How to Make and Keep Friends: Tips for Kids to Overcome 50 Common Social Challenges is a new book out by Massachusetts based founder of Social Smart Kids, Nadine Briggs and director of the Peter Pan Center, Donna Shea. The book is one of their many collaborations, including their recently announced Social Success in School, a bullying prevention training initiative for teachers and administrators. Social Success in School was developed in direct response to Massachusetts’ new bullying law. If that wasn’t enough, they’re hosting a conference on March 5th: How To Make & Keep Friends: Partnering with Children for Social Success and in the summer they run a social skills camp together.

Bravo! With these seemingly separate projects, this dynamic expert duo (and obviously good friends) are aiming at the heart of the problem and coming up with solutions.

Let’s talk about the book first. Friendship is the secret weapon. If we can connect with others, not much can keep us down. Friendships can carry us — and our children — through most situations, including bullying. According to the authors, “Parents care more about their kids making friends than their grades.” I completely believe that and although many children have difficulty creating friendships for a variety of reasons, Nadine and Donna say it can be learned. They should know. They’ve been teaching it with success for years.

This gives me hope. It’s heart-wrenching but common to see children having trouble socially. I’m thrilled that they’ve come up with a book that kids can read on their own with little but effective tips like instead of asking on the playground, “Can I play with you?” and possibly getting rejected, they can say, “I’d like to join in.”

Sometimes having one friend can give a child, or anyone for that matter, the resiliency to get through life’s curve balls. Teaching social skills is an admirable vocation. When I asked Donna and Nadine why they do what they do, they simply and powerfully said, “Every kid should have a friend.” And when they say, every child, they mean every child, including kids with physical and emotional challenges.

Based on what they’ve learned, Nadine and Donna recently launched their school training program, Social Success in Schools, developed for grades K-6. Built upon the same premise that social aptitude creates a better school climate, the tools were designed to build empathy and tolerance.

Fascinated by their tagline, “dedicated to educating and supporting kids with social challenges,” I asked them:

To date, what is the most satisfying part of your work?

We get a tremendous amount of satisfaction when we see one of our friends in a social skills group learn a new way of interacting with others. For example, when we hear them say “how about we…” when they would have previously said “you have to….”.

What’s the most important thing parents can do to help their children have a friend and be a friend?

Schedule playdates. We understand that parents are busy with work, siblings, and life in general but the single most important thing that they can do is create social opportunity for their children. The second most important thing that a parent or educator can do is understand that children who are socially awkward need an adult partner to help them navigate social situations with patience and understanding.

I wish them luck with book sales, conferences, training programs and summer camp but mainly I thank them for stepping up and identifying one of the most important things in every single child’s life: friendship.