Helping Children Make Friends
Friendships are an important part of childhood. Friendships teach children about healthy relationships. It teaches children about getting along with others. Young children often play together in settings, such as in preschool or at the playground. They may begin by playing next to one another and then learn to play with each other. As children get older, they develop friendships with classmates based on interests. These friendships can help children to cope with daily stresses and provide them with someone to talk to about their life.
Children with anxiety can become fearful and shy and have a difficult time making friends. They may be socially withdrawn because it is easier than risking talking to other children. Although some children enjoy playing alone and are not lonely, other children may feel lonely but not know how to make friends or may be too afraid and anxious to speak up and begin a conversation.
Parents can play an important role in teaching children how to make friends. Teaching by example is one way. Parents that have friends and easily interact with other people will naturally teach children to smile when greeting someone and show them how to talk with other people, simply by doing these things in front of their children. Some children, however, may need more. They may need encouragement and support and they may also need specific instructions on how to make friends.
Before pushing your child into talking with other children, know that some children do enjoy time spent playing alone. There is a difference between being alone and being lonely. Some children also will learn to interact at their own pace. Allowing them the freedom to choose can increase their feeling of self-worth. Talking with your child about how he or she feels can help you decide whether to find ways to help them meet new people and make friends or whether to let them develop on their own time.
If you find your child is lonely and scared, it may be time to provide some parental help or to seek the help of a therapist.
Some of the ways parents can help:
- Talk with your child. What interests does he or she have? What activities would he or she want to do? Instead of harping on making friends, talk about interests and try to find group activities in your area to develop those interests. Some examples may include: music, dance, art or martial arts lessons, scouting, or team sports. All of these will help to develop self-esteem and confidence.
- Share stories about your childhood. Let them know about a time you had a hard time meeting new people. Maybe there was a time you went to a new school and found it hard to make new friends. Be sure to talk about the difficulties as well as discussing how you did meet new people.
- Talk with your child's teacher to find out insights into your child's behavior in school. Do they spend recess or free time alone or do they interact with other children? Sometimes, children interact at school but when at home, he or she just feels more comfortable letting someone else take control of the situation and doesn't want to make the extra effort to invite other children home. Find out whom your child interacts with at school and get to know the parents of those children. Set up times for your child to spend time with them outside of school, preferably at your home to allow you to observe how your child interacts.
- Role-play with your child. You may be able to enlist older siblings to help you. Role-play scenarios of talking with another child. Play games to teach children how to introduce themselves to someone else and what types of things they may say, for example, "Hi, my name is Shari. I was going to play on the swings, would you like to do that?" Sometimes, children do not know what to say and so they say nothing at all.
- Allow your child time to play alone without the pressures of having to have someone else with them. Let them know there is nothing "wrong" with wanting to be alone sometimes.
Keep in mind most children will learn their own way of dealing with other people in their lives and will learn how to relate and reach out to others. If your efforts do not work and you continue to feel your child is lonely and the lack of friends is interfering with their ability to enjoy life, seek the help of a therapist or a doctor to determine if your child may have social anxiety.