I’m a clinical child psychologist and mum of two. During my twenty-plus years as a therapist I have loved helping children and teens build their social skills and confidence.
I’ve compiled a friendship skills checklist to give you an idea of your child’s strengths and weaknesses.
Knowledge is power. If your child is struggling with a particular skill, you will be able to support them with further social emotional learning if needed.
Friendship Skills Checklist: Download Yours Here
Why Track Friendship Skills?
Friendships, of course, provide a sense of belonging, support, and joy, shaping children’s emotional and social development throughout their lives.
But what friendship skills your child need to have at different stages of childhood?
Many young children make new friends from an early age, reaching typical developmental milestones.
They learn to share toys, engage in imaginative play one-to-one and in small groups, and generally develop basic “good friend behaviors”.
However, as they grow older, friendships become more complex, involving deeper connections, empathy, and conflict resolution skills.
It’s not always plain sailing to acquire the necessary social skills to progress through each stage. Some children find it really hard.
If you have noticed that friendships are tricky for your child, my friendship skills tracker will help you to understand why.
Once you understand why, you can either do something to help, or be reassured that the skills will come in time. Helping them might mean a little bit of social coaching at home, or specific social skills coaching in a nurture group at school, for example.
Are Friendship Skills Learned or Do They Come Naturally?
In my work as a child psychologist, I’ve come to understand that friendship skills are not innate. They are learned and developed through experiences, guidance, and support.
Just like we teach our children academic skills, we also need to equip them with the social-emotional tools to build and maintain healthy friendships.
That’s why I’ve created this comprehensive social skills checklist, a great way for you to keep an eye on your child’s social emotional development. You can identify areas where your child already has good social skills, and where they need extra support.
What is the Friendship Skills Checklist?
This friendship skills checklist is your practical guide as you embark on this journey of discovery and understanding about your child’s friendship skills.
It is a list of social skills that children should be working on in their specific developmental phase. For each one, you can check one or more of three boxes: “Can do confidently”, “Can’t do yet” or “Priority to work on”.
Remember though, that every child is unique, and their friendship development will unfold at their own pace. Some do this by themselves, and others benefit from a little extra practise or support.
You should never make a child feel ashamed about skills they currently lack. If you do any skills coaching it should be fun and non-pressurized.
Be patient, supportive, and celebrate your child’s progress along the way.
Together, we can help children build the social-emotional skills they need to thrive in a world that values connection, empathy, and understanding.
Social Skills Milestones
This social skills checklist outlines the key social milestones children should achieve at different stages of development, providing insights into how to nurture their friendship skills.
It will enable you to have a healthy discussion and reflection with your child and other adults supporting them.
By understanding these milestones and implementing practical strategies, you can empower your child to navigate the social world with confidence, form meaningful connections, and reap the lifelong benefits of strong friendships.
How to Use the Friendship Skills Checklist
Complete the first page (age 3-6) even if your child is older than this.
Do they have each of these skills yet?
If so, great!
Move on to the next section.
If your child is 3-6 and already has the skills then they may be advanced in their social emotional learning and ready to move on to more advanced skills.
If your child is 7+ and doesn’t have some of these skills yet, that’s okay.
Just make a note.
Once you have completed the checklist you will identify any “skill gaps” and which one you will support your child with first.
Once you have a list of skill gaps, put them in order of priority. Which one will make the most difference to your child?
Pick that one!
Work on one skill at a time. It will take a few weeks or even months.
Once your child has mastered that skill, move on to the next one on your list, in order of priority.
Further down this article I go through the skills on the friendship skills checklist, looking at how to support your child with each one.
Social Skills: What to Expect at Every Age
Read on if you are interested in looking in more depth at each skill on the friendship skills checklist.
Let’s take each age range in turn.
Social Skills in Early Childhood (Ages 3-6)
The early childhood years, spanning from ages 3 to 6, are a crucial period for laying the foundation for strong friendships.
Take some time to observe your child’s social interactions, whether on a play date, in the playground or during family gatherings with cousins.
Sharing and Taking Turns: Building Blocks of Friendship
At ages 3-6, children are learning the value of sharing and taking turns. Gently guide your child to share their toys with friends.
