It can be sometimes heart wrenching to hear your child whine, “Nobody let me play!” or “They don’t like me!” As a parent, you can earnestly sympathize with your child’s sadness. Our first instinct may be to dovetail around them, but then we really can’t form friendships for our children. What we can do is be an ally in helping them understand the key elements in friendship formation.
Tending “Emotions” of your Child
Everyone has aggressive impulsive and negative emotions, including children. But, in order to make friends, they need to know how to keep their selfish or negative emotions in check. Studies suggest that children develop better emotional temperament when their parents draw out their feelings by sympathizing, listening carefully, and reflecting back what is heard in a problem solving way. On the contrary, kids whose negative emotions are usually trivialized (“My problems are bigger than yours”) or punished (“Just go to your room and get it over with”) tend to struggle with self-control and lose out on making new friends.
Exploring Common Grounds
Another way to build friendships is by recognizing a common connection. A tennis companion, owning a dog, playing PS 3 and all those “me, too!” areas give your child and the new friend a reason to create shared experiences – and in the process unlocks the door to friendship.
Being ProSocial – Open, Caring and Helpful
“Will you be my friend?” is the easiest and most direct way for preschoolers to make friends, although older children may not like such signaling. The first element for making friends involves being expressive enough to show someone that we like them and want to be friends with them. However, a reserved child may have difficulty greeting potential friends. For instance, if another kid says “Hello!” to them, they feel shy and tend to look away, or just mumble under their breath. This is because they get nervous and self-conscious, but what they are actually communicating is that “I don’t like you” or “Stay away” to the other child.
If this rings a similar bell, you may like to help him or her practice addressing people with a bit of role play yourself. Explain it to your child (break it down) that: a way to greeting one involves looking into the other person’s eye, smiling or nodding warmly, saying “Hi”, and speaking clear and loud enough to be heard.
Small acts of compliments or kindness can be other gestures of liking for classmates or friends. “Nice handwriting” for a peer at school, “I like the outfit you’re wearing” for a child at a party are some ways. Acts of kindness could include lending a pencil, or sharing a book or tiffin, or helping carry them something. All this elicits kindness and is one of the best ways to strike a new friendship. With a little help from you, your child will have the confidence and ability to expand his social circle in his community.