Four Ways to Help Your Child Make Friends
Why You Should Be Concerned
Friends are vital to a child’s healthy development. Research shows that children who lack friends can suffer from emotional and mental difficulties later in life. Friendships help children develop emotionally and morally. While interacting with friends, children learn social skills, such as how to communicate, cooperate, and solve problems. They practice controlling their emotions and responding to the emotions of others. They develop the ability to evaluate and negotiate different situations that arise in their relationships. Having friends even affects children’s school performance. Children tend to have better attitudes about school and learning when they have friends there.
One of the most effective strategies for preventing problem behaviors among youth is to strengthen their bonds with friends.
“Young people with strong, supportive relationships with families, friends, school, and community are invested in or committed to achieving the goals held by these groups. They are bonded to these groups. Young people who are bonded are less likely to do things that threaten that bond — such as use drugs, become violent, or commit crimes.”
-National Council on Crime and Delinquency & Developmental Research and Programs, Inc., U.S. Department of Education, www.ed.gov
Know Your Child:
- Who are your child’s best friends?
- Do you know their parents?
- Do you know what your child’s friends are permitted by their parents to do? For example, what movies, video games, websites, language, morality and lifestyle choices are acceptable in their home?
- Is there adequate parental supervision in their home?
- What personality types make the best friends for your child?
Know the Signs of a Child in Social Distress:
80% of all children in school usually have at least one friend. It is the other 20% of the children that psychologists are concerned about. These children may have no friends at all. They fall into three categories: overlooked children (5%); controversial children (5%); and rejected children (10%). Overlooked children tend to be very shy, very close to their families, and good students. They don’t attract much attention from their peers. Controversial children may have some traits that their peers like, but they also have unacceptable habits — being a poor sport or having poor hygiene, for example. Rejected children are often overly aggressive from the start and react to being rejected with more aggression, or they become depressed and withdrawn.
Overlooked children learn good relational skills at home and will most often overcome shyness with maturity. Controversial children need to be coached to correct their unacceptable habits. Rejected, angry children may need counseling. For controversial and rejected children, it is crucial that parents find friendships in other venues: youth groups, sports teams, community service projects, or with cousins and neighbors. School administrators can make a huge difference in the lives of at-risk children, so be sure to talk to teachers, guidance counselors and administrators about help they can offer. It only takes one real friend to alleviate the worst aspects of loneliness for a child.
What You Can Do:
1. Teach friendship skills
- Model consideration and thoughtfulness.
- Set clear rules for appropriate behavior.
- Teach sharing and compromising.
- Teach realistic expectations for young friendships.
- Encourage showing support and appreciation for others.
- Teach inclusion.
2. Help your child make connections
- Arrange play dates.
- Participate in after-school programs, scouts, church youth groups.
- Develop creative or athletic interests.
3. Be your child’s #1 self-confidence booster.
- Listen to and love your child.
- Enlist grandparents and other relatives to encourage and spend time with your child.
- Let teachers and coaches know if your child needs encouragement.
4. Teach your child the making friends guide:
- Smile so people will know you are friendly (When you smile it instantly tells people you are friendly)
- Compliment so people will know you like them (Tell the child what you like about them or mention something they did well)
- Ask Questions so people will know you are interested in them (Have 1 or 2 questions to ask them about themselves)
- Respond Positively so people will know you can be a good friend (Make positive comments about their answers)
Know When to Seek Professional Advice:
If you child’s inability to make friends begins to affect them in a negative way, do not hesitate to seek professional help. Begin with your pediatrician. Early intervention is ideal for helping children form healthy friendships.