Like most moms, Jenny R. wants her daughter to have plenty of friends. So it was a heart breaker for this Circle of Moms member when her daughter came home from the third grade one day saying nobody liked her. “She has always had friends and playmates and loved school. But halfway through (the school year) her best friend started hanging out with another child who teases my daughter, and will never let her play with them. She will seem fine one day and then is just in tears the next because she says no one likes her anymore.”
Those are words no parent wants to hear, says Jakki T., whose son also hit the social wall during the third grade: he "used to cry about lack of friends," she shares.
Learning to make and keep friends is an important part of childhood. Whether your child is struggling because he's the new kid in town, is flummoxed by playground politics, or simply because he's shy, there are ways you can support him. Here, Circle of Moms members share three smart tips for teaching your child how to make and keep friends.
1. Coach Your Child on Friendship Skills
Making friends and being a friend are social skills that take practice, assert Circle of Moms members Monica D. and Josephine. When Monica realized that her daughter, who is an only child, was struggling socially, she began to pay more attention to how she behaved around other kids. She noticed that her daughter "needed to learn how to get along and not be so bossy," and now tries to coach her on these skills.
Josephine also realized she needed to step in, in her case because her seven-year-old is “painfully shy.” As she explains, “Shy kids don’t view themselves as likeable and they have low self-esteem. I had to help him see his good points and build on them to gain more self confidence. He learned strategies to make friends.”
2. Connect With Moms Who Have Same-Age Kids
Circle of Moms members Lydia W. and Jeru both point out that hosting play dates is a great way to introduce your child to potential pals. Lydia suggests inviting over some neighborhood kids or even friends from work who have same-age children, and possibly even forming a group. Of her own, she shares: “The adults not only met together for support, we had functions where the children could attend and get to know each other.”
When Jeru's family moved to a new city, she worked hard to strike up new connections for her eight-year-old son. She made it a habit to regularly visit the park and other places frequented by neighborhood children, and eventually "reached out to one of the parents [who] was there and made a friend myself. Making a connection with a new family that has the same-aged children was our remedy.”
3. Enroll in Extracurricular Activities
Another way to help your child boost his social skills is to find out what he enjoys and steer him into after-school and weekend activities like sports, speaking, or chess, suggests Circle of Moms members Queen D., Mel, and Teresa W. Being part of a team or organized activity creates a sense of belonging with peers, which often leads to friendship. As Queen shares, “My daughter is active in school with National Junior Honor Society [and] a girl service group called ‘Blossom,’ and she is very active in church. She didn't want to do any of those things at first, but I told her if you never try anything how you will know if you like it? That’s how she has made her friends."
For Mel’s shy nine-year-old, the trick was the football team. Once he started football she noticed that "it has been much easier to make friends," and that "now he looks forward to every football season so that he can hang out with his friends.”
Once your child has found a sport or club that he loves, consider getting involved yourself. To support and nudge her son a bit, Teresa W. signed on to be the den leader for his Cub Scout group. As she shares, her presence "helped him feel more comfortable" until he had made friends and could relax and enjoy himself.
By the time your child hits their tweens or teens, it's a lot harder to reverse a pattern of self-isolation. Jackie F.'s shy 15-year-old has one good friend, but they "blow hot and cold," and she still prefers to hang out in her room by herself much of the time. To get her out of the house, Jackie started planning activities they could do together, like shopping and movies. This "gives you the chance to reinforce her interests and that she will come through this and make more friends.”
How have you helped your child make friends?
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