Making a friend is a skill. Some kids are going to be better at this than others, but there are things you can do to help your child who is struggling in this area.
Some kids are perfectly fine with one or two friends while others are happier in a larger circle of friends. All kids, even those who are good at entertaining themselves or content playing on their own, need friends.
Parents often worry about this more than the kids themselves, but you cannot force a friendship. You can teach your child how to talk to others so friendships develop. If you recognize other kids not wanting to play with your child or your child often reports he or she does not have friends, here are some things to consider.
• Praise your child for his or her strengths. When kids feel better about themselves, they are more confident in approaching others.
• Familiarize them with a variety of activities.
• Talk about what a healthy friendship looks like. A friend is honest, kind, trustworthy, inclusive, shares common interests and makes you feel good about yourself. Instill these qualities in your own child. If the youth knows what he or she likes, it will help in identifying which kids to approach. Usually when kids struggle to make a friend, they are lacking a specific skill that can make them a more desirable friends. Without key skills, changing schools, moving homes or continually introducing new friends to try to “fix” this will flop. The teacher, daycare provider, coach or another parent can help identify what skill is missing.
• Maybe the youth does not know how to introduce himself or join in on a conversation or activity. Observe first, give good eye contact, make a friendly statement, give a compliment and don’t be invisible.
• Maybe the youth does not know how to get along with others. Be a good listener, say something positive, show an interest, take turns and don’t be bossy.
• Maybe the youth does not know how to disagree appropriately. Begin with a neutral statement, calmly explain why you disagree, listen without interrupting and don’t argue.
These skills have to be practiced whether the child is 2 or 12. Talk about it, role play and set up times to try it out. Make time for play dates or hang out times for your kids. They get practice in developing the skills that make them more desirable friends. Recess, sports practices and birthday parties do not count as these are structured events. Allow your child to play with their friend uninterrupted by siblings for a few hours. One-on-one time with a friend is priceless.
Laura Kelley, crisis counselor for the Boys Town National Hotline and the Nebraska Family Helpline, wrote this guest blog for momaha.com. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and her Masters in Early Childhood. She is a former preschool teacher in the Omaha Community. She has three boys and lives with her husband of 25 years in Omaha. Learn more about the Boys Town National Hotline by clicking here.