As parents, we want our children to be happy, and having solid friendships is a key component. But what happens if your child is having trouble making friends?
The Stuck on You Crew is here to help! Whether you are concerned that your child is struggling to make friends, or if your child is still young and you want to get on the front foot socially, we have compiled some tips on how you can help your child thrive with their friendships.
Determine whether there is a cause
The first step is to investigate if there is something obvious going on that’s making it difficult for your child to make friends. Some things to check include:
- Are they being bullied? A good way to determine this is to ask your child’s school whether this might be taking place and ask them to help take the appropriate action.
- Are they exhibiting behaviours that may be putting off other children? This is something you can glean from observation of their play, or by asking your child’s teacher whether this could be the case.
- Do they have problems reading social cues? This may reflect an underlying condition such as being on the Autism Spectrum. However, it can also be a typical part of growing up and learning, with some kids finding social skills development a bit more difficult than others.
What can you do to help?
Listen, empathise but don’t overreact
When your child is distressed about having no friends, it’s easy to feel upset yourself. Showing your child that you empathise with their pain is important, but make sure you don’t pass your own your anxieties onto them. Instead, voice your concerns with other adults who are supportive – your partner, a teacher, a friend.
Lend a helping hand
Children want to know that us parents have their backs. A problem shared is a problem halved! Do what you can to help them make friends, if your help is what they want. For example, be receptive to hosting playdates, or make friends with other parents in the schoolyard and offer playdate opportunities if there are signs of a budding friendship between your children.
Model positive social behaviours at home and in your own social life
Make sure that your family communicates with each other in a way that is respectful, considerate and kind. Model positive conflict resolution skills, sharing and the capacity to compromise.
You should also look at your own socialising habits. Do you regularly spend time with friends, and do you regularly attend social events that include adults and children? Modelling positive socialising behaviours will help your child value friendships.
Additionally, where possible, include your child when talking to people out of their usual range of peers. For instance, take them with you to visit your neighbour or go to the hairdresser. That way, your child will learn to interact with all kinds of people.
Be an emotion coach
We all have negative emotions and impulses which over time, most of us learn to control in order to make friends and thrive socially.
Punishing or trivialising negative emotions tends to result in poorer emotion regulation. Help your children develop better emotional self-control by communicating with them about their feelings in an open, sympathetic and problem-solving way. Tell them that it’s OK to have bad feelings and encourage them to talk through their feelings. Help them to come up with solutions where possible.
Be a social coach
Most of the time it’s important to step back let your children navigate their own paths to friendships. However, if your child is struggling, it may be useful to help them exercise their social skills. You could coach them to be a good listener (e.g. maintaining eye contact and remaining quiet yet attentive while the other person is speaking) or teach them how to read social cues (such as detecting when the other person is bored or upset by their behaviour).
You can also provide constructive and supportive feedback after you watch them play with another child. For example, you could ask “It seemed like your friend was upset when he left. What happened? Is there another way you could’ve handled that situation?” This helps promote empathy and an understanding of other points of view.
Rope in outside help
Don’t be afraid to ask others for assistance. For example, you can ask your child’s teacher to buddy them up with another child or encourage other children to play with them. Teachers are experts in finding ways to do this in subtle ways that won’t bring negative attention to your child.
Encourage a variety of activities and hobbies
Activities and hobbies outside a school setting will increase your child’s chances of finding friends. If possible, sign your child up for activities that inspire cooperation rather than competition. Kids get along better if they are working towards a common goal. Cooperative activities include art, drama and volunteering initiatives.
You’ve scored a playdate! Now what?
If you know that your child struggles to make and retain friendships, plan ahead for that playdate. This includes putting away toys that discourage social interaction (e.g. individualistic video games) or provoke fighting (e.g. toy weapons). If your child has a favourite toy they can’t bear to share, hide it away during the playdate to avoid potential awkwardness and squabbling.
Keep it in perspective
It doesn’t need to be the end of the world if your child appears to have no friends. Rest assured, some kids are happy to play alone or at least can cope with it better than you think. Most kids will eventually find their tribe, even it takes them a bit longer. Making friends is a lifelong process that will have its ups and downs.
To end on a positive note, I happen to know plenty of adults (cough, me) who had few or no friends while young. They are now functional, happy adults with wonderful and satisfying friendships!