My interest in social relationships goes way back. My father has always been a big fan of “How To” books, and when I was six years old, he read aloud to me Dale Carnegie’s classic book, How To Win Friends and Influence People. When we got to the part about the importance of a firm handshake, I remember saying, “I don’t think they’re talking about first graders, Dad.” But he was convinced that learning to get along with other people is a life-long skill, and he was right.
Growing up, my family moved about every three years. We lived in Lima, Peru and Madrid, Spain as well as in and around Chicago, IL. As a result, our family became very close, I became a great letter writer, and I also learned a lot about making new friends.
In my psychotherapy practice, one of the things that elementary school children talk about most is their interactions with other kids. Almost all children struggle socially, at some time or in some situations. Finding a buddy to play with at recess, handling ordinary teasing, and making up after an argument…these are all crucial, but sometimes painful, learning experiences. But some children get trapped in the role of an outsider. It’s heart breaking to see these children, who get rejected again and again, start to see themselves as unlikeable.
Whether kids are having a temporary social setback or more enduring struggles, there is a lot that we as parents can do to ease the way for our children. Just as some kids need extra help with math, some kids need additional coaching about peer relationships. When children understand the unwritten rules about how to interpret social situations and how to behave appropriately, they are better equipped to navigate the social world. I don’t believe in one-size-fits-all proscription for “social success.” It makes more sense to work with children’s unique combinations of strengths and difficulties, to help them grow and develop socially in their own special way.
The Unwritten Rules of Friendship gives parents do-able strategies for nurturing their children’s social well-being. Natalie Elman and I had an exciting and productive collaboration with this book, because our backgrounds complement each other. Natalie has lead social skills training groups for years, whereas I work with individual children and families. Her background is in education, whereas my field is psychology. What we share is a commitment to helping children gain a genuine sense of social comfort and connection.