It’s the most dreaded proclamation of every parent: “Everyone hates me!” But sooner or later, most children will have trouble either making or keeping friends. Some of this is due to the fickle nature of kids’ friendships, but there are some things you can do to encourage your child to have a healthy and fulfilling social life.
Social development is just as important as learning how to read. Children with good friendships are happier and tend to perform better in school. Additionally, they have someone to lean on when they’re hurting and are less likely to be bullied. Further, children who begin learning good social skills young are more likely to grow into adults with close friendships, good social skills, and healthy relationships. The social skills we learn as children affect us throughout our lives, so encourage your child to practice good social skills by following the tips below:
Model Good Relationships
As with everything, one of the best things you can do is to model healthy relationships to your child. Allow her to see you resolve conflict with your friends and family, apologize when you are wrong, and provide support and love to those around you. Further, a child who has parents with a close knit social network is more likely to see the importance of making good friendships, so allow your child to see the fun you have with your friends.
If you yourself are struggling to make friends, now is the time to work on expanding your own social skills. There are excellent social skills classes available for adults, and having kids provides an excellent opportunity for adults to make friends. You can chat up local moms or dads at the park, join a parent meet up group, or get involved in your child’s school. It’s important that your child see you making an effort to make friends so that she will be able to do the same!
Use Family Relationships as a Starting Point
Your child is practicing social skills long before she even encounters children her own age. The relationship your child has with you and with her siblings will serve as her model for how to relate to others. Consequently, it’s important to foster open, respectful communication within the family as well as to model good family social skills.
Additionally, the family can be used as a training ground for a child who is having difficulty making friends. If you notice an inappropriate, mean, or otherwise problematic behavior with your child and his siblings, odds are good that he’s doing the same things with his friends. Talk to your child about better ways to interact with people, and allow her to practice social skills on you, her siblings, and her extended family. For a shy child, you can also have practice social situations. Before going to visit family, for example, you can make a list of things she might talk about. For a child who is being bullied, role play healthy ways for her to stand up for herself at home.
The skills we learn in our family are the skills we take out into the world, so make sure your child is learning the best skills possible in your family, and use family life as a practicing area for social skills.
Facilitate Social Interactions
For many kids, the most difficult first step in making friends is the introduction. If your friends have children of a similar age, arrange play dates and set up an activity for the children to do together. Remember that not all children will get along, so don’t force a friendship that’s not going to work. However, for many children, a parent who can help them get past the initial friendship hurdles is a valuable resource.
Also be sure to introduce your child to all new people she meets. This helps her feel included and valuable and will encourage her to talk to a variety of people, including adults.
Foster New Hobbies and Interests
A child with a wide variety of interests is a child who will have things in common with a larger number of children. Never force your child to do an extracurricular activity she doesn’t want to do.However, if you’ve noticed your child is interested in something, encourage her to develop that interest. Get her the supplies she needs or encourage her to take a class. This will improve her self esteem and will also provide her with opportunities to meet new friends who share her interests.
Provide Positive Feedback
It’s easy to praise your child for a good grade or hitting a home run. But how often do you praise your child for being kind to a friend or apologizing? These are important skills too, and the more you praise them, the more likely they are to develop. Tell your child when you like the way she interacted with someone, and when you see something you don’t like, avoid criticism. Instead, say, “I really like it when I see you share with your friends. You usually do a great job at that.” Your child will get the message that you would have rather seen him sharing if he neglected to.
Talk About Friendships
Ask your child about her friends and what she likes about each of them. And when there’s a fight, avoid providing too much advice. Kids’ friendships are notorious for shifting alliances and the best thing you can do is listen. Providing the other child’s perspective can sometimes be helpful. For example, you could say, “I know you’re mad at Sue, but how do you think she feels right now?” or,”Maybe Johnny said that mean thing because he was feling bad about himself.”
Don’t Criticize Friends
It can be hard for parents to accept that children can be very different from them. Your child may have friends who you don’t find particularly interesting, funny, or appealing. But unless your child is involved with friends who you think are dangerous (drug use, etc), avoid criticizing your child’s friends. Instead, be happy that your child is developing into an independent and thoughtful person with a meaningful social life.
Get to Know Your Child’s Friends
Talk to your child’s friends and try to learn more about the way they interact with the world. The better you know your child’s friends, the better-equipped you will be to help your child if there is trouble. You should also work on developing relationships with the parents of your child’s friends. This way you’ll have the other side of the story if there’s a fight or some other drama and may even make some new friends yourself!
The dizzying alliances and complicated fights children get into can be confusing and stressful but are an important and normal part of development. Encourage your child to keep trying and she’ll blossom into an adult with a wide network of people she can love and rely on