Julia Cook, author of the book, ‘Making Friends Is an ART!’ says, “Friendships are very important when it comes to emotional health.” Most children make friends easily but some struggle to, and need guidance and encouragement. Parents can play a very important role in teaching such children how to make friends. If your child is struggling to make friends, here are some things you can do to help him connect with his peers.
- Help form relationships: Being in unfamiliar situations like going to a new school can sometimes make your child feel shy. You can help him by gently encouraging him in such situations to boost his confidence in forming relationships. Sometimes your child may see himself as different from others. This can cause him to be anxious and hesitant to approach other children. Talk to your child in a sympathetic way to make him understand how to keep his negative emotions under control while approaching other children.
- Impart training on social behaviour: Take your child out to places where she can be among people, like a park, a shopping mall or a coaching class. This will help her get exposed to, learn and practise social behaviour. It will also help your child be herself and prevent her from being overwhelmed by the presence of others around her.
- Teach how to start a conversation: In their study, ‘Parent-specific reciprocity from infancy to adolescence shapes children's social competence and dialogical skills,’ Ruth Feldman and colleagues made an important observation. They found that children whose parents responded to their communication developed better social competence and negotiation skills over time. So, communicate with your child and teach him how to engage in a conversation. He can start a conversation by talking about likes and dislikes, giving the other child a chance to talk, listening actively to what is said and responding with a question or an answer. If your child likes a particular activity like music or sport, encourage him to mingle with children who have similar interests. This will make it easier for him to start a conversation.
- Teach how to read facial expressions: Although understanding facial expressions comes naturally to most of us, some children are unable to do so. Children who are unable to identify facial expressions often get into trouble with peers. You can use flash cards of different facial expressions to teach your child how to understand them. Some of the expressions you must include are happy, angry, sad, fear and surprise.
- Organise play dates: To start with, you can call over one or two children for a few hours to play group games with your child. Get the children to say hello and shake hands with each other and remind them that they are there to play together. During the first few play dates, you can supervise the play to reassure your child and guide him.
- Set an example: You can set an example for your child by meeting people warmly and with a smile.
With a little support, your child can develop the social skills necessary to make friends. But don't have unrealistic expectations and don't compare your child with other children.