Should parents help their kids make friends?

Parents are rarely short on what to worry about on behalf of our children. A very sensitive button gets pushed when we are faced with the challenge of our child not having a friend, not being included in what their friends are doing, or not being all that good at being the sort of friend others want to play with.

So our own big feelings about all this are challenging and often send us into orbit, which is not that helpful for our kids. We can find ourselves over-reacting in anxious ways as we grapple with the reality of our children being isolated.

One thing parents can do too much of is ask questions which sound more like interrogations. “Who did you play with today?” “Why not?” “What do you mean they said you couldn’t play?” “Did you do anything silly?” “Look this is what you should do next time.” “Shall I talk to your teacher and sort this out?” The questions are designed to be helpful but our tone and intensity can swamp a child or make them feel even more overwhelmed.

So let’s run through some things that can help our children make friends and some of the things that might not be as helpful.

What helps our children make friends?

1. Talk to your child’s teacher and find out how your child is doing at school

Some children are not able to give an accurate picture of their day at school. They may have had friends to play with some of the time, but only remember to tell you about one incident when they were not included in a game.

2. What do you know about your child so far?

Every child is different. Some children are shy and take time to warm up in a group. Some children are happy with one solid friend and are tricky to nudge into a wider group. It is possible you have a child who is content much of the time with their own company or who is completely comfortable with playing on their own if others don’t like their ideas or rules. Getting to grips with your child’s natural leaning is going to help here.

3. It takes time to be a good friend

There is a lot to it. Your child may be a friendly person, but not yet know how to take turns. They might be a leader but not yet grasp the concept of letting others have their ideas included. Step by step, your child is learning the skills of being a good friend and it is going to take some time and coaching.

4. Arrange for the occasional play date at your place

You may get some insights on how your child relates to other children. Without hovering, notice how your child shares, takes turns and initiates games etc. This little bit of research can help determine what might need tweaking.

5. Build a network of friends that includes playmates outside of school

It might be the neighbours, the cousins or a child from the soccer team. If there are some wobbles with friends at school, it’s great to draw on another source of friends from another ‘pot’.

6. Be a friendly family

When we model friendliness and our children see us show warmth, hospitality and care for others, we are helping them get the idea. We share our resources and time with others and they get to see firsthand what this looks like.

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What might hinder making friends?

1. If your child gets to manipulate you or has everyone adjusting to their way – then that behaviour is taken into their friendships

It is kinder to your child to be firm at home and have reasonable expectations for their behaviour. If you want your child to be respectful in how they talk to their friends, then it needs to start at home first. If your child can upturn the board game when they are not winning, and you let that happen regularly, then they are not going to do so well at losing with their friends either.

2. Your child could be unaware of how their behaviour is being interpreted

Let them know that their friends may not like it when they get too close when talking, or how ignored they feel when they always make up the rules. Give them some guidance and understanding of what others like in a friendship. (Use the list included to help your child see what they are doing well and what could be a focus area).

3. Your constant anxiety can set up a child to feel anxious too

Let them feel your confidence in them, rather than your niggling doubt that they have the ability to be a good friend. There are times to show a definite expression of confidence in our children and for them to hear our belief in their ability to be a good friend and make friends.

The good friend list

Some children struggle with friendships and need coaching on how to make and how to keep a friend. A parent’s job is to coach a child through the difficulties they face in life – behaviour, social skills, academic etc. Start by making a good friend list.

A good friend:

  • Is friendly and can say, “Hello” and, “Goodbye” and, “How are you?”
  • Invites people to join in – welcomes others
  • Knows that one person can’t be the boss all the time
  • Shares stuff around
  • Takes turns in a fairly even way
  • Looks to see if someone is left out
  • Keeps to the rules
  • Knows how to say sorry
  • Knows how to accept an apology
  • Smiles
  • Doesn’t get too close
  • Uses a nice voice not a moany whiney one
  • Let’s others have ideas
  • Doesn’t scoff at others’ ideas even if they think they are silly
  • Is kind
  • Doesn’t talk behind another person’s back
  • Listens without interrupting

Go through the list with your children and see which ones they find easy, a bit hard and really hard to do. Be understanding with your children because some of these traits are not natural to their personality and some won’t even make sense!

Another tool to help kids practise friendly responses is to get them thinking about what friendliness might look like in different scenarios.

What would friendliness look like if…?

  • A new child has moved into the house next door
  • You want to make friends with someone in your class who you have not talked to yet
  • Your family has a new family over for a meal and you have never met any of them!
  • One of your friends looks like they have been crying
  • You are at a party and you see one person standing alone and everyone else is in a group
  • What are some of the things that spoil friendships?
  • You want too much control and can’t let anyone else into the friendship
  • You stick to just one friend and if that doesn’t work out – you are really lost
  • You have to be right all the time
  • You have too many rules
  • You spend all your time organising and not much time playing and having fun

Looking for more personalised strategies and solutions for your family? 

Our Family Coaches bring their extensive training and experience to help uncover new insights, ideas and practical solutions to parenting and relationship challenges. Through one-on-one support (in person, via Skype or email), you’ll be provided with take-home strategies to bring about the positive changes you desire for your whānau.