When your child has trouble making friends, it can be tough to sit back and watch. But you can take some steps to help them learn to form friendships. Once you understand the skills kids need to make friends, you can act as their personal coach and help them build those skills. Developing your child's emotional, social, and self-regulation skills will really help them handle the ins and outs of making friends.
But remember to be patient with your child while helping them. As a kid, not having friends may already be hard to handle. You want to encourage them without adding to their stress.
To be a good friend, children need to know how to:
- Understand other people's viewpoints and emotions
- Control their own emotions
- Show sympathy
- Cooperate, negotiate, and compromise
- Apologize when they are wrong
- Forgive others for wronging them
- Trust other people
- Introduce themselves and engage in conversations
If you notice your child is having trouble with any of these, talk to them about it. It can help them understand the importance of these things if you use examples. You could also ask them to think about how they might feel if someone else didn't do these things for them.
Sometimes, kids just need a little direct guidance on how to talk to and play with other kids. While some children pick this up naturally, some do better if it's laid out for them. Here are some conversational skills that have proven to be effective in helping children make friends:
- Strike a balance between talking and listening. Don't just ask questions. Talk about yourself as well.
- Don't only talk about yourself and your interests. Give the other child a chance to talk too.
- Trade information about what each of you likes and dislikes.
You can practice doing these things skills at home with your child in everyday conversations and by roleplaying specific situations.
Give Your Child Chances to Socialize
Some children may just feel they can't spend enough time with other kids to make friends. To help with this for younger children, maybe plan and host playdates for them. If your child is shy, start with a one-on-one playdate with a classmate. For an older child who is more comfortable with people, you can invite more children. By hosting it at your house, you keep your child's comfort levels high as they try to make friends. They are likely to feel more secure and relaxed at home, rather than in someone else's house.
Make sure, though, that the games and activities are cooperative, rather than competitive. Children get along better when they cooperate than when they compete against each other.
Teach Your Child to Negotiate
Children need to learn to negotiate in a positive way. This is more difficult if children grow up in a family that promotes either a "win-at-all-costs" attitude or don't believe in arguing at all.
Be a good role model for your kids by showing them how to focus on both sides getting something that they want. Teach your child to try to find a shared interest if they are having a disagreement with a friend. They can both brainstorm possible solutions that will let them feel like they both won. Children with brothers and sisters will naturally have many chances to practice negotiating. If you have an only child, you can role play “let’s pretend” situations with them.
Take a Look at Your Parenting Style
Everyone wants their children to be well-behaved. While it may seem that "laying down the law" is the best way to achieve that, studies have shown that it isn't. This style of parenting, called "authoritarian," is marked by punishment, controlling behavior, and a lack of warmth between parents and their children. This actually produces children with more behavior problems. These children also have more trouble making friends.
This isn't to say that you should let your child do whatever they want. It's important to have rules, but you should explain to your child why you have set those rules. Use positive discipline strategies and treat your children with respect and kindness. They will model that behavior and have an easier time making friends.
The Importance of Childhood Friendships
When your child comes home crying because their best friend wouldn't sit with them at lunch, it can be tempting to dismiss their feelings. Children's friendships run hot and cold and can seem unimportant, but studies show that children with close friends are:
- Less lonely
- Less likely to be depressed
- More engaged in school
- Better able to handle school transitions
- More socially competent