What you can do to support your child's friendship-building skills
Ben Hill, Infant School School Counsellor, UWCSEA Dover
15 September 2022
Now that we are a few weeks into the new school year, it is only natural as parents that we may be conscious of how our children are relating to their peers and whether they are building positive relationships with others. Building and maintaining friendships play an important role in helping children develop emotionally and enhance their social skills. Not only do children learn how to communicate with others, but healthy friendships can be instrumental in helping them learn to control their emotions and express their feelings constructively.
Although friendship is an important part of life, not every child is gifted at making friends and it is valuable to remember that friendship building is a skill that can be learned. With a little effort, bravery, and patience, you can support your child to develop the skills to help them have a friend or two that they can enjoy spending time with.
If you aren't sure if your child has friends or if you are concerned about their social interactions, there are a couple of first steps that you could take. Firstly, checking in with their class teacher to see how they interact with other kids at school is a worthwhile step. You can also ask your child about their friendships to get a better idea of how well they're making friends. Asking them who did they play with today or what was the most fun part of their day will tend to give you an idea of who they are interacting with and how they feel about those peers.
Additionally, if your child seems content with the number of friends they have, avoid turning the concept of making friends into a bigger issue than it needs to be. Remember that some children are naturally more introverted and only a few good friends are enough, while other more extroverted children seem to have multitudes of friends!
If you would like to support your child in friendship building, an important first step is to approach them with an empathic posture rather than expressing judgment or concern for their lack of friends.
Be curious about them – perhaps they feel nervous about initiating play with other children or introducing themselves, maybe they feel intimidated sitting on a new lunch table or perhaps they just like their own company and are quite content to have their own space.
Once you’ve identified how your child feels and have taken some time to actively listen and paraphrase what they’ve expressed, they may be open to receiving some guidance from you. “Would you like Mummy or Daddy to help?” is a great entry point into this part of the conversation rather than just assuming they want guidance.
Here are some simple practical considerations:
1) Building conversation skills can be really helpful. Giving your child a few key questions as conversation starters that they can use when initiating with a new potential friend can really build their confidence. “What do you do for fun?” or “Who is your favourite superhero?” or “Do you have any pets?” can be really simple entry points into a new conversation. Then maybe taking it in turns to role play with them can be a fun way for them to practice!
2) Developing listening skills are also equally important.
Can you help your child to be attentive to what is being shared with them? Can they have a follow up question in mind to show that they listened to the other child or a general statement that expresses interest?
3) Practice being considerate and offering and sharing when playing.
Sometimes when children are overly assertive and domineering in a play or classroom environment, it can put other children off wanting to engage with them. “How does it feel when someone shares with you or asks you what game or toy you’d like to play with?” can help your child to experience what it feels like.
4) Practice hospitality and invite friends over to your home that have children of a similar age to yours.
Not only will your child have the opportunity to engage in a safe, familiar environment but they can also see you model friendliness to your peers. Simple acts like seeing a parent offer a cup of coffee to someone else, take an interest in a topic that the other person wants to talk about and showing kindness cannot be underestimated. Children often learn more from what they see their parents do rather than what they say.
5) Look for opportunities to meet peers, maybe at a playground or park and encourage your child if you notice them taking a step to initiate play with another child.
If you're concerned your child will be stressed about meeting new people, bring an ice-breaker—such as a toy, pet, or snacks—to help draw other kids to your child. This is especially helpful if your child is not naturally outgoing.
Important to remember that every child is unique and like popcorn, not all the kernels pop at the same time!
If you have any questions or would like a conversation then feel free to contact our School Counsellor for the Infant School, Ben Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org.