6 Ways to Encourage Your Child to Make Friends
We can all remember those times as children when we had to go into a new situation and make friends. Some of us were great at it – instantly clicking with those around us, while others found it easier to be alone or struggled to find our tribe.
As a parent, watching them go through the same struggles you did, or find it difficult to make friends when you found it so easy, can be incredibly difficult. Fortunately, there are ways you can create the right conditions to give your child opportunities to make new friends – here are our 6 top tips:
Teach mutual respect at home
Your child should learn from an early age that the way to get what you want is by treating others with respect and kindness. And the best way to teach this is by implementing it at home. When we use positive discipline strategies like reasoning and calmly explaining the reasons for our rules, our children are more likely to become more prosocial in childhood.
Encourage your child to empathise
Children are inherently sensitive to others’ emotions, and this is an important quality to nurture. Teaching our children perspective and how others feel is vital to helping them become emotionally intelligent adults.
Give your child strategies on how to deal with an awkward situation
For instance, your child wants to join some other kids playing but isn’t sure how to approach them. You can teach your child what’s appropriate, like watching the others and assessing what they can do to fit in the game. Teach them to avoid being disruptive or negative about the game if the others are reluctant to let them join. These concrete plans will help your child in situations where they’re unsure how to interact with others.
A feeling of nervousness and uncertainty when meeting new people isn’t exclusive to adults; kids get social anxiety. Create a safe space for them to make new friends; liaise with another parent or neighbour and invite them for a playdate in a familiar setting or at your home. Your child is more likely to feel comfortable with a new friend in their favourite space. When the playdate is over, ask them if they enjoyed it and why/why not – this will help you find the best situations for them.
Encourage them to join clubs and classes
This may be a dance class, gymnastics, or any after-school sport. If your child needs a little coaxing, you could try enticing them with some new sport or dance gear. For example, items like ballet outfits are a fun and affordable way to make your daughter feel like a real-life ballerina while encouraging her to attend classes where she’ll make friends. An added benefit of attending classes is that making friends is not the primary focus; it’s a byproduct that helps children relax.
Don’t allow your biases to dictate who their friends should be
When children are little, they’ll be friends with just about anyone they spend time with. However, as children become more independent, we may find ourselves wishing they had a different friendship group. While it’s totally okay to steer your child away from people you think may get them into trouble, try to look at it objectively and see where your own biases come into play.
For example, you may wish your son was interested in sports when he’d much rather play online games with his friends – these are functioning friendships, even if it doesn’t seem like something you would have done as a kid, so support healthy friendships as long as your child is thriving.
If you’ve ever struggled with social anxiety or lack of confidence in a social setting, then you’ll know how your little one feels. Sometimes, it can be tempting to barge in and insist that everyone plays nicely with your kid (don’t they see how awesome they are?), but you won’t always be able to speak for your child. By teaching your child how to interact and bond with others, you’re setting them up for more and more positive social interactions. Support your child, answer their questions, and look for opportunities where they can mix with other children their age, so they are more likely to organically form friendships, such as a dance or swim class.