From a young age, it’s been fun to watch my son interact with other children and make friends. It starts with smiling and laughing when other people look at your child. And as they grow up, it becomes a bit more involved. Some children are natural at making new friends, while others struggle with it. Learning how to make new friends is an important life skill. You won’t always be able to be there for your child in every social situation and interaction. However, you can be there for some of the first social interactions they encounter.
Here are a few ways you can teach your child to make friends.
Put them in social settings For children to have the opportunity to test their social skills, they need to be placed in social settings. While school offers some opportunities to interact with other children, extracurricular activities offer way more. The classroom is focused on learning, which can make it difficult for your child to bond with new friends. Instead, put them in a setting with an activity they know and love. You know your child best, so be sure it’s an activity where they’ll enjoy the subject matter.
Looking for something unique that isn t another soccer practice? Extracurriculars do not have to be sports. That’s why there are chess clubs, Lego enthusiasts, and more to meet the needs of each child. During the first session, encourage your son or daughter to meet just one other child. Then, during the next class challenge them to meet another. After each session, ask them who they met. What did they learn about the other child?
Teach them to say hi to others As you peruse the grocery store or head to the Post Office, teach your child about the importance of eye contact. An activity that is so simple has become rarer. This is because of how much time we spend with our faces on our smartphones. Put your smartphone down and write a list on paper if you have to.
If you can’t find something at the store, refrain from pulling up the store’s app. Instead, check what aisle it is in. Instead, demonstrate to your child how to ask another person for help. As you walk by other people, smile and say hello. Explain to your child how this opens you up to further conversation and is simply friendly to those around you. The more your child learns about social interactions, the more comfortable they’ll be meeting other children and making friends.
Coordinate playdates If you notice that there is another child that your son or daughter talks about from school or extracurricular activities, ask if you can set up a playdate. Meet the other child’s parent and ask if it would be OK. Now your child can build a friendship with the other child outside of that activity where they met them. This way, if your son or daughter or the other child stops attending that school or activity, they can remain friends. Depending on how outgoing your child is, they may or may not ask to set up a playdate on their own. You might need to do some encouraging on this front.
And remember, every child is different so if you have more than one child, realize that the support they need to make friends might differ. If the playdate goes well, be sure to get the contact information for the mom or dad of your child’s new friend, so that you can continue the friendship. When children are young, parents play a key role in their developing friendships. This is especially true if you’ve chosen to avoid getting your child a phone until they are older.
Encourage your child to invite classmates to parties Moving to a new town or starting at a new school can create some serious anxiety for your child. Or, your child might be nervous just moving up to a new grade during a new school year. To help ease that discomfort, look for a reason to throw a party and invite your child’s classmates. An easy event is your child’s birthday. It’s the perfect excuse to throw a party! But what if your child isn’t having a birthday anytime soon?
You could throw a party in honor of the new school year, celebrate your child’s favorite movie releasing a sequel, host a party to raise funds for a local nonprofit, or any other excuse you can think of to get your child and others together. Maybe it’s just a small slumber party with one or two new friends from school to help them have a close circle of friends. A close circle of friends can help your child grow their network once they are comfortable in that setting.
Go for walks in the neighborhood Meeting other children in your neighborhood can be as simple as taking a walk. Friends within your neighborhood are simple and easy friends because they are local, so you don’t have to travel time to meet up for playdates. Plus, because you’re with your child for the walk, you can teach them about how to introduce themselves to other children. Teach them the importance of asking the other child’s name and sharing their name. You might be surprised to discover that some of your child’s classmates live in your neighborhood. These are great friendships to cultivate. They can give your child common ground with the other child as they get to know one another.
Turn off the screens and play in real life When you invite other children over to play and grow in friendship with your child, encourage them to turn off the screens. Play outside and get exercise, use their imaginations to create other worlds and scenarios together, or be creative with arts and crafts.
It’s difficult to nurture friendships when you’re deep into screens. Children learning interact less by playing video games or watching various programs. Instead, get them talking and interacting through other methods of play.