How to help your child make good friends
We all want our little ones to socialise and form meaningful friendships, and many of us worry about the possibility of this not happening, or of them being lonely or feeling left out. Human beings are innately social, and thrive on company and companionship. Friendship will also help children to enjoy school and embrace, learning together.
Sadly, as parents, we can’t go out and find friends for our children. To a large extent, and especially as they get older and start preschool and school, we have to let them work this out for themselves. You will usually be surprised by how well and quickly they fit in and find friends.
Forming and maintaining healthy friendships requires a wide range of skills. It’s largely about your personality, who is in your life and shared interests, but there are aspects that you can help children with, in order to set them up for creating rewarding friendships.
1. Familiarise them with peer groups
From an early age, there are lots of ways to get children used to socialising with others. Baby and toddler groups, playschool, family get-togethers with other children, or even meeting up with other mums and their children, are all great ways to get children used to being around and interacting with others. Having a variety of social groups or activities that you go to all provide variety and prevent cliques and can be good for helping you meet new friends too.
2. Teach conversation skills
Babies start to babble from an early age, and when you begin to have a ‘conversation’ with them, they will quickly learn the basics of conversation - to talk when you leave a gap, and listen while you speak. Ruth Feldman found that parents who did this had children who developed more social competence and better negotiation skills over time (Feldman et al 2013) - key skills for making friends.
3. Try to instil manners from early on
Being polite and friendly will help your child to integrate with others and will also aid social skills such as sharing and turn taking. Learning good manners from an early age will help in many ways as children grow up.
4. Open your home
By making your home a friendly, welcoming place for your children’s friends to visit, it helps your own children to build on friendships which have begun at school, or nursery. It also enables you to see how your child interacts and plays with others.
5. Help them to be open with others
In order to make friends, children need to show others that they like them, which can be an awkward situation for more reserved or shy individuals. You can help them to do this by displaying friendly, open behaviours in everyday situations. Greet strangers with a smile, pay people compliments, be kind to others, and encourage children to do the same. Role-play can also help to build confidence in these situations.
Talk to your child about their own feelings in different situations, but also about how others in the same situation may be feeling. Whilst young children may struggle with empathy as they are still very absorbed in their own experiences and emotions, helping young children understand how other children may be feeling, and how your child's behaviour can impact on them will help develop early empathy skills and make it easier for your child to become a good friend themselves.
7. Offer props
If little ones are struggling to break the ice, sometimes taking a ball or toy that they can play with others can help them to get chatting and playing together. There are often playground crazes which will help them to feel part of the group and give them common ground to connect with others on.
8. Watch out for bullying
If you suspect that you child is bullying or being bullied, speak to the school or group leader straight away, but don't be too quick to jump into normal playground quarrels. Young children can be quite fickle and may move between different friends quite frequently and it's important that children are given the freedom to choose their own friends and try to resolve any conflict themselves.
Categorised in: parenting advice
This post was written by Dr Amanda Gummer