A lonely child standing in the corner of the playground with no friends; a sad youngster eating lunch alone. These are images that haunt us as parents and tug at our hearts. But social skills don’t come naturally to all children – and that’s without adding playground politics, bullying, classroom hierarchy, group dynamics, hormones and so on. It’s not surprising then that friends (and the lack of them) is one of the things parents and children worry about the most.
So, how can we help our children make friends or deal with friendship issues? Our child health and wellbeing experts offer some tips…
Create lots of opportunities for your child to meet other children in different environments: soft play, swimming pools, playgrounds, clubs, play dates. Making a friend outside of school can make up for lack of friends in school and increase social confidence to help with the minefield of the playground.
Teaching your child to show an interest in others will help them foster positive relationships with their peers. Suggest choosing activities they know another child will enjoy, for example: “Peter likes animals, doesn’t he? Why don’t you ask if he wants to play a game of vets at break time?” For older children it might be having a game of chess or heading to the art room.
Encourage your child to ask others about their interests/their weekend/their pets. Help them to learn that friendships are based on showing an interest in one another.
It can help for your child to be aware of how others see them. If they go to school looking miserable or cross, other children may be wary of them. Remind them that putting a big smile on their face will make others more likely to want to play with or hang out with them – a warm smile is the universal language of kindness. Make them aware of personal space or encourage them to be aware of how things they say or do might upset others.
Remind your child of the importance of kindness. Here are some things they can try:
- If they see another child upset, ask them what is wrong and try to help
- If they see another child on their own, ask them to join in
- Make a card or draw a picture for another child
- Offer to share their pencils or toys at break time
Practise different social scenarios. You don’t have to carry out a full role-playing session, just talk about what they might say or do in certain situations such as when they lose or win a game, if see mean behaviour or see someone else upset. Bedtime reading involving stories about friendship can also help for younger children.
Give your child a confidence boost by telling them why people will like them. Sunflower’s CEO Nichola Atkinson explains: “Children with healthy self-esteem and self-confidence learn more, achieve more, have more friends, are less likely to be alienated and are generally happier than those with low levels of confidence.”
Help your child to understand negative behaviour. Your child will probably come home in tears more than once because their best friend wouldn’t speak to them that day, a group of children wouldn’t let them join in or someone has been horrible to them. It’s natural for them to be upset but you can help by trying to get them to see the bigger picture.
You could say things like: “That wasn’t a nice way to behave but maybe they were feeling angry about something and they just took it out on you.” Or: “Maybe they were feeling worried about not having any friends as well and they were showing off.” When it comes to older children, it’s also worth reminding them that hormones have a big role to play!
Help them deal with friendship bust-ups in a rational way by not over-reacting or getting angry yourself. More positive messages could include:
- Perhaps you have just both started liking different things.
- Maybe now you have a chance to make friends with someone else
- If the friendship was not making you both happy, maybe it will do you good to have some distance from each other for a while.
Sunflower practitioner Sheree McGregor offers this advice: “Keep open communication with teachers and other adults involved with your child’s care.
“Provide a happy, caring and supportive home environment, one in which your child will feel confident. The more confidence they have the more they will be able to communicate and interact confidently. Sport related activities also encourage self-confidence and increase self-esteem.”
If your child is struggling to cope, or you feel they need extra support with their emotional confidence, contact the Sunflower Programme: 01483 531498, firstname.lastname@example.org