Does your child have difficulty making friends? What can you do to help?

Having your child tell you he had no-one to play with at school or that he doesn’t have any friends is heartbreaking. Why didn’t he tell me yesterday? Has he just had a bad day? Is he being bullied? Surely he has at least one friend?

It is easy to be involved with their social relations when they are younger, but once they start school, you have less involvement with who they play with, how they interact, and can no longer be there to assist with their introduction.

You can help guide them to assist with their friendship developments.

Focus on the friends she does have or have played with previously. Ask them about those friends. Who did you play with yesterday? Was Mia there today? Was Jack your friend today? This will help shift your child’s focus to the kids who want to be his friends, are his friends, and those he can play with, rather than worrying about the couple of kids who perhaps did not ask him to join in or don’t want to be his friend.

Demonstrate how to be friendly and how much you value your friends. Smile at the shop assistant, invite your friend over for dinner, do activities with your child that focus on sharing, kindness and other essential skills for friendships. Roleplaying with your child on how to ask others to play can be helpful and practicing at home is a great way to help them feel more confident to do so. 

Encourage your child to invite friends over after school or on weekends, or arrange it with their parent. Open your home and make it a welcoming place to your child’s friends and their parent(s) when they are young. This will allow you to observe his interaction and social skills, and it’s a great way to get to know his friends. Allowing your child to have some unstructured play with his friends is important for his social development. Sometimes he and his friend may need some play ideas e.g. Why don’t you play shopkeepers? Play soccer outside? Make something with crafts?

Give your child the opportunity to interact with children outside of school. Join a soccer team, the scouts or an art class. Exposing them to different experiences with children outside of school will broaden his group of friends.

Acknowledge your child’s friendship concerns or pain. All children will feel hurt by other children at some stage. Listen and acknowledge your child’s feelings but keep it in perspective. It is important not to make your child feel it was his fault if someone was not nice to him. And telling him he is “being silly” is like saying his feelings are wrong or not important. Be supportive. 

Teach your child that being popular isn’t as important as having good friends. As children get older, they worry about being rejected, popular or in the ‘in’ group. Teach your child that having supportive, caring and genuine friends, is much more important than having lots of friends.

What to do about conflict/teasing.

All children will experience some conflict with their peers or friends from time to time. Learning to deal with conflict is an important skill for your child to develop. If, however, you believe your child is being regularly teased, bullied or harassed you need to step in. Teach him to discuss how he feels with the friend, walk away and/or develop new friendships. It is also important for his teacher to be aware of the situation.

 If you are concerned about your child’s social skills, development or bullying, make a time to discuss your concerns with their class teacher. Find out how well your child interacts with others at school, if the teacher has the same concerns or if she observes different social interaction than what your child describes. If you are still concerned, you may wish seek further help. At Attuned Psychology we have child psychologists to assist with developing social skills and self-confidence.  We work with you, your child and if necessary, your child’s school, to develop a plan and therapy goals to ensure the best outcome for your child and your family.

 Rachel Ielasi, Psychologist

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