Highlight how waiting for their turn teaches patience and respect. This not only nurtures their ability to cooperate but also shows them how to care for others’ things.
For example, when your child waits for their turn on the swing, they learn the joy of both giving and receiving.
Expressing Feelings with Words: Guiding Emotional Expression
As a parent, you can play a key role in helping your child learn to put their feelings into words.
When they’re upset, gently suggest phrases like, “I wonder if you’re feeling frustrated,” or “You look sad right now.”
This approach helps them identify and articulate their emotions, enhancing their emotional intelligence.
For example, if your child is struggling with a task, you might say, “You seem frustrated. Is it because this is hard?” This helps them connect feelings with words, a vital step in social-emotional development.
Empathy: A Core Social Skill
Teach your child to show empathy by comforting or helping friends who are upset.
For example, you could show them how to give a brief hug, or say, “I’m sorry you’re sad.”
If a friend falls and cries, encourage your child to ask, “Are you okay?” This simple question can mean a lot.
Empathy helps others to feel safe and heard around us, and this is essential for lasting and supportive friendships.
Initiating and Joining in Play
Help your child learn to approach others to start a game or activity, or to join in with others.
It can be tricky to know how to do this at first, and it helps if your child has some suggested phrases they can use. You could encourage using phrases like “Want to play with me?” or “Can I join your game?”
For example, if your child and another child both like drawing, your child could say, “Do you want to draw pictures together?”
This simple step can open the door to new friendships.
Simple Social Rules: Navigating the World of Social Norms
Introduce basic social rules like waiting in line or saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’
This lays the foundation for understanding and adhering to social niceties and norms.
Practice these rules in everyday situations to reinforce their importance.
Recognizing Emotions: Interpreting Social Cues
Help your child identify basic emotions in others, like happiness or sadness, through facial expressions.
It’s an essential social awareness skill that will enhance your child’s ability to interpret social cues.
Play games like “guessing faces” where you both identify emotions from facial expressions. Use age-appropriate picture books or cartoons. Discuss different emotions and their corresponding facial expressions.
Conflict Resolution: Navigating Disagreements
Teach your child to say sorry when wrong and accept others’ apologies. These are essential conflict resolution skills. It will encourage other children to want to spend time with your child, knowing that they are have a sense of fairness.
You can role-play scenarios where your child practises apologising and forgiving.
Help your child understand that conflicts are a normal part of social interactions and that apologizing and forgiving demonstrates respect and consideration for others.
Group Activities: Teamwork and Inclusion
Encourage your child to participate in activities with other children. This helps them learn the basics teamwork, collaboration, and helping others feel included.
Consider enrolling them in playgroups, sports teams, or extracurricular activities for structured peer interaction.
Watch how they interact and offer gentle guidance when necessary.
For example, if they’re playing a team sport, encourage them to pass the ball and cheer for their teammates.
Asking for Help
Asking for help from others is an often overlooked but essential social skill. It’s something that i really struggled with when I was little.
This skill requires self-awareness and resourcefulness.
Encourage your child to ask for help when they feel overwhelmed or need guidance. Help them understand that asking for help is okay and that we all benefit from asking for help sometimes.
Showing Interest in Peers’ Activities: Fostering Curiosity and Engagement
Encourage your child to ask questions or make comments about what others are doing. This will help other children feel valued by your child.
Encourage them to approach their peers with open-ended questions like “What are you playing?” or “What does that do?”
Overall, you should aim to support your child to develop active listening and an interest in others’ experiences.
Respecting Others’ Belongings and Boundaries
Another friendship skill which is sometimes forgotten is showing respect for personal property and boundaries.
Explain the importance of asking permission before using others’ belongings and the concept of ownership.
Help your child understand what to do if someone says no.
For example, to respect another child’s decision if they don’t want a hug or don’t want to play.
Understanding Basic Manners: Promoting Respectful Communication
Practice polite behaviour with your child, like not interrupting when someone else is speaking.
Remind your child to wait for their turn to speak, listen attentively to others, and avoid making disrespectful comments. They will need frequent and consistent reminders at this age.
Model these behaviours in your daily interactions to reinforce their importance.
Middle Childhood (Ages 7-12)
As children enter middle childhood, their friendships become more complex and nuanced.
