From the time we enter the world, we search out other people to connect with. As social beings, helping kids make friends is a big part of parenting life from childhood on. While making friends is of great importance, it doesn’t always come naturally. It can be difficult to find friends that are loyal and that you can build a connection with. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says you can do much to support your kids’ friend-making skills beginning from an early age.
One of the easiest ways to teach kids is through play. Role play scenarios that your kids may encounter when meeting new people, starting when they’re preschoolers, the AAP says. Use puppets, dolls or even stuffed animals to practice social situations. You can teach your child how to ask someone to play or how to join in on a game that is already started. Next, work out possible conflicts that may arise while playing with friends. After roleplaying, kids will be more comfortable when they face similar situations on the playground and as they grow.
Set an example
It is just as important for parents to build strong friendships as it is for kids. You have the opportunity to teach your kids through your example.
“We move a lot, so explaining how I make new friends and step out of my comfort zone just like they do helps a lot,” says Stephanie Loux, a mom of three.
Do you make time for friends in your life? Do you invite friends over or meet for coffee?
Your kids watch how you interact with others. If you’re involved with friends and show empathy toward others, kids will learn that friendships are a priority and understand the natural give and take of relationships.
For outgoing kids, conversation may come naturally, but for others a little practice can go a long way. Part of making and maintaining friendships is being able to take turns speaking, listening and responding with empathy when appropriate. You can teach your kids how to have conversations during daily life by simply modeling the skill. It can also be taught by giving them some tools to start a conversation.
For example, teach kids to greet friends upon arrival, to respond when asked a question and to listen so they can try and retain information. It means a lot for friends to remember what you’ve told them; it takes some practice, but it will be worth it.
Teach Proper Etiquette
Kids who take turns, share and let others go first are easy to be around. You can model good etiquette for your child and give them gentle reminders during social interactions.
All friends experience conflict — that’s real relationship. What is important is how you handle it. Door slamming, stomping feet, the silent treatment, yelling and hitting are damaging to friendships. As kids get older, it is important to encourage them to talk about their feelings, come up with a solution or ask an adult to help. As much as possible, have the kids work out their conflicts themselves, however, being available to help (if they need you to) is important.
Allow your kids to invite friends over to play or to meet at a park. Sports and extracurricular activities are another great place to find friends with mutual interests.
“Helping them say hello to other kids at parks and school events helps,” says Loux.
“I also make an effort to go to all class birthday parties so they have more time with friends.” Simply being around other people helps your child build social skills and make friends.
Remember that it’s important to cultivate your child’s social skills based on what they feel the most comfortable with. It is also important to remember that your child does not need to be the most popular person in the class, they really only need one or two close friends to feel accepted and connected to their peers.