Helping Kids Make Friends at Any Age
From the time we enter the world, we search out other people with whom to connect. We are social beings, and making and maintaining friendships are big parts of our lives from childhood on. Making friends is of great importance, but it doesn’t always come naturally to us. It can be difficult to find loyal friends with whom to build a connection. Parents can help their kids build social skills that help them make friends at any age.
One of the easiest ways to teach kids is through play. As you are playing and interacting with your children, role play scenarios they may encounter when meeting new people. You can use puppets, dolls or even stuffed animals to practice social situations they may encounter. Through play, you can teach your child how to invite someone to play or how to join in on a game already going. Work out possible conflicts that may arise during play with friends. After roleplaying, kids will be more comfortable when they face similar situations on the playground.
Set an example
Building strong friendships is just as important for parents as it is for kids. We have the opportunity to teach our kids through our example. “We move a lot, so explaining how I have to make new friends and step out of my comfort zone just like they do helps a lot,” says Stephanie Loux, mom of three. Do you make time for friends in your life? Do you invite friends over or meet for coffee? How often do you step outside your comfort zone to meet new people? Our kids see how we interact with others. If the parent is involved with friends, shows empathy toward others and helps friends in need, kids will learn that friendships are a priority and understand the natural give and take of a relationship. They will also watch how parents handle conflict and the normal highs and lows that friends experience.
The art of conversation
For kids with the gift of gab, conversation may come naturally, but for others, a little practice and a few tips can go a long way. Part of making and maintaining friendships is being able to take turns speaking, listening and responding with empathy when appropriate. Parents can teach kids how to have conversations during daily life by simply modeling this skill. It can also be taught during roleplaying or simply by giving them some tools to start a conversation. For example, remind youngsters to look at the person in the eye, greet friends as they arrive, respond when asked a question and ask follow-up questions so their friends know they are listening. It takes some practice but is worth it.
Teach proper etiquette
Being polite can go a long way in building friendships. Kids who are polite, say please and thank you, pick up after themselves and treat others respectfully are more likely to be invited to their friends’ homes. Kids who take turns, share and let guests go first are also easier to be around. You can model good etiquette for your child and give gentle reminders during playdates and social interactions.
Encourage healthy conflict resolution
All friends experience conflict. What is important is how you handle it. Slamming doors, stomping feet, giving the silent treatment, yelling and hitting may release anger at the moment but can damage a friendship. As kids mature, encourage them to talk about their feelings, come up with a solution or ask an adult to help. As much as possible, have the kids work out their conflict. However, be available to help them come to a resolution both friends can live with.
One easy way to encourage your kids to make friends is to provide them the opportunities to socialize. Allow your children to invite friends over to play or to meet at a park. Hosting a playdate that encourages mutual interests helps build friendships as well. If your child is interested in animals, invite a friend with similar interests to meet you at the zoo. Sports and extracurricular activities are another great place to find friends with commonalities. “Helping them say hello to other kids at parks and school events helps,” says Loux. “I also make an effort to go to all class birthday parties so they have more time with friends.” Simply being around other people helps your child build social skills and make friends.
Remember that everyone has a different personality which will affect how a person reacts in social situations. Some children love to be the center of attention and thrive on being around others. Other children may be more reserved and shy. They may enjoy being around other people but prefer to sit back and observe the situation. Cultivate your child’s social skills based on what he feels most comfortable with, even if that is different from how you feel. Another important thing to keep in mind is that your child does not need to be the most popular person in the class. He really only needs one or two close friends to feel accepted and connected to his peers.
Books About Friendships for Kids
Parents can teach their kids about healthy friendships by reading books. Here are some read-aloud suggestions that build social skills.
- Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller and Jen Hill
- The Big Umbrella by Amy June Bates and Juniper Bates
- I Am Enough by Grace Byers and Katurah A. Bobo
- Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev and Taeeun Yoo
- Peanut Butter and Cupcake by Terry Border
- Tilly and Tank by Jay Fleck
- Louise and Andie: The Art of Friendship by Kelly Light
- Boy + Bot by Amy Dyckman
- The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Stantat
- We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins
Sarah Lyons is a part-time freelance writer and a full-time mom of six living in Olathe.