They begin to form deeper connections, develop consistent empathy for others, and navigate the dynamics of group interactions.
Here are some of the skills they will be developing during this stage:
Engage in Two-Way Conversations:
Your child should be working on active listening to what others are saying, and responding in a way that shows they have been listening. Y
Young children might frequently bring the conversation around to themselves or their own interests. By 7-12, they should understand that it’s important to have genuine two-way social interactions.
Encourage your child show interest in others’ thoughts and perspectives.
For example, they could ask a friend “what did you do at the weekend?”. They could then follow this up with: “Oh, did you enjoy it?”.
Cooperate in Group Tasks
Your child should now be able to take turns, contribute to a group, and be starting to understand how to make sure others get a chance to contribute too. These are tricky skills though.
Emphasize teamwork and collaboration in group tasks, teaching children to work together towards common goals.
Over time your child will understand the ideas of shared responsibility, shared purpose, and the ability to compromise.
Resolve Minor Disputes Independently:
To resolve disputes your child will need skills in emotional self-regulation, problem-solving, and conflict management strategies.
These are some of the most difficult emotional and social skills to learn and they don’t happen overnight. It will take consistent modelling, practise and informal coaching from you.
Encourage your child to communicate their feelings calmly, listen to the other person’s perspective, and find mutually agreeable solutions.
Show Empathy and Offer Help
Encourage offering empathy and understanding during friends’ difficult times.
Help children identify situations where their friends might need support and offer a listening ear, a comforting hug, or practical assistance.
For example, if a friend is upset because another child has been mean, you can encourage your child to stay with them and comfort them.
Recognize and Respect Differences
Encourage your child to embrace and value diverse perspectives and backgrounds.
Guide them to interact with peers from different cultures, learn about their traditions, and understand their viewpoints.
For example, if your child’s classmate celebrates a different holiday, you could suggest they ask about it and share their own traditions.
Maintain Friendships Over Time
Guide your child in what to do to sustain their strongest friendships over time.
Encourage them to stay in touch with friends, make plans together, and show care and support throughout the ups and downs of life.
Express Thoughts and Feelings Appropriately
Teach your child to express their thoughts and feelings in a respectful and considerate manner.
Encourage them to use “I” statements, consider the impact of their words on others, and avoid hurtful or insensitive language.
For example, if your child thinks they have been left out, it is more effective for them to say “I felt left out when you…..” rather than “why did you leave me out?”
Listen Actively to Others
Active listening is a crucial skill for children. If you can’t listen to others it’s very difficult to maintain friendships, because others will think you don’t care about what they have to say.
It’s important to teach your child to give their full attention when others are speaking. By maintaining eye contact, refraining from interrupting, and asking questions for clarity, your child can show clearly that they are truly engaged in the conversation.
For instance, during a class discussion, a child might listen intently to a classmate’s story, nodding and then asking a question about a detail in the story. This simple act demonstrates their understanding and interest, key components of active listening.
Understand Non-Verbal Cues
Teaching children to recognize non-verbal signals can be important if this doesn’t come naturally for your child. In fact, it can be really helpful to start with a pet as they often give very clear non-verbal signals. For example: “Can you see that Bruno is wagging his tail? That means he is happy.”
Encourage your child to observe people’s body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. This helps them understand the emotions and intentions behind others’ words.
By tuning into these subtle cues, children become more adept at navigating social situations and building meaningful relationships with their peers.
For example, a child might notice a friend’s slumped shoulders and downcast eyes, realizing they might be upset or tired, even if they say they’re fine. Recognizing these cues allows the child to respond with empathy and understanding.
TAKE THE QUIZ!
Adolescence (Ages 12-17)
As children transition into adolescence, friendships become increasingly complex and influential.
Let’s look at some of the skills they need to master.
Resolve Conflicts Through Discussion
For teenagers, effective conflict resolution is key because it prepares them for the complexities of adult relationships and professional environments.
During these formative years, they learn to navigate disagreements, not just to resolve issues, but to understand different perspectives.
This helps in building stronger, more empathetic connections with others, and in fostering a sense of responsibility and maturity.
For example, you might support your teenager to resolve a disagreement by considering their friend’s viewpoint and finding a compromise.
