Having friends is an important part of children’s health and development. Interacting with friends allows children to learn about relationships, compromise, social norms, decision-making and more. Having friends also allows children to have increased self-esteem, motivation for joining in at school and activities, and a greater sense of their own talents, skills and personality.
Though Friendships Benefit Children, making friends is not easy for all kids. If your child is having trouble making friends, you might be able to help him or her by talking about friendships, identifying obstacles to friendships, discussing potential friends and encouraging social situations.
Talking With A Child About Friendship
Talking with a child about friendship is perhaps the best way to let him or her know that you feel friendships are very important. You can tell him or her why it is nice to have friends, and give examples of your own friendships and how they have been important in your own life. You might even talk about a friendship that fizzled out and why you wish that wasn’t so. Ask your child about his or her friendships, and if (s)he thinks friends are important for people to have. If your child has no friends, talk with him or her about the kinds of things (s)he would like out of a friendship and how a friendship could enhance his or her life.
Identifying Obstacles to Friendships
If your child would like more friends in his or her life, gently lead a discussion on why (s)he thinks this isn’t the case at the moment. It may be heartbreaking to have to hear, or to suggest, why your child may be left out of friendships, but identifying obstacles is the first step in identifying solutions. Children may be left out of friendships for all kinds of reasons, including physical, mental or emotional differences, shyness, different lifestyles or different interests, but it may also be that your child has no interest in other children and prefers to be alone. If this is the case, ask your child what (s)he feels is better about being alone and see if you can suggest a way that having friends would add to these perceived benefits. Brainstorm with your child about how to overcome any obstacles to friendships and commit to helping out if needed.
Discussing Potential Friends
Once you and your child agree that having friends is important in the abstract, and have decided how to overcome obstacles to friendships, discuss the specifics of making friends. Talk about children your child knows, or would like to know, and which ones might make good friends. Encourage your child to think about what (s)he likes about these children and don’t accept answers like “She’s popular” or “He has cool clothes”. Use this as an opportunity to reiterate what is important about friendships and the kinds of qualities to look for in a new friend. If your child gets stuck, ask him or her about children who have similar interests or senses of humour to get the ball rolling again.
Encouraging Social Situations
Encouraging social situations can be like walking a tight-rope for parents. On the one hand you want to help your child find new opportunities to make friends, but on the other hand you don’t want to push too hard or put your child into situations for which they are unprepared, uncomfortable or may find embarrassing. Two easy ways to encourage social situations are to enrol children in organised activities in which they have an interest (clubs, sports teams, after school lessons, etc.) and to invite other children to your home for Play Dates. You might consider inviting other children’s parents and/or other siblings as well, to make it more like a family engagement and take any feelings of pressure off your child. Just make sure that you invite the children your child expresses an interest in befriending, rather than children you’ve identified as potential friends without including your own child in the discussion.
Helping your child make friends may require extra effort, but it will be worth it when your child is enjoying the benefits of good friendships. Talking to your child about friendship, identifying obstacles to friendships, discussing potential friends and encouraging social situations should all help children make new friends.