How Can I Help My Child Make Friends?

How Can I Help My Child Make Friends?

I’m certain many parents have felt the heartache of witnessing their child feeling socially left out.  In their infancy lonely boywe’re able to protect our babies from much of the harm in this world.  Yet, inevitable there comes a day when they face social interactions that we cannot control.  No matter how well intentioned our guidance has been, it doesn’t always go well for our children.

A child that hasn’t yet made friends can feel sadly distant, lonely and separated from their peer group.  Oftentimes it will result in a ‘different’ child than we know.  They may be depressed or moody when they are at home and have a lack of interest in or even a dread of school.

lonely girl without friendsAs parents we don’t need to feel completely helpless!  There are very positive and tangible ways that we can help our children to cultivate friendships and help them to develop socially.  With our love and encouragement (and a little practical help) we can guide our children and teach the lifelong skills they will need to thrive socially and develop meaningful and healthy relationships.

One of the most valuable things we can teach our children is exactly what a good friend is, and how to be one!

Children should learn from us early what friendship really means.  For example – we can discuss with them about how hurtful gossip can be.  Or how a kind word and a smile can bridge oceans between people.  By highlighting positive actions we show our children that they have value.  For example, compliment your child for letting someone stand in front of them in line or tell them how kind it was that a child at school mentioned that they liked your child’s new sneakers.  As humans we can tend to alienate ourselves – but by focusing on the positive things that occur in our day we can find that we’re not as alone as we sometimes feel.

Lead by example.  Show your child what being a good friend means.  Help them to take part in your own kind actions.  If you have a friend or relative that is going through hard times, let your child help you choose a card for them or bake them some cookies.  Try to pay a compliment or share a joke with perfect strangers when your child is with you so that they learn how to make conversation and interact.

Friendships are such an integral part of your child building self esteem – which makes it so very important for them to have positive social experiences.  Learning how to make friends and how to be a good friend will be something that helps them throughout their lifetime.

Here are some tips for you to keep in mind that can help your child to make friends:

  • Remind him or her that other children may also be shy and that someone has to take the first step to make a friendship.  Each morning before school you can give them a little advice to start the day with – hand them two smiles – one for themselves, and one to give away.  Encouraging your child to find one nice thing to say to someone that day is another way to teach them how to reach out to people.  It can be something very simple, like telling them they did a good job in gym class, or that they like their picture in art class.
  • Ask your child to stop and consider what it is that they like to do.  Your child will feel confident in an environment where they are doing something that they love.  This is an ideal setting for them to reach out and make friends so try to find ways to involve them in these activities in group settings.  If they can think of someone in their class that has the same interest, arrange a play date where they will be doing that activity.
  • Listen to your child.  If your child mentions somebody from their classroom, ask them if they would like to have that child over to play.  If your child is shy, they may hesitate to express their inner desires to foster relationships.  You can help them by initiating the conversation and contacting the other child’s parent.
  • Keep play dates short and sweet.  An hour or two is plenty of time for a successful play date.
  • Make sure that there are some planned activities as a basis for the playdate – for example you can plan a walk in the woods or a trip to the playground.
  • Get involved with the kids.  Rather than just leaving them on their own, try interacting a bit.  Maybe they can help you make a batch of cookies, or you can read some stories to them.  Break out an art project and help them get started.  Once you see them interacting, step back and let their relationship unfold.

It’s a good idea to talk your child’s teachers about your concerns.  They may have some excellent suggestions, or be able to help in ways you haven’t thought about.  For children who really need help learning how to socialize, you might speak with your school counselor.  They may be willing to arrange play groups during school to provide your child with some supervised time to interact with other children.

Social skills take a lifetime to refine.  Be patient and encouraging, but don’t be too concerned if your child’s social life doesn’t explode right away.

helping children make friendsP.S. Would you like MORE information on this topic to help your child make friends?  Check out “From Awkward Solitude to Blessed Friendship

Comments

  1. My 8-year-old son is terribly shy and will only respond in an inadible whisper when spoken to by adults. I’m a very social person, so this drives me crazy! I’ve just bought the book and am looking forward to reading it- thank you.

    Carol, CA

  2. Last week, my daughter’s classmate had a party- and my daughter was NOT invited. She cried for hours. I can see how badly she wants to be part of the group, it breaks my heart that I can’t wring those nasty 4th graders’ necks! This email came on just the right day.

    • What has worked for my children is trying a variety of activities and locations, and being very observant when I saw my child “click” with someone.

      My oldest daughter met a life-long friend when she visited a preschool where I was working (they are now both 27) and my oldest son met life-long friends in scouts (they are all 26).

      My youngest son seemed to click with a boy when we were at a holiday sale this past November (he is 6 and the boy is 7). I immediately introduced myself to his mother and we traded phone numbers. It turned out that they lived in our town.

      A few weeks later I called invited them to meet us at a local McDonald’s play place around lunch time. It turned out that they had a great time playing together. Both the boys are active, friendly children and they both have advanced belts in Tae Kwon Do…so my son and his new friend have a few things in common and obviously enjoy each others’ company!

