In many ways, the world makes a lot more sense with a child’s mind. They speak bluntly, react with sincere emotions, and have so much hope for the future!
They also have a tendency to talk about anything to anyone who will listen, which makes it easy for them to connect with other children.
But that’s not true for all children. Some children are shy, some deal with social anxiety, and others are simply very independent!
If your child is struggling to make connections with their classmates and peers, keep reading to find out how to help your child make friends.
Teaching Your Child Social Skills
Healthy and uplifting friendships thrive on an understanding of social cues, etiquette, and skills. From respecting people’s boundaries to picking up on their body language, the rules of sociality help us identify what others really think and feel.
Teaching your child social skills isn’t as challenging as it might seem. They’ve likely already noticed certain social customs based on your own behavior!
Social cues are verbal and non-verbal signals we send and receive that influence our conversations and relationships with one another. These signals can be communicated in many ways:
- Facial expressions
- Eye contact
- Body language
- Hand gestures
- Tone of voice
To help your child recognize social cues, ask them how they would know if someone was feeling nervous, angry, happy, or sad. What facial expressions might they expect to see based on these emotions? What kind of body language would communicate these emotions?
Talking about social cues—and practicing making observations about them—will prepare your child for all sorts of social situations, whether they’re playing with their friends or talking to their teachers.
Becoming socially savvy includes following the “unwritten rules” of social interactions. Social etiquette—commonly known as social customs, manners, or politeness—is the conduct accepted and expected by society. Social etiquette encompasses a variety of behaviors that, as we grow, become second nature:
- Greeting others
- Introducing new people to one another
- Letting others speak without interruption
- Giving your full attention when others are speaking
- Expressing gratitude
- Apologizing when necessary
- Waiting your turn
- Keeping appropriate distance from others
There are plenty of day-to-day opportunities to enforce social etiquette to your child. When playing games with your family, emphasize the importance of taking turns. If your child has something to say, remind them to wait until others are finished speaking.
Teaching your child social skills sets them up for success throughout their life. According to researcher Albert Mehrabian, communication is only 7% our words. Our verbal and non-verbal social cues make up the remaining 93% of our conversations! This goes without saying (pun intended), but social skills are pretty important.
Creating Opportunities for Friendship
It’s hard enough as it is to make friends. It’s even harder if your child doesn’t have any opportunities to try!
Get Them Involved
What does your child like to do for fun? Have they expressed an interest in trying something new? Get them involved with a group of kids who share the same hobbies!
Whether it’s a sports team, musical group, scouting troop, or cooking class, extracurricular activities connect your child with other children their age. Plus, having at least one interest in common will be an easy icebreaker for those first conversations!
Connect with Friends & Neighbors
Do any of your own friends have children close in age to your child? Invite your friends and their children over for a fun meet and greet.
What about your neighbors? Take a walk around the neighborhood with your child and start knocking on doors to find friends! If there’s no luck, it’ll at least be an opportunity for your child to build confidence and practice social skills.
How often have you—as a child and as an adult—said to yourself, “I wish she was my friend” or “I would love to be friends with him”?
Maybe your child has asked themselves the same question. Have they mentioned someone in their class on multiple occasions? Is there someone in the neighborhood who rides their bike by your house every day? Ask your child about these peers and encourage them to strike up a conversation with them the next time they see them.
Remind your child that initiating a friendship doesn’t have to be complicated. If they want to be friends with someone, they just have to make an effort! It may not work out in the end, but they won’t know until they try. What if they’re missing out on an amazing friendship?
Put those social cues into action! Tell your child that when they look and act approachable, other children will find it easier to engage with them.
What does it mean to be approachable?
- Making eye contact
- Unfolding arms
- Being kind
- Offering compliments
Applying these approachable social cues can make all the difference when meeting new people. Radiating that positive attitude and energy will attract the same for your child!
How to Be a Good Friend
Making friends is one thing; keeping friends is another! In order to keep good friends, your child must know how to be a good friend.
Find Out What Matters
While your child is on the hunt for friends, ask them what they’re looking for. What qualities do they value most in a friend? What do they think it means to be a good friend?
Asking these questions can help your child make more careful and conscious choices about who their friends are. When your child has friends with similar values and interests, it’ll be easier for them to understand each other and build a bulletproof friendship.
Praise Friendly Behavior
When you notice your child exhibiting “good friend” behavior, point it out and praise them for it! A specific callout to what your child did right will almost always motivate them more than criticism for what they did wrong.
What is “good friend” behavior? Listening to a sibling and offering support, sharing their toys with cousins, patiently waiting their turn while the whole family plays a game, and so on!
The Golden Rule
The golden rule of friendship? Be the kind of friend you want to have.
If your child wants a loyal friend, they must be loyal themselves. If your child wants a listening ear when they’re having a hard time, they must offer the same to their friends.
Friends Aren’t One-Size-Fits-All
Make sure your child knows that just like people come in all shapes and sizes, so do friends! Some friends may make you laugh, but struggle to keep a secret. Some friends are great listeners, but you may not share many common interests.
And that’s okay! One friend can’t meet every single need your child has. And no matter how much your child loves their friends, they don’t need to see or talk to them every day in order to stay friends. Friendship looks different for all of us, whether we talk to our friends once a week or see them once a year!
It doesn’t matter if your child has one friend or ten friends—what matters most is how your child treats them. With these trusty tips and reminders, your child will be out and about with new friends in no time!
(And when you could use a little more help in the future, turn to Troomi for more parenting tools and resources!)