How to Help Your Child Make Friends

How to Help Your Child Make Friends

Get involved and take action without overstepping

There's nothing sweeter than watching your child make his first friend, or best friend. Observing them share a giggle or show tenderness or support for another child fills parents with a sense of grace that lets them believe that all will be well with their child even when parents are not around. On the flip side, watching a child struggle to make friends, seeing them sit alone at playtime, or face hostile peers is about as heartbreaking as it gets. It's enough to make a parent stand up and demand other children to be friends with their child. But, of course, that is not how it works - unless you are looking for your child to be further outcast.

Making friends can be very difficult for some children and watching them struggle can make parents suffer alongside of them. Although there are ways to help them along the way to building friendships, there is a balance parents must navigate – talking them through what friendships are and mean, while also letting them into the world to find their own friends.

Communicating the importance of friends and friendship
Young children and even adolescents may brush off the need for friends, especially if they are having difficulty making them. It's important to explain what being a friend really is and the advantages of having them. Let them know that it's not critical to have numerous friends, but that having a few is advantageous and adds to the richness of one’s life.

Like with any skill we want our children to learn, modeling is a way to help them not only hear what is important but to see it in action. Pay attention to how you communicate with your child. Make sure that they practice good conversation skills when they are talking with you - it's important for them to actively listen as well as talk. While saying too little is not a way to get to know people, saying too much and dominating a conversation is similarly problematic as it may turn off potential friends early in a relationship.

According to the article "Ways to Make Your Child Make Friends at School,” at, your kids are watching how you interact with others and take that with them into the friend realm. "Every time you strike up conversations with friends or neighbors, or even the check-out person at the grocery store, your child is aware. Almost every scenario becomes a learning opportunity, allowing your child to see how you join in, negotiate and problem-solve."

The article goes on to advocate for play dates for young children to put them in situations you can observe, and to role-play with older children to help them on their way. "Sit down and practice at home. Discuss what topics interest them that he might talk about with other kids. Test different options until he finds something that comes naturally," it says.

Setting the stage for friendships
Making friends can be a complicated process that parents often can only tangentially impact, but putting them in situations where friendships can flourish is more straightforward. Schools and other places where your child spends large amounts of time, like places of worship, sports activities or summer camps are the most obvious places, but if they are having difficulty there, then look for settings within them that stress cooperation instead of competition.

An article in Parenting Science, advices the following: “Kids get along better when they are engaged in cooperative activities — activities in which kids work toward a common goal. This is true in the classroom, and it’s also true when children play.” The Children’s Friendship Training guide suggests steering kids who struggling to make friends away from competitive games, until they develop some social skills that help build friendships. The authors of the book, Fred Frankel and Robert Myatt, offer this additional advice: If your child has a play date, remove toys and games that might spark conflict. They recommend that parents put away toy weapons, as well as any items that could provoke competition or envy.

What to expect from your child's friendships
It's natural for children who have few or no friends to jump at the chance to make close ones when the opportunity arises. That enthusiasm could be counterproductive if they expect too much too fast from others and the friendship itself. Talk with your child about expectations and that most friendships take time to develop - unnecessarily forcing them can lead to unneeded anxiety and pressure.

Parents should also make sure that their own expectations don't put more pressure on their kids. In the article "Kids Who Need a Little Help to Make Friends," from Child Mind Institute, Mary Rooney, PhD, said parents shouldn’t put their own social expectations on children. “Kids need just one or two good friends. You don’t have to worry about them being the most popular kid in their class.”

It's also common for kids to anoint new friends as their best friend even though the moniker may not fit. That's okay in many cases but again could lead to unnecessary disappointment if the other party doesn't feel the same way or resists the label for whatever reason.

It's important for parents to let kids know that part of what a good friend does is relieve pressure not add to it, and accepts one’s limitations and strengths. Just because a potential friend is not feeling quite the same as your child, doesn't mean that they won't get there in time, or even that they need to feel the exact same way. Explain that it's okay to have different kinds of friends and that friendships changing over time is natural with some changes positive and others not so much.