Supporting Item #1: FCS Final Paper

Dustin Lantz

Download Word Document

Promoting Childhood Friendships

Parents often express concern about their children's’ futures, and for good reason. The responsibility of preparing children for their lives and the trials they will face falls primarily to parents, especially early in life. A skill that some people take for granted is forming friendships with others, creating strong bonds that children can lean on as they grow older and face more adversity in their lives. Early encounters with peers serve as the basis for interactions with others for the rest of their lives, which extends into every facet of life from professional connections to long lasting friendships. With this in mind, ensuring that children have the best possible chance at forming strong connections and developing social skills early is a high priority for many parents. As with many skills, some children naturally find success with peers, while some struggle to form strong bonds and learn the social prowess they will need later in their lives to form meaningful relationships with their peers and find success professionally. Parents need the skills and knowledge to help their children develop these skills as best they can. When discussing research as it relates to childhood friendships, there are some difficulties. Popularity and friendship are of course subjective terms, which can make measuring them objectively difficult. For the purposes of such research, there are a few terms that need to be clearly defined. The first of these terms is the “sociometric status” of children. Studies that refer to sociometric status are referring to a rough estimation of value held by children of their peers. Questionnaires and observations are used to determine the children who have the most connection to their peers, and those who have few are discovered in the process. A child or student said to have low sociometric status is one that is identified as a friend or good playmate by few of their peers, while a child or student said to have high sociometric status is one that is identified by many of their peers as a best friend and good playmate. Additionally, some research refers to certain children in the study as “rejected.” This terminology similarly refers to children that rated low on surveys of friendship between students. Research on the topic of childhood friendships and how to promote their formation is somewhat scarce, perhaps because of the fact that the formation of friendships is a long process, and gathering accurate information from children about such matters can be difficult. However, there are a few sources from which we can extract some information and form hypothesis about proper parental actions for increasing peer interaction and friend formation. A study by Oden and sher investigated the effects parental figures could have on child behavior when playing with their peers without directly interfering during interaction. While Oden and Asher noted that, “In shaping procedures, social praise or tangible rewards have been used to increase the frequency of children's peer interactions gradually,” in the past, they were more interested in testing the effects of simple communication with children about play. In particular, children are naturally receptive to talks about the fun they experience during play, and how to enhance the fun they experience during future play. When we communicate with children about what might make their play more fun for themselves, we naturally lead them to practice essential skills like sharing, and talking with their playmates, which also boosts their confidence when it comes to these instances. For example, parents can shape conversations by suggesting and questioning how their children might make a game more fun using sharing, and they will naturally conclude that more peers will make the activity more fun using sharing, because sharing requires more than one person to practice it. The research also seems to suggest that these kind of talks are most effective if they are done just before children have an opportunity to engage in play around their peers. Children can have very short memory, so suggesting things that are immediately useful to them will help reinforce those ideas. It is also shown to be helpful if the parent follows up with the child, questioning if they had fun playing with others, in an attempt to help the child realize that the addition of peers added to their enjoyment, not detracted. It’s also important that parents realize that not all children will think about friendships in the same way. While we can help children develop friendships, we must also be aware that children, just like any other human, have a wide array of emotions and ways of expressing them. In a study done by Asher, Hymel, and Renshaw, children were given tests to help them self evaluate their levels of loneliness and social dissatisfaction. The results were compared to exterior measurements by other students and teachers of the sociometric status of children. The results suggested that while children who express dissatisfaction with their loneliness are almost always genuine, there are children who will adamantly claim their friendships are completely satisfactory while having almost none. This may be due to children being unwilling to admit to their lack of friendship due to seeing it as an embarrassment or flaw. Children, just like anyone else, can be hesitant to admit to things that they think they will be judged poorly for, such as a lack of meaningful relationships with their peers. There is also the possibility that some children simply to do not develop a sense of importance regarding their peer relationships. This too is a problematic development, as while self sufficiency may be a trait many parents would identify as being deireable in their children, failing to develop skills for interacting with others early in life is likely to lead to extreme difficulty interacting with peers in later stages of life when it becomes necessary, and may inhibit formation of proper relationships. In either case, it suggests that vigilance is necessary and early support for children is vitally important to creating and maintaining healthy relationships. Continually keeping an air of open communication between parents and children can help ensure that children feel that they can honestly communicate how they are feeling about their peers. In relation to school life, parents can also increase their awareness of their child’s social growth by staying connected with their schools, and hearing their teachers comments regarding their child’s social standing in class during evaluation events at the school. No matter how skilled or prepared one is, parenting has many variables, and even factors that seem at first glance to be unimportant can affect children in large ways. In a study done by Patterson, Kupersmidt, and Griesler, children who were lower rated in popularity, or socially rejected by peers, had their relationships at home and school compared. Among the findings was the finding that children that were rejected by their peers were most likely to identify their father figures as having the least supportive relationships with them out of all the social groups tested. In addition, children who developed anti-social patterns of behavior were found to have much less supportive relationships at home with any and all members of their family than other children. While this is not all inclusive, it does reinforce the modern parenting notion that both parents have an important role to play in child development. A firm foundation and attachment in the home life helps to prepare children for the future where they will have to socially take risks and experiment to realize how they should interact with their peers. While raising a child alone is certainly possible, a balanced effort on the part of multiple parental figures can give children perspective that one alone may not, and also helps them to temper their expectations