Help Kids Make Friends

Help your kids develop friend-making skills that will serve them for a lifetime.

Making friends is a vital skill that we use throughout our entire lives—and it’s a skill that comes easier to some than others. If making friends is challenging for your child, don’t fret. It doesn’t mean that your child is unlikable or unworthy of friendship; he/she might just need some help learning the skills it takes to make and keep friends. As a parent, this is one of the most crucial skills you can teach your child so that he/she can enjoy a life rich with healthy friendships.

Qualities of Friends

Some kids just seem to have a gravitational pull—everyone wants to be their friend. Turns out, this might not be coincidence or luck. Research indicates that kids who are considered “popular” and have large friend groups tend to share some common characteristics. They exhibit prosocial behavior—meaning they are caring, sharing, and helpful. In addition, they have strong verbal skills, strong impulse control (meaning they can control their negative emotions and aggressive behavior), and strong interpersonal skills (such as empathy, perspective-taking, and moral reasoning).[1]

While not all kids are hard-wired the same—some are introverted, some are extroverted—they can all cultivate these characteristics to some degree. As a parent, your first step in helping your kids build a solid circle of friends is helping them develop the qualities people look for in friends.

Building Impulse Control

Of the qualities listed above, impulse control may be the most important because face it—no one wants to play with a kid prone to outbursts, temper tantrums, aggression, or unkind words. Impulse control isn’t the luck of the draw; it’s the result of good parenting and role modeling. The best way to develop impulse control? Honor your child’s emotions. That’s right—rather than punishing your child or trivializing his/her emotions, it’s important to listen, empathize, and teach them that emotions are a natural part of the human experience. Then, provide some problem solving and coaching when emotions arise and start teaching your child to develop some self-control.

Teaching Conversation Skills

Conversation skills are an important tool that will help your child throughout his/her life in countless situations. Developmentally, kids think the universe revolves around them. It’s your job as a parent to introduce some give and take to the conversational equation. Start simply—teach your child to ask questions about people’s likes and dislikes. You’ll be doing several things: 1) teaching your child how to listen, 2) teaching your child to show an interest in others, 3) teaching your child how to find common ground with other kids. The best place to practice building conversation skills? The dinner table, of course. (See The Importance of Family Dinner.)

Friendship Coaching 101

Helping your child build friendships can take time and effort, but it will pay off in dividends. As a parent, here are some things you can do to help your child foster healthy friendships:

  • Provide many opportunities for connection with friends, new and old. As a parent, you may already feel like the resident chauffer and entertainment committee, but this is actually critical to your child’s development. Make arrangements for play dates; spend time at the playground; sign up for new activities. Give your child lots of opportunities to meet and interact with a variety of other kids.
  • Debrief with your child. Ask questions. What makes Sally a good friend? Do you have some of those qualities, too? What do you like/dislike about the way Billy treats you? By helping your child to identify her likes and dislikes, you will not only help her to develop those qualities, but also to choose friends wisely.
  • Develop a list of personal strengths. Help your child recognize his strengths so that he knows he has something to offer as a friend.
  • Practice. If your child is having a difficult time making friends, do some role-playing at home to practice some common social situations that arise so that your child can be prepared.
  • Prepare. When approaching a social situation, encourage your child to observe how the kids are playing and then strategize how he will enter in. “I see the boys are playing baseball. Are you going to ask them if you can join their game? What if they say no?”
  • Avoid competitive games. If kids are already struggling to make friends, competitive games can provoke conflict. Instead create cooperative settings in which your child can interact with others.

Friendships take work to build and maintain. If your life is rich with friends that you’ve had since your grade school days, you might not even remember how you made those friends, but rest assured you probably put some time and energy into it. Help your child learn to make friends so that he/she can enjoy a lifetime of friendship.

Reference:


[1] Dekovic M, Gerris JRM. Developmental analysis of social cognitive and behavioral differences between popular and rejected children. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology. 1994; 15(3): 367-386.