Do you think your son needs a little help making friends? Perhaps he is a bit shy, or not very interested in meeting new people? Does he have a small group of friends and you want him to widen his circle?
Parents know that learning how to make friends is an important skill, one that their children will need to develop and use all of their lives. How can you help your child develop these skills? Here are some tips:
- Understand and respect your child’s personality. A child who prefers spending time playing or reading by himself may be more introverted and happy with more limited social interaction. Alternatively, a child may want to play with others, but doesn’t know how to engage with them. Take stock of your child’s social instincts before trying to help. As Margaret Hannah, director of the Freedman Center for Child and Family Development reminds us, if your child takes a while to warm up to people, “it’s not something wrong, it’s who they are”. Rather than focusing on changing your shy or introverted child, Hannah suggests that parents help your child “stretch”.
- Resist the temptation to place your own social expectations on your child. Just because you may be extroverted this doesn’t mean your child needs to be. Don’t force them to engage if they are not ready, or label them as “shy” publicly. It can make them feel even more uncomfortable and less willing to try.
- Talk with his teachers. Your child’s teachers can give you a good sense of how he interacts with his peers during the school day, and suggest particular classmates with whom he might be better suited for play dates.
- Schedule one-on-one play dates with classmates who have similar interests. If your son would be more comfortable in your home, then schedule the play date there. Before the play date, talk with him about the things he can do with his classmate when he comes to visit. If necessary, you can help them get started, by suggesting an activity, but step away as soon as possible so that they can play together without you.
- Talk with other parents and caregivers. Let them know that your son may need more time to adjust to a new situation so that they aren’t impatient or judgmental. Be sure to give your caregiver pointers as to how to help your son adjust and feel comfortable.
Above all, don’t worry too much about this! Helping your child stretch a little out of their social comfort zone is a good idea, but don’t loose sight of the most important goal: that they learn to be comfortable with who they are.