Recognize and Respond to varied Social Cues
In adolescence, social cues become more intricate and significant. Teens often encounter situations where people don’t always express their true feelings directly. It’s vital to teach them to recognize and respond to these nuanced social signals.
They need to be able to interpret what’s unsaid in social interactions. This will improve their adaptability in diverse situations.
For example, a teen might notice a friend’s hesitant tone and reserved body language, despite them saying they’re okay. Recognizing this discrepancy, the teen might offer support or a listening ear, showing an understanding of the complex social cues at play.
Support Friends Emotionally
Encourage your teen to be there for their friends in tough times, showing genuine care and empathy. This not only strengthens their friendships but also teaches them the value of emotional support.
As a parent, guide them to be attentive to their friends’ needs. Suggest they check in regularly, offer a listening ear, or help with small tasks when a friend seems down or stressed.
For example, if their friend seems quieter than usual, encourage your teen to ask how they’re doing or offer to spend time together.
Maintain Healthy Boundaries
Teaching your teen about healthy boundaries is a crucial social skill for their personal development and relationships.
Guide them in understanding and setting their own limits.
Encourage your teenager to identify what they are comfortable with, communicate these boundaries clearly to friends, and equally respect others’ limits.
For instance, if a friend asks them to do something they’re uncomfortable with, empower your teen to say no and explain their feelings. Similarly, if a friend sets a boundary, they should respect it. This mutual understanding and respect for personal limits are vital for maintaining healthy, balanced relationships.
Navigate Peer Pressure Effectively
Teaching teens to handle peer pressure effectively is about building their assertiveness and self-awareness. Encourage them to make decisions based on their own values and beliefs, and to express their choices with confidence.
For instance, if friends engage in behavior that goes against their values, guide your teen to firmly hold to their beliefs and communicate their decision assertively.
Build and Sustain Deeper Friendships
To help your teen build and sustain deeper friendships, focus on guiding them to nurture and invest in their relationships actively. Deep connections take time and effort to maintain.
Encourage your teen to dedicate time to their friends, show appreciation, and participate in activities that deepen their bond.
Communicate Effectively in Various Social Settings
Teach your teen to recognize the nuances of communication in different settings, like school, family, or online.
Encourage them to adjust how they communicate based on the context. They may need a bit of social coaching from you, as these are tricky skills to learn.
For example, the way they chat with friends online might differ from how they discuss a project at school or talk at a family dinner.
Practising these adjustments helps them become versatile communicators, able to engage meaningfully in a range of situations.
Demonstrate Reliability and Trustworthiness
Teaching teens to be reliable and trustworthy is a fundamental friendship skill for building trust and respect in friendships. It’s about guiding them to act with integrity and honesty in their social interactions.
Encourage your teen to keep their promises, communicate honestly, and consistently act with integrity.
These behuaviors demonstrate their reliability and build stronger, more trusting relationships.
For instance, if they commit to helping a friend with a project or keeping a secret, they should follow through.
Summary: Using the Friendship Skills Checklist to Support Your Child’s Development
In this article, we’ve explored key friendship skills essential for children of all ages.
Using the friendship skills checklist give you a practical framework to support your child’s social development.
It helps you identify areas to focus on, ensuring your child learns the art of building and maintaining meaningful relationships.
Reflecting on this checklist together can open conversations about empathy, communication, and respect. Ultimately, it’s a tool to guide your child towards becoming a well-rounded, socially skilled individual. Best of luck!
Dr Lucy Russell is a UK clinical psychologist who works with children and families. Her work involves both therapeutic support and autism assessments. She is the Clinical Director of Everlief Child Psychology, and also worked in the National Health Service for many years. In 2019 Lucy launched They Are The Future, a support website for parents of school-aged children.
Through TATF Lucy is passionate about giving practical, manageable strategies to parents and children who may otherwise struggle to find the support they need.
Lucy is a mum to two teenage children. She lives in Buckinghamshire with her husband, children, rescue dog and three rescue cats. She enjoys caravanning and outdoor living, singing and musical theatre.
Join They Are The Future’s free Facebook group for regular tips and great ideas to support teens and pre-teens with their mental health! Join the group: Parent Tips for Positive Child Mental Health UK.