How to help your child make new friends
Listening to children squabble over the one toy they all suddenly want to play with can be unpleasant for just about every parent, but believe it or not, that kind of interaction is important for kids.
Indeed, having strong and positive friendships is important to children’s mental health and general social and emotional development, say Lysn Child Psychologist, Katie Kokolas.
“Having good friends teaches our children important skills such as communication, co-operation, understanding and managing feelings, as well as the ability to accommodate and include others,” she explains. “Children who have good friends are more likely to be self-confident, have a stronger sense of acceptance and belonging, and when children feel more secure in this way, their ability to engage with other aspects of life – such as learning – greatly improves.”
Studies show that even having one close friend in early childhood can significantly reduce the risk of developing depression during the pre-teen years, but what do you do if your child is struggling to make – or even meet – that friend on their own?
Seek assistance from your child's teacher. (Getty)
Scout for new friends
You can ask your child’s teacher to help you identify anyone they think your child could make a great connection with, but for the most part, parents need to provide multiple opportunities for their children to be in environments where they can interact with other kids and try different activities, Kokolas explains. “This will help them discover things they have in common with others and develop confidence.”
Kokolas also recommends setting the standard on ways to manage friendships by modelling healthy social skills yourself and coaching them through the ups and downs that friendships can sometimes bring. “You know your child better than anyone, so you are able to observe when they are using positive social skills and point this out to them,” she says. “For example, using friendly voices, smiling and showing concern for others are all positive social skills and leading by example can help your child make new friends.”
Let them make mistakes
Let’s face facts: not every child is worthy of your son or daughter’s friendship and mistakes early on are likely to be made. Although it can be difficult for parents who can often see the writing on the wall long before their children, Kokolas recommends letting little ones find their own feet first.
“Jumping in too early, without letting them develop their own problem-solving skills to navigate through a difficult social interaction might not be helpful,” she says. “Letting them make some mistakes and then talking about what they did well and what they can improve next time in a non-judgmental way is a much richer learning experience for children.” Ride the journey with them and be there to hold their hand at the end.
Show interest in what’s going on with their friendships so that they remain comfortable coming to you when they need support or advice, and remember, banning friends you feel aren’t good for your child can only work against you in the long-run. “It’s a lot more useful if you help your child come to that conclusion on their own,” Kokolas advises. “Through ongoing discussion, you can guide your child to understand what they value in a friend, whether their current friends are acting in the way that they value, and how to set boundaries about what is okay and not okay for them.”
Finally, remember the journey to developing strong, lifelong friendships can take patience, work and a lot of communication. It might involve a little trial and error, but with you by their side, they’ll get there in the end.