Friendships are important in a child’s emotional well-being. Friendships are the context in which your child develops communication skills, emotional regulation and problem solving. Yet navigating friendships can be tricky and involve many complex skill sets.   It turns out there are few social ‘rules’ and that navigating the social world involves understanding others in the context of being able to read how they feel and understand their intentions.

reslient child 2Approximately 70% of communication is non-verbal, specifically facial cues and body language. About 23 % of emotional content comes from the way you say something. Only 7 % of communication is what you say and here is where much of the challenge in navigating the social world lies. Even when someone tells you something verbally, understanding the meaning of what they are saying lies in their gestures and vocal intonations. This is why emails and letters are so often misinterpreted!

For children, this means getting a lot of practice reading non-verbal cues. Sometime kids that are quite sensitive, get less practice because they feel overwhelmed with social situations and may distance themselves or avert their gaze. Kids that are highly active often zoom around to quickly to follow the longer chains of non-verbal interaction that would tell them what someone is feeling. Some kids are aware of others feelings and ideas but may have a hard time being flexible because of their own big feelings. Other kids get overwhelmed with how unpredictable social situations are and become bossy as an attempt to have more control. Some kids let others be the boss as they find it hard to be assertive.

Parents play a foundational role in developing your child’s friendship skills

  • Carve out time for you and your child to have robust social exchanges daily
  • Model how to communicate, regulate your emotions and problem solve in how you interact with others
  • Create weekly/daily opportunities for quality unstructured social time with a friend
  • One to one ‘play dates’ provide the opportunity for your child to practice navigating long exchanges, negotiating with one person at a time
  • Help your child interpret non-verbal social cues
  • Process with your child social situations that are smooth and those that are tricky. Talk about your child’s feelings and how her friend might feel. Facilitate your child to problem solve
  • Set up social situations for success. Some children do much better in smaller groups or one to one situations than navigating large groups.

Kiegan Blake is an Occupational Therapist, Behavioral Specialist and Director of Maui Center For Child Development. For more information, please call (808) 873-7700 or