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How To Make Friends, or At Least Think About It More Clearly

FriendspaperdollsI’m a huge fan of Michael Thompson’s book, Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social Lives of Children, so when I noticed that he was a co-author, with Lawrence Cohen and Catherine O’Neill, of Mom, They’re Teasing Me: Helping Your Child Solve Social Problems, I picked it up right away.

I saw the title of the introduction: “It All Started When She Hit Me Back…” Ah, I recognized that kind of claim! I needed no further persuasion to read the book (though my children, thankfully, have no particular social problems at the moment).

Given the title of the book, it’s no surprise that the authors discuss at some length the subject of friendship and how children learn to make and keep friends, and they include a list of “essential friendship skills.”

As I read this list, I was struck by how it could just as easily be applied to marriage or to work. These are the qualities a person wants to see in a spouse and in co-workers. They’re important in all kinds of circumstances.

According to these authors, the essential friendship skills are:

  • The enjoyment of the company of others
  • A capacity for reciprocity, turn taking, cooperation, and sharing
  • Empathy
  • Realistic, generally positive expectations that allow you to approach the world with confidence
  • Problem-solving ability
  • The ability to regulate aggressive impulses and other emotions
  • The ability to read emotions, especially subtle and mixed emotions
  • The ability to tolerate frustration
  • The ability to “hold others in mind” [to think lovingly about absent friends]
  • Trust that others can and will hold you in mind
  • Self-disclosure—the willingness and ability to show vulnerability

The authors go on to list the essential elements of social competence that children need to use at school:

  • Emotional regulation
  • Turn taking
  • Joining a group
  • Giving positive attention to others
  • Sociability
  • Social knowledge [knowing the norms, customs, and references of your subculture]
  • Tuning in to social cues [picking up on other people’s emotions and signals]
  • Balancing autonomy with relationships

Again, I found myself thinking — marriage! work! family! These skills aren’t just for children, and just for school. I struggle to work on these precise skills, every day of my life.

Making friends can seem like an overwhelmingly complex, tangled subject to broach. It can be difficult to know even how to think about it. For a person who struggles to make and keep friends, or to maintain friendly relations with others, this list gives a helpful breakdown of areas to tackle. If you have trouble making conversation, you could work on your “social knowledge.” If you find yourself getting in a lot of disagreements, you could work on “emotional regulation” and “giving positive attention to others.”

What do you think? Has anything important be omitted from these lists? Do they provide a helpful framework for thinking about friendship?

I loved scrolling through the beautiful images on Design for Mankind — “unearthing the internet’s treasures since 2006.”

How To Make Friends, or At Least Think About It More Clearly

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Gretchen Rubin

Gretchen Rubin is the award-winning author of The Happiness Project, a #1 New York Times bestseller. You can also watch the one-minute book video. She is a regular contributor to Psych Central.

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APA Reference
Rubin, G. (2018). How To Make Friends, or At Least Think About It More Clearly. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 7 Sep 2011)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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