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Help Your Child Make Friends

If your child is having trouble making friends, here are some practical ways you can help and offer advice.

Friendly Body Language

Most emotional communication is nonverbal. Ask your child, “How can you show that you are feeling friendly without saying a word?” A smiling face, a relaxed and open posture, interested eye contact, and an upbeat tone of voice all signal openness to friendship.

On the other hand, if your child is hunched in a corner, reading a book and refusing to look at or interact with other kids, she is sending a message saying, “I want nothing to do with you!” An adult might make the effort to draw your child out. Other kids won’t.

1s and 4s, not 2s and 3s

Playground research shows that children are most likely to be successful when they attempt to join another individual child or a group of four or more kids. Groups of two or three tend to be more close-knit and, if your child doesn’t know them well, they may be less open to a new member.

If the person your child approaches says he can’t play, it’s usually best to just walk away and try someone else. Tell him it’s kind of like baseball. Everyone swings and misses sometimes.

Sincere Compliments

Some kids believe that making friends involves being impressive in order to draw others to them. This is backwards. Making friends involves reaching out to others.

An easy way to do this is to find situations that merit a compliment. Keep it simple and genuine. “Great shot!” “I like your sweater.” “Your project turned out really good.”

Genuine compliments make people feel good about themselves and feel warmly towards the compliment-giver. You may need to remind your child to offer only one compliment at a time. Too many in close succession will seem insincere.

Activity-Based Play Dates

Most children’s friendships are based on doing things together. You may want to help your child plan an activity-based play date such as bowling, a movie, or going to a dog park. The context of fun activities often dictates what children should do, reducing awkwardness.

An activity-based play date can start or build a friendship. Keep the play date short. Two hours is a good length for elementary students. It’s better to have the kids wanting more than to let things drag on to the point of irritability.

Common Ground

Friendships grow out of shared activities and interests. Have your child draw two overlapping circles. One circle represents her. The other represents a potential friend. In the overlapping area, have your child list things the two have in common.

Emphasizing these similarities, either in conversation or by doing the activities together, can help build a friendship.

Listening, observing or asking friendly questions can be ways to find out more about a child’s interests in order to find common ground.

Adapted from Smart Parenting for Smart Kids: Nurturing Your Child’s True Potential by New Jersey psychologists Eileen Kennedy-Moore, PhD & Mark Lowenthal, PsyD.

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