Back to school can be a tough time for our kids. For those starting at new schools or in new classes, it means finding new friends.
No parent wants to hear that their kid has no friends or no one to play with.
So how can you help when your child is having trouble making friends?
It can be awful hearing your child has no friends. We all remember how tough the school yard can be. But it’s important to stay balanced and not overreact. Empathise with your child, but keep it in perspective. Remember that friendships have their ups and downs, and making friends takes time. The best thing you can do is take small, gentle steps to encourage and support your child. It can also be helpful to talk to other parents and teachers to find out what’s happening and who might make good friends for your child that you can encourage friendships with. You child’s teacher is a great first-call in helping to find a friend.
Often our kids don’t need us to solve their problems, but to simply be there and listen. Ask about your child’s day and really listen to what happened. Acknowledge their feelings and let them know you are always there to support and help them.
Be a coach
Help your child understand that making friends at school is a skill to learn, just like hitting a ball. It might take time, and your child might need to practice for a while and try different things. Invite them to treat it like an experiment in finding the friends that are right for them. Coach them by asking questions such as ‘What could you try? How did that work? What could you try next?’.
Help your child be a good friend
Social skills are essential to making and being a good friend. Teach your child to take turns, share, have empathy for others and be a good sport in competitive activities. Talk to your child about their emotions and how to regulate them so they can respond to other children appropriately.
Just like learning to walk or feed themselves, children need to learn how to form friendships. One of the best ways is to model for your child how to make friends and be a good friend. Show and practice with your child how to approach others and greetings they can use to introduce themselves. Teach them how to have a conversation, asking and answering questions to show that they are interested in others. We all like compliments and kindness – teach your child how to show that they would like to be friends.
Help your child understand body language
Humans are tricky creatures – so much of how we’re feeling is expressed not by the words we use but by body language. Teaching your child to understand body language can help them make friends at school. Watching TV or movies together can be a great way to talk with your child about what the characters are feeling based on their facial expressions, stance and behaviours. There are also apps you can use to help children practice reading social cues and talk about how they could respond. Help your child understand that turning towards people, smiling and looking people in the eyes when they are talking all signal that they are interested in playing.
Help your child find common ground
It’s human nature to like people who are like us. You can help your child make friends at school by finding kids with common ground. What does your child love to do? What are their interests? These are great starting places to think about what you could involve your child in to find like-minded friends. This might mean finding out about clubs at school or in your community. Or it might mean finding ways for your child to share those interests at school. Into bugs? Take a magnifying glass to investigate the school yard at recess. Love soccer? Take a ball or borrow one from the sports shed to play with at lunch time. Joining activities or clubs outside of school can also build your child’s confidence and give them opportunities to form friendships.
Support your child’s friendships
You can give your child opportunities to practice making and being a friend. If you can, spend time in your child’s class or at activities to get to know their friends. Welcome your child’s friends by arranging play dates, which give your child unstructured, one on one time away from school with their friends.
It’s also great for your child to have both school and non-school friends, such as sport team mates, cousins and family friends. All let your child interact with others and give them opportunities for friendships.
Friendships are a special and important part of life. Helping your child make friends at school can set them up for many happy times in the years ahead. Here’s some more great ideas to help your child make friends at school.