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Making Friends – How Parents Can Help Their Kids With Friendship
Some children have no problem. They start school and immediately have a gang – a best friend, birthday party invitations, play dates, sleepovers. For other children, the social aspects of school can be difficult. Sometimes this is because the child has a diagnosis of Asperger’s Disorder, Autism, or Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and sometimes the child is just shy. As a therapist with years of experience working in schools, I have seen how hard the school day can be if a child has not understood how to make and keep friends. I know there are simple steps you as a parent can take to help make friendship easier for your child.
The first step is to talk to your child and make sure there really is a problem. Some children are more introverted than others and need a lot of alone time. Not all kids want to be the class president or the most popular student. But every child needs to learn how to get along with peers, work in a group and have satisfying social interactions. Try to discuss friendship with your child and set a realistic goal, such as a couple of friends, an occasional play date or someone to eat with lunch.
2. Get to know other parents
Other parents are your best resource. A friendly parent can help pave the way for your own child by introducing him to the gang, inviting him to play dates. Also, parents may not be comfortable extending or accepting invitations to children when they do not know the parents. Usually, the children’s parents are waiting together at the school while they go out. For even the most introverted parent, this can be a low key, easy place to meet people and a great opportunity to allow some after school free time. Try to show up a little earlier, smile and be sociable, and let your child have some free time with his classmates. For older children, see if you can volunteer at school and meet other parents.
3. Try to join groups
Find a group that your child can be a part of, whether it’s scouts, drama, an after school class, or a sports team. This new setting can allow the special skills of your child to shine in a way that they do not have in the classroom. It is also a new opportunity for you to meet other parents. A bonus is that often the whole team is invited to a pizza party or a camping trip. Of course, if family is invited, you should make every attempt to attend as well, even if your own introverted nature makes this difficult.
4. Work on social skills
This brings us to the next point, social skills. When your child plays after school or at the pizza party, you have the perfect opportunity to watch their interaction. Is your child being bossy, clingy, whiny or difficult in other ways? Public places are not ideal for discussing the problems you see. Wait until you get home and then talk to your child, bringing up the friendship goals you’ve already set. If you see major problems with social skills, you may want to address this further in a social skills group.
5. Pay attention to appearance
Your child doesn’t care about his appearance, and maybe you admire his independent spirit. Unfortunately, other children may not be so open. If friendships are affected, some degree of conformity may be a compromise you want to make. Look at the other children in the school. Does your child stand out from the rest of the class? You don’t have to bow down to fashion and buy the most stylish and expensive clothes, but maybe a simple move away from too short pants and oversized bright sweatshirt will help your child to be one of the gang. Also pay attention to personal hygiene and habits. Behavior that is good in kindergarten can be a social death in middle school.
6. Beware of being too different
Your child may be bright, unique and know everything about comets, and you can see how delicious it is, but the truth is that other children may think it is strange. Don’t think that your child has to give up his special interests and talents. I aim instead to supplement these areas with something more universally accepted. Be with the family and watch popular TV shows or go to a blockbuster movie. School is similar to your office, where everyone is discussing the Super Bowl or the presidential primary. At school, your child will have it easier if he has been to the school carnival or seen the last episode of Hannah Montana.
7. Take the deal – Invite someone
For more reserved parents, the idea of child play dates can be a little intimidating. But, it is an important step, because it helps to move the friendship out of the realm of just “school friends”. If your child has not had toys before, relax. You don’t need to structure the activity or entertain the children. Discuss in advance what activities your child might like to do with a friend and then try to get out of the picture. As a backup, set up a few simple projects in case things don’t go well, like an easy craft project or a movie to watch on TV. You may want to set up a private signal to use with your child if you need to correct your child’s behavior.
8. A special friend
Sometimes, all you need is a special friend. If your child can make a single friend, that will make it easier for him throughout the school day. He will have a partner for projects and someone to eat with lunch. Bullies usually choose a lone target rather than a couple. For many children, a friend is enough.
9. Encourage more than one friend
That said, a friend can be a problem. Depending on the situation, your child may be demanding too much from his lonely friend. Look for signs that your best friend is feeling overwhelmed. This can take the form of complaints from your child that the best friend invited someone else for a sleepover, or does not eat lunch together as usual. This does not have to mean the end of the friendship. It’s just signaling to your child that he needs to get away a little and socialize with a few other children.
10. If all else fails
If these simple steps do not help, do not despair! There are many other options. The teacher may be able to intervene and help your child. Many teachers will deliberately set up tables and work groups to help shyer children socialize. Find a social skills group by talking to the principal, or by searching online. Therapists and other mental health professionals can work on the basics with you and your child.
Finally, progress takes time. Your baby doesn’t have to arrive all at once and things can get easier as your baby matures. The group dynamics of each class will be different. Middle school can provide more children to choose from, so your child can find a group where he fits. Just make an effort and try new things.
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