of groups of people. The purpose of this program is to help instruct parents in practices that promote social growth and the development of friendships in children. In accordance with this goal, the target audience for this program is parents of young children, between 3 and 5, particularly focusing on children with the assumption they have started or will soon be starting school. These times when children are first starting to frequently find themselves in social situations are when helping them will be most effective at promoting social behavior. In addition to this, while training them before school is ideal, not all families find themselves often in situations where their children can play with their peers before school. While it is highly advised parents put some of these practices into effect before starting school, it is understood that not all recipients will be capable of this. The teaching goals this program hopes to instruct parents to reach are threefold. The first goal is to instruct parents on how to communicate with children about play and how they can enhance their playtimes by including their peers, and encouraging parents to engage with their children in such talks. The second goal is to help parents recognize signs of social struggling in their children, and to promote developing a closer relationship to schools/teachers to keep an eye on their child’s social development. The third goal is to raise awareness of factors in the home that can affect children, and suggest an increase in parental conversation with children about their lives. To serve as a framework for the program, a theoretical model known as the Pillars for Friendship will be introduced. As seen, the highest point, or goal, of the program is the formation of healthy friendships among children. In order to reach that goal, we must first help parents lay a solid groundwork of a positive home life and open communication between parents and children. Once the foundation is created, the two pillars that support the formation of healthy friendships can be put into place. These pillars consist of communicating with children about the ways others can be incorporated into their play to enhance their experience, and having close communication with children and their schools to monitor their progress and potential difficulties. Arming parents with the knowledge and techniques to put these support structures into place will help allow children to develop friendships and social relations with their peers. As this program is aimed at parents, activities will be performed by trained individuals with parents to help them understand ways to help their children. In the case of laying the foundation described in the theoretical model, parents will be given basic information about having open communication within their household with their children. This step is very important, but also very broad. The trainer must be prepared to answer a variety of questions and respond to a number of hypothetical situations. In particular, it is important to emphasize understanding and compassion when addressing children. Getting down on their level, speaking calmly, and making direct eye contact is an important step to establishing good communication between parents and children. What follows is an example lesson for parents dealing with this part of the program wherein they are presented a common scenario and asked how they should respond. A trained individual should go over their answers with them and answer any questions they may have. Imagine that your child is playing in your home, when you realize that you soon need to leave for an important event. You tell your child they will have to clean up soon, and prepare yourself. When you return, your child is still playing, not having begun to clean up. How do you respond? Why do you think your child has not cleaned up? Was there something wrong with the original instructions? The second part of the training is of course setting up the Pillars for Friendship, particularly pillar two, talking with children about play and friends. Again, trained instructors need to help parents realize the influence their conversations can have on their children. Explain the ways that speaking with children about play can promote social behaviours, and explain or model, if possible, the kinds of topics parents can suggest when speaking with their children to promote social behaviors. In particular, suggesting to children that they may have even more fun playtimes if they thought of ways to use, sharing, teamwork, cooperation, or talking, and asking for ways they think they could do these things. What follows is an example activity, in which parents are asked to come up with things to discuss with their children to promote good social play. A trained instructor should review their answers and make sure that the lessons are being absorbed, and address any outlying answers. Children are always looking for ways to have more fun when they have playtime, and as parents we can use this to help them not only have more fun, but to grow and learn. List some times recently when your child has had fun in a social setting. If you can’t think of any, suppose your child was playing at a gathering of friend’s families. For each time, consider the following: When next you attend one of these events, what kind of things could you suggest would make your child’s playtime more fun? Why do you think that is? Would these things require playmates for them to utilize? What should you do if they don’t take your advice? The final pillar that needs to be established by parents is monitoring and communication. While it is similar to the foundation, this pillar is distinct in that parents must be made to understand that they must pay close attention to their child’s behaviours and words. If the foundation is laid properly, it will help them more easily spot and speak with their child about any potential problems they are experiencing. Things to look for include sudden quietness, withdrawn or distant behaviour, melancholy, sudden changes in behaviour, or unexplained mood swings. Strongly encouraging close communication with schools and teachers is also a step that trained program instructors should take, because stressing the importance of this second perspective will help ensure that parents are seeking important sources of information for keeping up with their child’s development in all areas, including socially. Explain the importance of hearing another adult’s views of their child’s development socially when the parent is not around to see or influence the child. The following example is made to spark thoughts in parents about their child’s behaviour and get them thinking about how they might interpret sudden changes in behaviour. A trained instructor should review the results and talk through their answers and possible alternatives. Children can act a lot of different ways, and we have to be conscious about why and how we approach them. Assume your child comes home from school one day and is exhibiting the following behaviours. How would you approach them? Can you think of any explanations? Quiet and slow moving: Grumpy and combative: Incredibly happy and talkative: Avoiding talking about school: In order to measure session by session growth, activities such as the ones listed above can be given to parents both before and after lessons. Comparing their answers before they received the lesson and after might reveal if they have changed their opinions. It may also be advisable to instead save the second taking of the activity until the beginning of the following lesson, to see if the parents have internalized the previous lesson and let the instructor refresh their memory and reinforce the previous lesson if necessary. The following ten questions can serve as a basis for an evaluation measure of parent retention at the end of the program. They should be answered with scaled responses, such as from 1-10, in order to get a more detailed understanding of the retention of the lessons.