Sending your kids back to school is exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. You want to make sure they’re having great experiences, making new friends, and learning each day, but you have very little control or influence on their daily interactions. Instead, it’s important to help them prepare for these new social situations before it’s time to head to Kindergarten. So you want to figure out how to help kids make friends without getting in the way? Read on for our twelve tips to make the process easier.
It’s up to the adults to lead the way and help kids navigate the world. Friendships are crucial to surviving in all situations and parents can give their children a little push to help get them to start building their network early and break down any bad habits right out of the gate.
Games to bring you together!
So your kids are at that stage? Going out into the world, making friends, and enjoying school. Sometimes you might go whole days without properly catching up with how they’re feeling. Well, there’s no time like right now to sit down and have some bonding time with our Adventures from Scratch: Family Edition book! Playing games together is the perfect way to encourage your little ones to open up and challenge their problem-solving skills! Go on, it’ll be an adventure!
Why Children’s Friendships are Important
Friends are important through all phases of life. Having peer relationships allows you to connect with people who are going through similar things as you and be able to relate. These relationships start in childhood and they are so important to development. Good friends can help build confidence and protect kids from bullying and other negative situations.
By developing friendships in younger years, kids will learn conflict resolution skills and have plenty of opportunities to practice active listening. The friends you make throughout life help you discover what you like and don’t like, help shape your personality and bring joy and fun to your life.
Group play skills start to develop in young toddlers, so it’s important to help them build their social skills well before getting to elementary school. Provide them with opportunities to interact with other kids and learn how to behave with people their age and not just parents, siblings, and family.
How to Help Kids Make Friends
Making new friends can be a challenge for young kids because they haven’t had much practice. As parents, you can help set them up for success a bit by following these 12 tips on how to help kids make friends without being too involved.
Observe and understand their social skills.
Before you dive in, spend some time observing your child in social situations. Some friendship skills come naturally and don’t require any practice or development. Watch their body language, do they seem uncomfortable talking to new people? Do they easily engage with others?
By watching the child’s social behavior without getting involved, you’ll be able to gather tons of insight into what they struggle with. You’ll know if they have a hard time joining a group or kicking off the conversation. Study them when they are just being natural and see where they need a little extra help.
Help coach them on their emotions.
Parenting involves a lot of conversations about how a child feels and naming emotions. Being able to understand and process different emotions will help them navigate any kind of situation they find themselves in. You are their coach and teacher in their early years. Make sure you are having these conversations, learning to identify the emotion, and working through different ways to feel that emotion in a healthy way.
If you start this work early, you’ll be setting them up for success when they head out of the house and on their own. They will be able to communicate their feelings when they are at school or a friend’s house and be prepared to deal with them. Kids that hold in their emotions or don’t understand how to work through frustration, anger, and sadness will be more likely to act out and misbehave.
Be a positive role model for your child.
Remember, your kids watch you and will mimic your behaviors. This includes your social interactions and how you behave with your friends and family members. In addition to spending time with family, you should include your friends in your child’s life. Let them see how you interact with each other.
In addition to your good friends, it’s important to let your child see you interact with new people. How do you introduce yourself? How do you introduce your child? What details do you include when doing those introductions? Those are the details that your children will remember and put into practice themselves.
Schedule play dates.
One thing kids don’t have much control over is their schedule. As the parent, you are the keeper of their activities. They might ask you to play with their best friend, but it’s up to the adults to organize playdates and fill up the calendar with fun events. Reach out to neighborhood families and the parents of kids that they go to preschool or school with and get playdates on the schedule.
It’s so hard to be spontaneous with schedules these days. There are so many activities going on, so plan ahead and make sure that your child is getting the chance to play with a lot of different kids and build up some relationships. Let them bring a friend along if they have to go somewhere with you so they can have fun and have someone their age along.
Work on apologies, forgiveness, and compassion.
Every relationship is going to have a bump in the road and kids need tools to deal with tough moments. The opportunities will likely come up with family members early in life. Use those moments to teach kids how to apologize if they are in the wrong. Talk about the social cues that they should watch for. Learning the importance of an apology early in life will help your children become great humans and wonderful friends to others. Being humble and accepting responsibility is hard, but necessary.
You want your kids to be able to recognize if they’ve hurt someone’s feelings and know how to remedy the situation. It’s good to talk about empathy and how to understand someone else’s point of view. Books and stories can assist with this conversation. The more your kids are exposed to different viewpoints and stories, the more empathetic they will be in their own life.
Encourage kindness and compassion within your family and help your kids think of ways they can be extra kind to their friends. If someone is sick or going through a hard time, sit down and chat with your child about ways they could show a little extra love—maybe cookies or a hand-drawn card. Let them come up with a few ideas and help where you can to make it happen.
Discuss this topic with warmth and praise.
You want your kids to feel comfortable chatting with you about their school day and the interactions they had. Try not to be too overwhelming in your questions and probes about whether or not your child is making friends or even keeping friends. Instead, approach these topics with warmth and positive reinforcement.
If your child tells you a story about another kid, celebrate that with them and ask some questions. This will give you insight into whether or not your child learns more about the other kids and if not, give them some suggestions on how to ask probing questions and get to know people. Build up their self-esteem and you will give them the confidence to continue making those connections and trying new things.
Practice conversation skills with young children.
One of the best ways for kids to get some practice chatting with new people is to do some role-playing. Be open with them about meeting new people and that it just takes some practice. If you have a shy child, the more practice, the better before they find themselves in a situation where they need to introduce themselves.
