We’ve pulled together a few ideas to build your child’s confidence and help them settle into a group of friends.
If your child is about to start school then they may know children from nursery or playgroup who will be in their new class. This will offer your child some security in the first few weeks, but the more classmates they can meet beforehand, the more comfortable they’re likely to feel in the classroom. You should receive a list of your child’s class before school starts which means you can get in touch with other parents and arrange play dates at home or out and about. With older children that are moving up a year at school, you could encourage them to make contact with new classmates via social media sites or encourage them to embrace new hobbies which will provide a talking point that may involve them in new groups at school.
Lead by example
Helping your child understand about good behaviour and how to treat others will help making friends come more naturally to them. When it comes to developing good inter-personal skills, it’s important to set a good example at home. The little lessons you teach your child every day, such as helpfulness and co-operation, will influence the way they act and feel in the playground. Relationships with siblings and cousins of a similar age is a great place to establish the skills necessary to make friends so make a point of encouraging sharing, manners and considerate behaviour from an early age.
Practise authoritative parenting
Not to be confused with authoritarian parenting, authoritative parenting means setting limits and expecting a certain level of maturity and trust from your child. It also means giving them plenty of warmth, love and rational discussion in order to shape behaviour. Encouraging conversations that will allow you to guide your child’s behaviour is an effective means of helping them realise the best way to make friends for themselves. It is likely that any discussion about emotions and social conflicts could help boost social skills and a child’s ability to form friendships.
The art of conversation
The more you teach your child about the right way to converse with others, the more likely they are to be socially aware. Teaching your child a few key tips about how to be polite in conversation means you could also be giving them sound advice about making friends. Simple skills such as being an active listener and giving others the chance to speak in a conversation is a great place to start. Offering information about yourself as well as asking questions will also provide opportunity to find common interests and stop conversations falling flat. Role play with toys and teddies, and switching the television off to enjoy rich family conversation at the dinner table are practical ways to demonstrate this.
Good manners matter
Helping your child understand simple etiquette will help them develop socially. It is no secret that the more polite, friendly and respectful we are, the better equipped we are to make friends and develop long-lasting friendships – whatever our age. The basics to good manners and body language include making eye contact, smiling, making an effort to participate, sincerity, honesty and keeping promises. Remember that some of these go against your child’s instincts and so be patient when encouraging them to start using them. Small steps such as making eye contact when listening but still looking away when talking is still a step in the right direction and should be praised.
When arguments happen (and they will) it is better to act more as a mediator than a judge. You can help children negotiate by allowing them to give their point of view and offer suggestions about possible resolutions they think will work. This will help them make and sustain friendships now – and well into the future. Small dramas can seem much bigger for children and so sometimes it can be difficult to see past the argument. Listen to your child’s side of the story and then try asking questions such as “so what happens now?” and “when do you think you’ll talk to them again?” This will get them to start thinking of a resolution, rather than focusing on the injustice they feel at the time.
By joining a PTA or other parents’ network you can get to know other parents with whom you instantly have something in common – your children’s education. As well as possibly forming close friendships of your own, you can also help your child do the same by organising events where they can meet other children of the same age. Play dates and after-school activities are also important as they allow your child to share extra-curricular experiences with another child and create a bond.
Take a step back
Young children are naturally fickle and are prone to changing friends over the years. Although this can be frustrating to watch, overly protective parents are likely to do more harm than good by stepping in. Encourage basic social skills in your child, offer plenty of discussion to shape sociable behaviour and provide plenty of opportunity to meet new children and you’ll soon find friends that they fit with well.
Do you have any tips for encouraging and nurturing early friendships? Let us know in the comments box below.