings in a positive way.
At Appel Farm we are very clear that this are a put down free zone. When campers are observed teasing or putting down another camper’s ideas or feelings, our counselors are trained to step in with a questions first approach. As mentioned above, questions are a powerful tool for learning because they create a conversation rather than a lecture. By simply asking campers why they said or did something and what they really wanted out of the situation, we often see that the issue stemmed from their own negative feelings about the situation. They are projecting their negative feelings on to others, which is a sure fire way to loose friends or alienate potential new ones. Being able to manage negative feelings is important in getting along with others. You can help your child by listening, asking questions, and problem solving solutions.