In addition to role-playing, you can also watch movies and tv shows and point out situations where the characters are meeting new people. Have them practice introducing themselves and brainstorm which questions they should ask new friends. The more they’ve gone through the motions with people they are comfortable with, the easier it will be to apply it to real-life situations.
Another way to help kids practice is to help them get familiar with their physical settings before they are introduced to new people. For example, if your child is starting at a new school, bring them to the playground and take a tour before they begin. By removing some of the newnesses and helping them navigate the location, they will feel more comfortable with new people when the first day comes.
Always work on listening.
Listening skills can also be worked on and improved, even as adults, but it starts with young children. Part of being a good friend is listening to the other person and taking in what they are saying. Kids should understand the basics of being good listeners. This means maintaining eye contact, asking questions, and not being distracted in the moment.
Share with your kids that being a good listener is always something you’ll work on. It’s hard and requires attention. Remember to be a good role model in these situations. If you are having a conversation with your kids, you should be demonstrating good listening skills. Help them understand that they can’t interrupt and how to properly get someone’s attention to have a conversation. Manners are an important part of building friendships and first impressions.
Brainstorm some fun questions with your child that they can ask other children. For example, have them ask about pets, favorite colors, foods they like, or what they like to do for fun.
Focus on cooperation and teamwork.
Family game nights are such a fun way to spend quality time together, but if you are always focusing on competitive games, your children might be missing out on learning how to be part of a team. Team sports are great for helping kids learn how to work with others to accomplish a certain goal. Being able to practice problem-solving with a group will help them make new friends in new situations.
If there aren’t team sports your children are interested in, you can get them into other extracurriculars with kids that have similar interests but still promote working together. The theater is a great example of a non-sports activity that requires cooperation. By practicing structured situations where everyone needs to work together, kids will learn how to try these methods even when kids are not in a structured situation.
Keep a healthy distance.
There is only so much you can do to help your younger children. They will need to figure out some lessons on their own. As a parent, it’s important to support your kids and set them up for success but then give them some space to try things out.
You’ve probably heard the term helicopter parenting before, but it means that you’re hovering and maybe you’re a little too involved in your child’s day-to-day activities and interactions. Be aware of this when you are supporting your children. Be supportive while also giving them space and letting them figure some of it out in their own time.
Address any behavior issues or anxiety.
If you start noticing any trouble-making behaviors or kids are having serious issues making new friends, it’s important to address the issues right away. Ask your child’s teachers what they are seeing when you aren’t around. Try to understand what triggers your child has and begin working on a plan to help them work through the challenges.
Some issues are simple and can be handled with some teamwork between you and the other adults in your child’s life. Some situations are going to require that you meet with a child psychologist. You could be dealing with ADHD or anxiety disorders and a professional can help you navigate these situations and give you the tools you and your children need.
Remember each child is different.
Every human is unique and the same goes for children and how they learn and grow. It’s important to remember that there will be some general patterns, but at the end of the day, each child will learn how to make friends at their own pace in their way. You may have two introverted children and one social butterfly, just because they are siblings doesn’t mean they will do things the same.
You’ll have to be a bit flexible and change your methods for helping if it isn’t working. Some kids take a little longer to open up or struggle with large group settings. Be open to making some changes and switching up your strategy to help your child succeed.
Where to Find Opportunities for Kids to Make Friends
Kids have their first social relationships with their families. They will learn how to have conversations and get their first practice with socializing. But where do parents go from there? Use these ideas to help you brainstorm places where you can help your kids meet new friends.
A child’s friendship can start anywhere. Kids are far less judgmental than adults when it comes to striking up conversations. Sign them up for activities in your community. This will help them meet new people and learn new skills. Bring them to library events that are free and will help encourage reading while also giving them the chance to be social with other children.
Also, take advantage of parties and gatherings that you’re invited to. When possible, bring the kids along so they can witness their parents and other adults being social while also getting the chance to meet new kids to play with.
Playgrounds and community spots are great places to organize play dates and meet other local families. It might be uncomfortable (even for adults) to invite a new friend to your home, so why not arrange to meet at a playground and let the kids play there? Everyone can get to know each other a bit better on neutral ground.
Consider changing up your strategies. Don’t overschedule or pack too much in. Kids need time to recharge as well. Make sure to keep an eye on them and watch for signs that they are tired or overwhelmed. By observing them in different situations, you’ll learn which types they excel in and which they struggle with. This can help you choose the better options going forward for your child.
Closing Thoughts on How to Help Kids Make Friends
As parents and caregivers, you can help set your kids up for social success. Get them enrolled in fun after-school activities and give them plenty of opportunities to practice being social. Be a good role model and use your family time to practice the skills needed to be a good friend. If you are dealing with older children, check out our advice for parenting teens as well.
Make sure to plan for quality family time as well. Enjoy family dinner time or plan a fun family road trip. A strong family foundation can help set up the kids to build strong relationships with kids their own age as well.
Frequently Asked Questions
There are many different ways to help kids make friends. Set them up with playdates before school starts and practice with them before they are in those situations. Be supportive.
When coaching kids on how to make friends, be a good role model. Invite your friends over and let them spend time watching you socialize and interact with others.
Grab Adventures from Scratch: Family Edition and you’ll have a list of dozens of different activities that the whole family will enjoy. It’s perfect to use on weekends to reconnect after busy weeks.