We want the very best for our children, in all areas of life. We want them to feel happy, to eat well, to be healthy, to succeed and we want them to feel socially whole; we want them to have friends. For some starting a new school can be very anxiety provoking, and adjusting to the change can cause delays in settling in. This includes opening up to new people and developing meaningful friendships
Social psychology research suggests that no only are we born to be social creatures, but that the way we are brought up can have a big impact in our confidence in reaching out and building new relationships. However, these are skills that can be learned at any stage in life, though of course some do find it easier than others.
If you’re worried that your child isn’t making friends there are certainly ways you can help. One example is to be a sounding board for your child. Allow them to talk to you about their feelings and what has happened each day. Try to encourage this conversation either at dinner or in a private safe space. Not only are you giving them an opportunity to problem solve with you, but you are allowing them to develop a trust that they can open up in a non-judgemental environment – an important skill in friendships.
Moreover, making the time to talk to them about their day will help them to build conversational skills. Whether you are prompting polite questions or encouraging you child to give detailed answers (explaining fully rather than one or two-word responses), it is good practice to allow them the space to ask you questions and to offer up information about your experience. Encourage them to call relatives too to have conversations over the phone.
Another important aspect of making friends is to understand empathy and work cooperatively together. During play dates (which you can help to arrange for your child by fostering friendships with other parents), try to create a team-based environment and avoid games where there is a strong sense of competitiveness. It can be a really good exercise to debrief with your child too after the playdate by asking them what they enjoyed and what they felt went well. If you noticed some behaviour that was counterintuitive to making friends, talk it through with them in a sensitive way that they can understand how their behaviour may have made the other child feel. Equally watch out for any behaviour towards your child you may wish to address with the other parent.
It is important too to check in with your child’s class teacher or tutor, as they will have a good understanding of what your child is like at school and whether they are spending time with other children. They will also be able to give you advice and to help orchestrate friendships within the school setting.