We often think that for children, making friends is as easy as tapping another kid on the shoulder and saying “tag, you’re it.” As a parent, though, you know that friendships don’t come that naturally for all kids. If you have a kid who struggles to form relationships, you would gladly make friends for them if you could. After all, childhood friendships are important. Friendships teach kids how to communicate, how to navigate conflicts, how to empathize, and so much more. Plus, having a good buddy or two just makes life more fun. While you can't make a friend on your kid's behalf, there are many ways that you can help your child make friends.
Model Good Friendships for Your Child
You already know this, but your child is a sponge. And that little sponge is watching all of your actions and interactions and learning from them. So use that constant observation to your advantage! When you interact with other people, let your child watch you being a good friend-- listening and taking turns in conversation, being warm, kind, and helpful.
Help Your Child Make Friends by Building up their Social Skills
Social skills like listening, asking questions, or sharing are crucial for children making friends. But like any skill, social skills take practice. That’s where you come in. You can be your child’s very own friendship coach, teaching them important interpersonal skills and role-playing tricky social situations.
Teach Your Child Important Social Skills
Think about how you taught your child other skills, like counting or recognizing colors. You probably read books and integrated the topic into your daily conversations. You encouraged them when they showed an interest. Use those same methods to teach your child interpersonal skills. Read books about friendships and talk about the characters and their feelings. You are already modeling good social skills, so use your own interactions as teachable moments. Praise positive behaviors such as listening, showing empathy, and not interrupting, when you see your child doing them.
Role-Play Social Situations with Your Child
It may feel silly, but practicing social scenarios at home can help your child make friends in the real world. Observe your child's interactions and take your cues from them. Does your child have a hard time approaching other kids? Roleplay opening lines. Is your kid great at meeting other children, but tends to dominate the conversation? Roleplay asking questions and giving the other person a chance to share. Just like you would feel better about giving a presentation at work if you’d practiced it a few times, role play will give your child more confidence in tricky social situations.
Provide Opportunities for Your Child to Meet Other Kids
Once you’ve armed your kid with the tools they need to make and, more importantly, to be a good friend, give your child the opportunity to put those skills to the test. Set up social situations for your kid to interact with others in a way that will be comfortable for your child.
Clubs or activities with a built-in structure, like swimming lessons or joining a recreational swim team, are great for shy kids. These activities give your child the opportunity to be around other children multiple times without the pressure of needing to direct the interactions. If you see a spark between them and another kid, set up a casual playdate to foster the relationship.
Give Them the Skills and Then Take a Backseat
We all want to do the very best we can for our children. When it comes to friendships, the best thing you can do to help your child make friends is to give them skills and opportunities and then let them find their own way. You are raising a wonderful and unique kiddo. With time (and maybe a little practice) your child will find friends who love them for the cool kid they are.