Playing with other children and friendships are important. As your child starts school, making friends and learning how to form successful peer relationships becomes a key issue. Friendships are important for children’s self-esteem, when your child has good friends, he feels like he belongs, that his friends care about him, and this helps him feel good about himself. Early friendships can also help children develop important life skills such as getting along with others, and sorting out conflicts/problems.
Social skills and making friends doesn’t come naturally to all kids. Although starting school, moving to a new class or joining a new sports team or activity can be an opportunity for kids to make some new friends, it can be a time of anxiety or worry for some children. While you can not make friends for your children, you can help them develop and practice some key social skills.
- Build Conversation Skills – learning how to start and maintain conversations with others is a skill. Some children need some help with conversation starters – how to introduce themselves, how to ask questions about others, how to ask to join a group. Role-playing conversations and taking turns can help them get the practice and confidence they need.
- Pretend Play Skills – pretend play (also called imaginative play, make-believe play) is linked with language development and social competence with peers. Through play children connect with others and learn to take turns, share and co-operate with others. Helping your child develop pretend play skills will help them interact with their peers through shared experiences.
- Know the Rules of the Game – as children enter school, they often make friends through playing the same game together – but joining in can be tricky if they don’t know the rules. You could make sure your child knows the rules of games he wants join in with. You could also practice playing the game at home.
- Practice during Playdates – Playdates and sleepovers outside school can be a great way to foster new school friendships. If your child finds playdates tricky, try keeping them fairly short (ie 1-2 hours) it might also be helpful to assist your child to plan some activities they could do with their friend/s – you may not use them, but it may be good to have them ready just in case.
- Be a Good Friend – part of being a good friend is being able to listen, show an interest, share ideas, turns and toys. It is also important to make eye contact and respond to other people’s moods, as well as be able to be kind and show empathy. Talking about how to be a good friend may assist your child learning how to make good friendships.
- Join a sport or other outside school activity – getting involved with children their age that have similar interests can be a great way for kids to make friends. Sports or other organised activities (ie dance, Scouts, youth groups, art classes, music etc) can also be a good way to make friends as they provide built-in structure and rules. Sometimes joining a new group or activity can be easier if they invite a friend they’re already comfortable with to join too.
- Get to know your child’s friends – your children’s friends are some of the important people in their life. Getting to know them helps you know who they are talking about, their personalities, and what kind of influence they have on your child. This knowledge can assist you to help your child navigate and friendship challenges
Remember, childhood friendships are full of ups and downs and making friends and being a good friend are skills that need to be learned. So, if your child is going through a friendship slump, try not to be too worried, instead focus on helping your children build and practice their friendship skills.
LEISHA WARD, Senior Occupational Therapist