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5 Ideas to Help Your Child Make Friends

5 Ideas to Help Your Child Make Friends

By Brittany Davies, Fraser Clinical Program Manager for School-Based Services and Pam Dewey • making friends, helping kids make friends, social skills for kids, children and friendships, helping children make friends, improving children's social skills, improving kids social skills • August 19, 2021

Making friends can be difficult, no matter your age. There are many reasons kids and adults struggle with making friends: they’ve moved to a new town, they’re shy or perhaps they’re just unsure how to interact with others.  

But having friends is important to a child’s development. According to the Greater Good Science Center, “Kids who have friends may adjust to school better and be somewhat protected from peer victimization. Those who make friends in early adolescence tend to have better health and well-being in adulthood, making it critical to a child’s development.

However, socialization can be particularly hard for kids with autism and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

“Noticing social cues, like body language, tone of voice or facial expressions can be tricky for children with autism or ADHD. Sometimes, a child may have trouble focusing on conversations or simply doesn’t know what social cues mean or how to respond. This can increase their anxiety in social situations, too. The good news is teaching specific strategies for developing relationships and practicing these regularly can boost a child’s confidence immensely,” says Brittany Davies, Fraser Clinical Program Manager for School-Based Services.

Here are 5 ideas about how to help your child make friends.

Model social interactions

Children learn by watching you do things. Model positive social strategies when you’re talking with your neighbor, having friends over for dinner or even chatting up a stranger at Target. Ask them how they’re doing, listen to their answers and bring up topics of mutual interest.

Teach them to ask questions

The 36 questions activity, also known as Fast Friends, was created to “help people feel close or even fall in love.” A new study, which used these questions with 301 young teens at a public Midwestern middle school, found that asking questions is also an effective way to help develop friendships. According to the Greater Good Science Center, “Students felt closer to their Fast Friends partner and considered them more of a friend afterward than they did a random student they hadn’t participated in the activity with. This suggests that sharing meaningful things about their lives helped bridge the gap between stranger and friend for these middle school kids.” The study also found it didn’t matter if the pairs were the same gender or same ethnicity.

Some of the questions included were, “What foreign country would you like to live in and why?” and more personal questions like, “Describe your biggest failure.” While your child doesn’t need to ask a potential friend 36 questions, encourage them to ask a few questions when they meet someone new. Tell your child to listen fully to their new friend’s answers and respond to what they say, perhaps by sharing something about themselves.

Practice at home

You can help your child get better at social interactions by practicing at home. You can have them practice asking you different questions. You could also discuss different topics that they might be able to talk about with other kids. Try various subjects until your child finds some conversation topics they’re truly comfortable discussing.  

Practicing a conversation can also be particularly helpful for children with autism. They may have difficulty making eye contact or responding to other people’s moods. Practicing these things at home allows your child to gain confidence in a more comfortable environment. 

Suggest playdates or get-togethers

Along the same lines, suggest your child invite a friend over for a playdate or a hangout session. Having a friend over to their own turf can help children feel more relaxed. Also, suggesting they have one friend over may feel less intimidating. You could propose a backyard pool party, a movie and pizza night or a videogame marathon.

Help them prepare for social activities

Maybe your child wants to try out for the softball team, but is nervous about signing up. You could visit the field they’ll be playing on before their season starts. Or you could drop them off a little early to the first practice, so they have time to adjust to their new environment. Another option is creating a social narrative about what they can expect at the first practice. A social narrative provides a blueprint to explain new experiences and decrease the anxiety around unfamiliar or potentially overwhelming events. This is particularly helpful for children with autism, who may struggle with transitions. You can even enlist the help of their coach to help you create the social narrative.

While you want to encourage your child to make friends, remember all children are different, and the way they approach friendship will be different too. Like some adults, some children are simply introverts. They may not make as many friends, but they may have deeper friendships with fewer people. That’s perfectly acceptable behavior too.