This month we ask Dr Lyn O’Grady, a KidsMatter national project manager and community psychologist, how the initiative promotes good social development and friendship skills in children. She also looks at the value of linking health and community professionals with schools and early childhood services to this end.

Why do children need help developing friendship skills?

"Children develop friendship skills at their own pace – as with all skills – and rely on many social and emotional skills coming together to form effective friendships. Sometimes, we send children out to play and think they should be able to do that, and forget that there are skill sets and understandings that they need in order to play together. There are many things that can potentially go wrong that can be seen as ‘bullying’ and ‘behavioural problems’ instead of friendship problems, so children need some support in managing their friendships." 

How can KidsMatter help improve children’s friendship skills?

"KidsMatter looks at what’s going on for children and helps all the adults in their lives to understand these changes. It also helps primary schools and early childhood services look at what’s going on in their own environment. One critical component of KidsMatter is the explicit teaching of social and emotional competencies through children's daily curriculum. Schools and services can draw on health and community professionals to great effect to support them in this." 

In what way can professionals work with schools and services to improve children’s social skills?

"Professionals can be invaluable to KidsMatter schools and services overall by assisting with social and emotional learning development. Primary schools, in particular, can benefit from having a professional who can offer a different perspective when dealing with friendship issues and what could be seen as bullying. KidsMatter switches the focus from bullying responses to proactive friendship development responses, and supports parents and carers when difficulties arise and referrals may be necessary." 

How can families help develop these skills in their children?

"Behavioural problems can be linked with a lack of friendship skills, so it’s important to look at the factors that cause problems or arguments. Sometimes adults step in too much and try to control children’s friendships and, in doing that, can disempower them and stop the learning of valuable friendship skills. But it’s quite natural for adults to want to be helpful, so they can best support children to resolve and work through a conflict."