Making friends at school is important to your child’s social development. Unstructured play is an essential component of learning, and most play at school involves interaction with others. Not to mention, friends help make school fun, and it’s part of the reason many children look forward to going to school. Having some buddies to learn and hang out with typically leads to better outcomes for the student. Those positive experiences are then likely to contribute to their desire to continue to stay focused on academic success, so helping your child make friends at school is an essential parental duty.
Sometimes though, your child may find it more difficult to make friends at school. This could be due to a move, and they aren’t familiar with any of the children in their classes.
Alternatively, they could be going through a development phase that makes them a little less assertive than they once were. Some children are just innately a bit shy (and there’s nothing wrong with that).
Even if your child isn’t particularly shy, significant life changes (moving) or starting a new experience (like kindergarten) can be overwhelming. It’s understandable that they might not be as extroverted as usual.
Regardless of the reason, it’s heartbreaking to hear from your child that they are having a difficult time fostering friendships with their peers.
There is some good news though. Children are usually pretty open to new friendships and find it much easier to make friends than us adults. Additionally, once they make one friend, they are likely to make more.
The somewhat clichéd bit of advice that most of us have been given at some point in reference to making friends is to “just be yourself”. While it’s true that your kid should not have to change their personality to make friends, there are some more practical tips to help nudge them in the right direction.
1Contact Your Child’s Teacher
Voicing your concern with your child’s teacher is an excellent first step that you can take without directly inserting yourself into the situation. Their teacher is likely to pick up on whether your child is adapting socially or if they might need some extra practice. Teachers of really young children can even encourage other kids to play with your child if they just need a little bit of encouragement. Your child’s teacher is a great resource for insight into how your child is progressing in making more friends.
2Setup Playdates with Classmates
Many children find that it’s easier to connect with others in smaller group settings, some preferring one-on-one. By connecting with other parents, you can setup low-pressure play dates for your children. After school get-togethers or weekend meetups are a good way to let your little one get to know a potential friend in a less stimulating environment. Let your child take the lead here and tell you which kids they think they would be interested in getting to know. You don’t want to force it, especially with slightly older children.
3Enroll in an Extracurricular Activity
Most communities have a recreation center, sports league, scouts, or extracurricular classes that are catered to children of various ages. Chat with other parents to find out what other activities their kids are involved in. If there is a particular event that your child might like, sign them up.
Engaging in something other than schoolwork gives them a chance to relax and get to know other kids in a fun setting, doing something that genuinely interests them.
4Practice Social Interactions at Home
Younger children may not have developed the full range of social skills and emotional regulation necessary to make and keep friends. It’s important to teach, and practice, politeness, empathy, patience and constructively voicing emotions. Try to find situations in your life where you can explicitly point out to your little one what’s going on and why someone may react in a specific manner.
As with many aspects of parenting, you are a role model for your child. If they can see you interacting with others, chances are they will pick up on your habits.
5Talk with your Child About the Situation
This may seem like a no-brainer, but you need to know how your child is feeling. Are they nervous to make connections or are they simply uninterested? Some children are naturally more introverted and prefer time alone. Others can experience a bit of social anxiety, especially in a situation where they are the new kid in class. It’s best to get as much direct input as you can when trying to help your little one connect with others.
Regardless of your approach to your child’s friendships, it’s helpful to know that their social skills will change over time and it’s likely they are going to make friends along the way.