Helping children learn the art of making friends

Most research into children’s friendships shows that children who are able to form friendships when they start school are happier at school and also learn better. More significantly, a positive beginning to friendships has long-term implications for social and indirectly, academic success.

The results of a number of studies indicate that children can be taught friendships skills. The strategies are simple and revolve around teaching children a range of friendly behaviours such as talking with others while playing, showing an interest in others, smiling, offering help and encouragement when needed, a willingness to share and learning how to enter a game or social situation. It is also useful to teach some children alternatives to fighting and arguing when there is disagreement and conflict within groups.

Generally, parents need to do little more than provide social situations for children to build and maintain friendships. However some coaching on how to make and keep friends may be desirable when children really do have difficulty making and keeping friends.

Here are some tips to help:

  1. Be upfront with your child and discuss the need to build connections with children inside school and outside school. If possible, establish a dialogue with them about friendships so that you can offer support when there are difficulties and provide some ideas when needed.
  2. Teach social skills such as how to start up a conversation, how to be a good winner and loser, and how to hold the interest of others during a conversation. Playing games with others in their family s a great way for kids to pick up many of these skills.
  3. Identify and discuss any behaviour such as teasing, bullying or selfishness that may prevent your child from making friends. Sometimes a child’s remarks can irritate others to the extent that he or she is ostracised.
  4. Provide opportunities for your child to have friends at your home after school or on weekends so that friendships can develop. An invitation to bring a friend along to family outings and holidays can provide opportunities to strengthen friendships. It helps to have just one child over at a time so they can develop a one-on-one connection that can carry across at school.
  5. Encourage your child to participate in out-of-school activities or groups that may provide opportunities to meet new people away from the peer groups at school. Friendships formed through shared interests are often very strong. Also birds of a feather flock together, so it may be easier for children to find soul mates through shared hobbies and activities.
  6. Encourage your child to take up a challenging or interesting activity so that he or she becomes a more interesting person for others to be around.
  7. Limit the time spent in solitary activities if your child appears to have few friends. Be humane and kind but don’t be afraid to insist children mix with others of their own age. Many children who struggle making friends gravitate to online activities, including social media.
  8. Technology does offer children opportunities to make and maintain friendships. This can be a positive thing, however if all your children’s friends are online friends then it’s time to put some parental limits on the technology to encourage them to have personal contact with others.

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