Helping Your Child Build Friendships

Parents play a crucial role in their child’s social development. A child is not born with social skills. He needs parents who take an active role in preparing him to interact successfully with his peers. The most important thing parents can do for their child is to develop a loving, accepting, and respectful relationship with him.

This warm relationship sets the stage for all future relationships, including friendships. It helps the child develop the basic trust and self-confidence necessary to go out and meet others. It provides a firm foundation on which the child can develop social skills. You can do a great deal to prepare your child to make friends by maintaining a warm relationship with him and being a good role model.
Below are some additional ways you can help prepare your child.

Provide your child with opportunities to spend time with other children
You can provide these opportunities in a number of ways. For example, you can invite other children to your house to play or let your child participate in clubs, classes, or sports teams.

Help your child learn games and sports
Being able to play games and sports tends to be important for school-age children. Children do not have to be a superstar at a game or sport, but it is easier to join in and have fun if they know the rules and have the basic skills. Find out what game or sport your child is interested in and help her learn it. Do not pressure your child to play anything she does not want to. The pressure will only make her feel inferior.

Make sure not to let the practice become a drill or drudgery. Be encouraging and focus on the fun of playing together. Set clear rules for appropriate behavior. A child learns social skills in part through family rules about how to treat others. Involve your child in setting family rules. If he is involved, he will not only be more likely to follow them, but he will also better understand the reasons for the rules and the standards for appropriate behavior.

When you need to discipline your child, remember that he will imitate your actions. How you treat him when he breaks a rule will influence how he responds to others. Avoid being harsh and punitive. Instead, be firm, kind, and respectful when you express your expectations of him.

Teach your child how to handle different social situations
You began this process when your child was a toddler. For example, you began to teach your toddler how to share and how to say please and thank you. Continue coaching your child as she grows older and encounters more social situations. If your child will be encountering a new or difficult situation, talk to her about it beforehand. For example, your child has been invited to a birthday party, but she is not sure if she wants to go. First listen to her concerns. Acknowledge her feelings without judging them. For example, say, “It sounds like you feel scared about being around kids you don’t know.” Then help your child brainstorm ideas about how to handle the situation. She might want to practice what to say to the birthday child when she arrives or to invite another guest over to get to know her better before the party.

Talk with your child. Spend some time every day talking with your child. This time is not for giving instructions or lecturing, but just for talking about the day’s events or things that interest both of you. When your child is talking, make sure you are listening. For example, make eye contact, nod, and ask him questions to encourage him to elaborate on what he is saying. Talking with your child will not only help you keep up with him, but it will also let him practice the very important social skill of holding a conversation. Help your child learn to see others’ points of view. Around the age of six or seven, children are more able to understand others’ feelings and points of view. Help your child develop this ability by talking about different situations. For example, when reading with your child, stop and ask how a character is feeling and why he does certain things. Or when your child tells you about a situation at school, ask how she thinks the people felt and why they acted as they did.

Help your child learn to manage negative feelings and solve problems
Being able to manage negative feelings and work out problems are important skills in getting along with others. When your child talks about how he is feeling, listen. Show you are listening by reflecting what he says. For example, say, “It sounds like you’re mad at Jamie.” Then, gently coach your child in problem solving. First, help your child identify the situation. For example, say, “It sounds like you’re upset because Jamie didn’t include you in the game.” Then help him brainstorm solutions to the situation. Talk about the solutions he comes up with and have him pick one.

As a parent, you play a crucial role in your child’s social development. You cannot make friends for your child, but your love, patience, and support make it possible for your child to meet new people and make friends on her own. Friendships are very important to a school-age child. They help a child grow. They help her develop the self-confidence and social skills she will need as an adult.

Our occupational therapists and speech-language therapists excel at helping your child improve their social skill abilities. It can be challenging for children with special needs to adapt socially and there are many different therapeutic techniques that can be done to help your child reach their full potential and enjoy friendship with others. Call and speak to one of our professionals today to learn more about how we can help your family.