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How to Help Your Child Make Friends

Making friends is an important skill. For some kids it comes naturally. Others will need you to help pave their road to lifelong friendships.

Hearing your child say they had a bad day at school or preschool because they don’t have any friends, tugs at our heartstrings. We hope it’s just a bad day. We hope they do have friends. Just one would do.

“Humans are social animals,” says educational psychologist Dr John Irvine, who is author of several books, including Thriving at School. “We need to belong to a group and be accepted by others. Friends offer life membership and a future that is socially comfortable.

” If your child says they don’t have any friends, he says the best strategy is to calmly ask about the children you know they’ve played with in the past: ‘So what about Amy: was she your friend today? And what about Jacqueline?’

“You’ll gradually shift their thinking from worrying about one or two who don’t like them, to the many who do want to be their friend,” Dr Irvine adds.

When Children Make Friends

From the age of two, children start searching for social contact and belonging. Between the ages of four and eight, they find it incredibly easy to make friends, basically because they’re not too choosy about them. “You as the parent are still the most importance reference group in their life,” says Dr Irvine.

From the age of seven or eight, your child’s friends become more important. So by helping them learn how to make friends early on, you’ll set them up for life. “Children make friends by having something to offer that attracts other kids,” Dr Irvine says.

“It could be that they smile easily or that they’re friendly and chatty, it could be that they have some physical feature that attracts others (e.g. hair, height, skin, friendly face) or some skill or ability that other kids appreciate (e.g. good at sport, reading, drama, music, building, computers).”

How Kids Keep Friends

While attraction and attractiveness can win friends, it doesn’t keep friends, cautions Dr Irvine. “After the attraction or superficial details are no longer a novelty, what keeps friends is that you offer something deeper than that – an interest in the other person, thoughtfulness, humour, fun, an imaginative mind, similar interests, a similar outlook on life, loyalty, and a reliable and consistent personality (not moody or unreliable).”

Does this mean that a shy child won’t make friends? “Often the shy or retiring kids don’t make as many friends,” admits Dr Irvine. “But if it’s your child, the earlier you notice this, and start to do something about it, the better off they will be in friendships later in their childhood.”

What You Can Do to Help

Here are some ways he suggests you can help your children make friends:

• Show in your own life how to be friendly and how to nurture friendships.

• Have interests that expose your children to families with similar interests.

• Give children experiences, attitudes, values and behaviours that make them attractive to other children and to other parents (so they are invited over for a play).

• Give your children enough social exposure through interests, sport, clubs etc so that kids meet lots of other children and have plenty of kids to choose between... so they can sort out the wheat from the chaff so to speak.

Dodgy friends

What do you do if your child chooses to make friends with the most dysfunctional kid in the class? Dr John Irvine says that “delinquents have at least two things in common – poor peer models and too much unsupervised time on their hands”. But if your child’s friends aren’t your choice, it’s better not to go on about them and “don’t denigrate them as that tends to drive kids to rebel and keep that friend”.

Instead, invite the dubious friend around to your house: “Being under home rules and values often sorts out the friendships,” Dr Irvine adds. “Alternately, the ‘bad’ friend, who might not have good role models at home, can often smarten up their own act because they like being with you.”

Further Information