Every parent wants to raise a child who is popular well-loved and surrounded by lots of friends
And every child needs friends.
Why do children need friends?
Making friends and learning to get along with them is crucial from the developmental point of view.
- Children who have friends learn skills faster. It is always easier for a child to learn any skill from another child who has just learnt it or is still in the process of learning it – than from an adult. Adults have usually come a long way from when they were learning those skills and have usually forgotten how they learnt the skills.
- Friendships help build social skills. Whatever skills a person may master or learn – it is finally social skills and the ability to get along with others that determines how far in life a person goes. Social skills can be learnt only by socializing with peers or equals. Every child needs to make space for himself/herself among his/her own peers. Interacting only with indulgent adults gives the child a wrong worldview because there is forgiveness for all behaviour at every step.
- Friends motivate children to accomplish more. Any activity or task or the mastery of any skill is a boring job when done alone. The same task however can be lots of fun when done with other children and can make a child endeavour to do much more.
- Having friends boosts the child’s self-esteem. When a bunch of children want to play with a child – it makes the child feel wanted, needed and important. It builds the child’s self-esteem like nothing else can. No matter how wonderful we tell a child he/she is – we cannot make the child feel good unless other children ask for him/her to play with them.
- Friendships teach children to work through and resolve conflicts. They teach children empathy and negotiation. They teach children how to be intuitive which is an important survival skill.
Also read How to build your child’s self-esteem
How do children make friends?
Making friends, forming groups and building communities is essential for survival.
Nature therefore ensures that newborns arrive in the world with the ability and desire to socialize.
In the past when babies were brought up by an entire village or in a joint family – they quickly learnt the rules of the world from the people around them and began to make friends effortlessly.
In today’s isolated world however – it is important for parents to teach children the qualities that will help them to make friends.
What are the qualities that children need to learn in order to make friends?
To make friends children need to develop the following personality traits
- Caring – The basis of any friendship is the desire to care for the other person. A child who does not care about anything or anyone other than himself – will have great difficulty making friend
- Sharing – Any friendship is based on sharing what you have with others. In a friendship we share experiences, stories, laughter and skills. But before we are allowed to share any of these – we first need to learn to share our things. A child who is unable to share his/her things – will not be accepted when he/she wants to share himself/herself
- Helpfulness – When a person needs help – he/she also needs a friend. A child who helps others will find many opportunities to make friends. An unhelpful child on the other hand will quickly earn the dislike of others.
- Good Manners – Every culture has a set of manners that must be followed in order to convey respect and regard. It is important that a child learns the rules of the society as soon as possible to be accepted. A please or a thank you are universal manners.
- Empathy – Disagreements are inevitable in any friendship – but a child who can look at every situation from the other person’s point of view with empathy will be able to walk past these disagreements easily. They will be able to negotiate and reach pacts that are fair to everyone involved
- Conversational skills – The ability to start a conversation is the first step towards building a friendship. A child who knows what to say when first meeting a stranger will easily make friends
- Emotional self-control – Anger and frustration are normal emotions for any human being and these are bound to emerge when children interact with others. A child who knows how to manage these negative emotions will have many friends. And these friendships will last longer.
Why do some children have more friends than others?
The speed at which a child makes new friends depends to a large extent on the personality of the child.
Children who are extroverts find it much easier to make friends than those who are introverts.
However, both introverts and extroverts need friends and given the opportunity and skills – will always try to make friends.
Developing a friendship and becoming part of a group depends on the chances that a child gets to interact with other children as much as it depends on the child’s social skills.
A child who has more chances to interact with other children will have a higher chance of making a friend – no matter what his/her personality.
Several times parents isolate children who are introverts or who have poor emotional and social skills from other children. They do this either because they assume that the child does not enjoy being with other children because he/she is quiet and an introvert. Or they do it because they want to avoid awkward situations because their child fights or gets upset during play.
This is the wrong strategy. The quietest child will find a friend and the most aggressive child will manage to fit in – if only we give them enough opportunities in a warm supportive environment.
It is also important to remember not to expect too much from a child. Children need one or two close friends. Not every child will be the most popular kid around or be the instant life of the party.
Also read How to help your child settle in school
Tips to help children make friends easily
- Teach your child how to smile .One of the first indications that one is open to a friendship is – a smile. Most children learn from the adults around them that they must never smile. Asking a child to smile will never work. Children must see their parents smiling and greeting relative strangers – in the building lift, at a hobby class or in the parking lot – with a smile. That will prompt them to smile as well and convey that they are open to being friends.
- Teach your child to greet – A pleasant “Hi” or “Hello” can be the beginning of a precious friendship. A greeting is wedge in the doorway – it is a conversation starter. A child needs to see you greeting people around you to learn this. Whenever you meet your child after a substantial gap – greet her/him with a cheerful “Hi” or “Hello”
- Teach your child how to listen – Most children are used to their parents dropping everything else to listen to them. Teach your child to listen attentively by sharing snippets of your day. Teach your child to wait for his/her turn to speak in a conversation. A child who does not listen to others will never be accepted by a peer group.
- Play games with your child. The art of waiting for your turn. The art of losing gracefully. The art of winning with humility. And the art of rejoicing for the other player’s success in the spirit of the game. All these are learnt by watching and observing. Play board games and other games with your child so that he/she has the chance to learn these qualities that other children will appreciate.
- Teach good manners. Manners are learnt by observing others. Make sure you are polite and considerate in all your interactions so that your child can learn the same.
- Give children plenty of chances to interact with other children. Take your child to the park. Invite a few children over for a play date. Make sure these encounters are short and sweet for younger children – especially if they are shy or aggressive. Limit the number of children at a play date to two or three. And keep the play date an hour in length at the maximum.
- Allow your child to resolve fights and arguments and disagreements himself/herself. A child whose parent constantly steps in and rescues him/her – will never be accepted by other children. Children require practice to learn how to negotiate and reach pacts that are fair to all concerned. They also learn how to modify their own behavior when they are forced to face the consequence of either too aggressive or too submissive behavior. However, always certainly look out for and prevent bullying
- Run through possible social situations with your child before and after play. Praising good social behavior works wonders. Also discussing and handing out solutions to awkward situations is also helpful. Teach your child what he/she can say or do to join a game being played by a group of children he/she does not know. Also coach your child on what a good host or a good guest does when you visit someone.
- Help children recognize emotions in others. Help children identify sadness and anger in others and help them to alter their behavior to keep play going smoothly. At all times teach your child to be kind and helpful and include others who are either left out of the game or unhappy for some other reason.
How to help a shy child make friends?
Shy children need friends too. Give them lots of opportunities to interact with children with you around so that they feel safe.
- Organize play dates at your house with a few children
- Sign them up for activities so that they can interact with other children over shared interests and have something to talk about.
- If you are going to a birthday party or other event be the first to arrive so that your child has a chance to meet children one by one as they arrive and do not feel overwhelmed by too many people at once.
- Do not push your child into friendships or games
- Do not compare your child with another outgoing child and be critical of his/her shyness
Making friends is an art. It is an art that is learnt by close observation and mastered by constant practice. Give your child to observe the art of making friends by watching you make friends. Allow your child the chance to master the art of making friends by being around lots of children and people.