      – Noelle Michaels, Speech Language Pathologist, Sp. Ed Teacher and LDT-C, Denville, NJ; http://www.meetup.com/Denville-Parent-Training-and-Support

    • I think back to all the times I was left out of groups and looking at them now as adults, I am sooo glad they left me out. It hurt then but I am a much better person for not always getting invited. I may have turned out more like them if I had been invited. The best thing to do… don’t let her dwell on it. Take her somewhere special when it is time for the party. To a movie she has been wanting to see, do an art project with her, use the time she would have been at the party to spend quality time with your daughter and it won’t hurt so bad. Think back to high school years, the ones who were mostly left out and quiet usually turn out to be the most successful and happy adults. :?)

  3. My wife literally suficates our 7-year-old daughter Shania, and tries to make her into a social butterfly- even though she is a quiet kid. I’m going to send my wife to this page- thanks. Jake

  4. Great advice!

  5. Many things that a parent might “tell” the child about the world, people and relationships, may or may not fit in with the chiild’s past or future experiences. This can leave him confused and perhaps anxious.

    I think instead of “telling” the child, it would probably be more helpful to assist the child in first expressing his feelings about his own experiences, social or otherwise, and then opening up new ways of thinking in the child, about the situation from different perspectives. e.g if a child has not been invited to a party in which he wanted to go and is very upset by it, then the parent may say “I can see that you are upset about not being called to the party. Tell me what you feel (or think) about it”. The parent must not wrong the child by blaming or judging or asking for justification as this will block the child’s expression. Once the feelings are expressed and acknowledged by the parent in this manner the child feels resolved and ready to think logically.

    Now the parent can help the child to see things from newer perspectives i.e. the one different from what he could earlier see with his limited thinking and emotional reaction. e.g. the parent might ask “What reasons do you think she might have for not calling you ? Think and tell me”, “Can you be sure of this ?”, “Is it possible that something happened that she misunderstood ?”. Give her enough time to think of various possible answers. Then finally ask her “What can you do so that you may be invited to her next party ?”

  6. Irene Szabo says:

    Hi all,
    Even though these ideas all sound noble on helping our children learning to get along I am not sure they are appropriate. The big question is when are children developmentally able to get along? According to the developmental psychologists it is a lot later than we think. In my experience most teenagers don’t even have the ability to get along.
    Just somethings to think about.
    Irene

  7. My 14-year old son was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome when he was ten – late by today’s standards. After years of various therapies. adjusted expectations and a lot of parent-involvement, I’m proud to say that he has had two sleepovers this vacation and had a fabulous time. I’m so happy for him and hope that other “different” kids achieve some form of social success. And, many thanks to all the moms who’ve helped my kid appropriately interact with mine over the years!

  8. I have a 14 year old son , he has been on a IEP his hole life , by the 6th grade he has been in 7 different schools haveing no roots any whear . he has come out to me that he is gay . he realy has no friends or self asteam . i just dropped him off at school and looked at the kids face’s around him and that broke my hart .I cried the hole way home and i cant help but think ,if it hurts me this much , how much is he hurting . I dont no what to do …I feel so bad for him , the pain is unbearable …..help … someone please help me to help him …please

    • Hi Kim,

      I am so sorry for your predicament. Your comment made me cry too.

      Have you tried any of the suggestions on this page? What have you done in the past that has worked to help your son have an improved social life? Is he involved in any extra-curricular activities where it may be easier to make new friends?

  9. Hi Kim,

    I feel your pain and understand how difficult it is for you and your son. I think it would be best that your son experience friendship in a safe and secure environment at the safety of a private home or a recreational facility. Your son do not need to be friends with everyone, just one would already make an enormous difference. It would help if you can take the initiative to enroll your son in recreational activities such as joining a hobby team, sports team….anything your son takes an interest in. Try to observe your son’s behavior when he is around others in a group. Does he treat others nicely? Does he understand the importance of being polite and ask before joining a play? Does he know how to take turns, to play fair and to be a good sport? He needs people to show him how to do that and if you see that he likes to play with a particular kid, you may consider inviting that kid over to your home to play to create a safe environment. Discuss his feelings with him and put words to his feelings without being judgmental. Take it slowly and with patience. I wish you success…

  10. My ten year old wants to make friends , and I don’t think he knows how and I don’t know and want to know how I can help him. It makes me sad and gives me such heartache he seems depressed , lonesome and not ever interested in anything. We just moved into an apartment complex where there is a lot of kids everywhere , I will start by hangin by the pool and introducing myself and my boys to the moms. See if that helps 🙂

    • Stacey Marmolejo says:

      I had the same challenge when my son (now 27) was young.

      I would encourage you to find a community he can belong to; otherwise he’ll need to rely on you to make all his friends.

      Some places you might try are: Performance-based music programs, Tae Kwon Do studios, Dance studios (YES! Boys do take dance lessons), Childrens’ Theatre, Chess Clubs, Robotics Clubs, Archery/Gun Shooting programs (American Legions have gun shooting programs for youth), a church youth group. Generally speaking, sports groups can be brutally competitive, but if you can find a collaborative and supportive activity for him, you’ll be amazed at how quickly he makes friends.

  11. Why are friends so important? Visit any nursing home and find out how many “friends” are responsible for those old folks. I agree with the christian right on this issue. FAMILY IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING. Concentrate on your relationship with your parents and then you spouse and children. Every society that does not have a strong family system will fail.