Davidson Institute for Talent Development
This Tips for Parents article is from a seminar hosted by Dr. Fred Frankel, who offers insight on how children develop friendships and the differences in how boys and girls intereact with their friends.
Fred Frankel, Ph.D, ABPP is Professor of Medical Psychology and Director of the UCLA Parenting and Children’s Friendship Program.
The UCLA Children’s Friendship Program
In 1989 Bob Myatt, Ph.D. and I collaborated in the development of the UCLA Children's Friendship Program. The curriculum we developed offered 3 innovations upon existing friendship programs:
(1) Content was based upon child development research which identified how socially competent children differed from children having peer problems. We teach our children the techniques used by these socially competent children.
(2) Parents were integrated into the fabric of the intervention. Specific homework assignments were developed which parents did at home with their child. At the beginning of each session, we reviewed how these homework assignments turned out. Thus, with parent help, we were able to learn how to overcome barriers to implementation of our techniques and otherwise modify them to be more successful.
(3) We taught how to have a structured play date designed to help parents teach their child skills necessary for more intimate friendships. Since then, we have seen over 1100 children through our clinical program (in 124 groups), published 3 controlled studies demonstrating the effectiveness of our intervention on peer relations at home and at school. I have written a parent self-help book, "Good friend are hard to find," which has been translated into 6 languages. We have published our treatment manual, "Children's Friendship Training," and have received 2 grants from NIMH testing our program on children with ADHD in the Culver City Schools and children with high functioning autism/ Asperger’s disorder who come to our clinic. Together with Mary O'Connor, Ph.D., with a grant funded by the Centers for Disease Control, we have demonstrated the effectiveness of the program with 6 to 11 year old children exposed prenatally to alcohol.
Friendship is a mutual relationship formed with affection and commitment between individuals who consider themselves as equals. I maintain (and some research backs this up) that a meaningful best friendship is the best teacher of social graces. A true friend is someone you can trust to tell you things no one else will, and in whose friendship you feel secure. Two hallmarks of a true friend are that they can talk about problems and come to resolution quickly and that they can really get past a disagreement after it's resolved. True friends may teach each other "relationship repair" techniques although for younger children, parents may have to step in (girls seem to be better at this than boys). Learning how to apologize to someone you care about, after you've made an honest mistake is a skill worth developing. Some people value a person who is honest and sincere, but who makes mistakes and prefer them to others who are socially "slick."
How children form new friendships
Mutual interests are the currency of friendships. Explore what your child’s interests are and look for ways to have her hookup with other kids excited by those interests. A writing club? A theater group? What else is she interested in? The best way to make new friends is to share a conversation with them. To listen to what they have to say as well as slowly reveal things about yourself. Too much of one thing is called an interviewer, too much of the other is called a conversation hog. Children interact quite differently in free time in middle versus elementary school - they no longer play during recess in middle school, but converse instead. So that the best way to meet new children is to join into their conversation. I can never get beyond the "hi, how are you" phase in introducing myself. However, I have learned a skill through my research that works much better for me (and many other adults). You start out by getting close enough to listen in on a conversation of people you are interested in getting to know better. You are listening for whether the conversation is interesting or boring, whether the people are pleasant and whether you know enough about the topic to contribute. If you don't like the conversation (or people) or can't contribute, you walk on (no one’s feelings should be hurt by this) and listen to another conversation. If the conversation is interesting and the people are nice, they start involving you in the conversation by starting to look at you when they are talking (if so, they have nonverbally invited you in). If this happens, you wait for a pause in the conversation and add something that promotes the conversation. If you're on track, you have just joined in.
A child’s social age
Another factor to consider in helping your child find friend is your child’s social age. As you review the posts to this forum, you will see that gifted children present many different profiles and social ages in relation to their chronological ages. Some are cognitively gifted but socially at chronological age level or even immature. Focus on the "social age" and not the cognitive level when determining the best peer group for your child. Your child is likely to feel most comfortable with other children his social age and apt to relate to them as social equals. I think the best way to determine social age is to look at the range of interests your child shows and try to determine when the interest first emerges in most kids (as yoru friends and relatives about their children to get a good sense of this). Many children have a wide range of social ages of interests. Which of these interests can she sustain the longest in an interaction? I bet the "adult" interests only keep her going briefly while she gets more animated for longer periods with younger interests. Even though she is able to span a wide age range of interests, she probably feels most connected and continuously comfortable towards the younger end of this range.
Friendship differences between boys and girls
Boys and girls represent two true subcultures in peer interactions. The differences emerge primarily in the maintenance of friendships rather than how they form new friends. The notable exception is that girls look each other in the eye while boys don't (Robert Bly says men meet each other "shoulder to shoulder"). Boys' relationships tend to be more extensive - they are more open to including others in their play. Girls' relationships tend to be more intensive - they are more deeply involved with each other and replace lost friendships rather than add to friendships. Both boys and girls tend to have a few close friends. Boys change their most favored friends but draw from their favored few while the close friendships of girls are very stable. Girls' cliques are hard to break into. In my book I recommend not trying to break into a clique but approaching an individual for play dates to try to get to know her better. Pick the best potential match from these girls and invite one over and see what happens. If you are turned down then have your daughter go elsewhere. If you're not, and the girls like each other and want to continue having play dates then schedule a couple of more play dates and see if they are reciprocated.
Our society produces extroverts 75% of the time, according to Kiersey & Bates (1984). Far Eastern cultures probably differ in this. The major difference between introverts and extroverts is in group situations - extroverts get energized by the group experience while introverts don't (some find it draining). Introverted people are sapped by contact with others in groups (Extroverts are energized by this). The introvert’s best context for friends is one-on-one. In fact, one very often can't tell if someone is introverted in one-on-one situations.