By kindergarten and grade-school, children are socializing more with each other, are developing preferences, and are increasingly picking friends of their own.
But while you may have less of a say in who your grade-schooler plays with than you did when she was younger, you can still help guide her toward developing healthy and happy friendships. Here are some tips on how you can help your child make new friends.
- Be a good role model. Show her how much you value your friends, and what you give and get from each other. Play games with your child that emphasize sharing, patience and other important skills for making friends.
- Encourage -- but don’t push. If your child is shy, especially in new situations, give him some time to socialize at his pace. My son was the kind of kid who’d stay plastered to my leg for the first few weeks of preschool and kindergarten -- yep, that kid. His teachers did an amazing job, and eventually, he let go of me, slowly bonded with his teachers, and began to make friends in class.
- Get her into a sport or favorite activity. Doing things outside of school -- like playing soccer or taking a pottery class -- is another great opportunity for your child to make friends. Ask her which children he might like to play with and encourage her to invite them over for a playdate.
- Coax him into new relationships. Having a best friend is great, but if he only wants to play with one person all the time, try to broaden his horizons. Explain to him that while it’s nice to have a best friend, that doesn’t mean he can’t also hang out with other kids, too.
- Set up some after-school time with kids of the opposite gender. It was inevitable, I suppose. Around the time that he hit first grade, my son, who’d previously loved to play “Mommy and Daddy” with his favorite gal pals suddenly declared he didn’t like girls. But being friends with a child of the opposite gender can help your child stay well-rounded. Yes, boys still generally like to play lightsaber fights and girls like to line up stuffed animals for tea, but it’s good to encourage them do both with each other.
- Balance friend-time with alone time. Watch your child’s moods and don’t overfill her social calendar. I’ve noticed that my son sometimes gets cranky if he doesn’t have some quiet time just to be by himself. He loves horsing around with his pals, and counts on regular playdates with favorite friends. But he also needs some time to sit by himself and draw or set up his Lego Star Wars figures in complicated action scenes all over the house.
- Respect his style. You may be a social butterfly who needs people around constantly to feel energized. But if your child does better in one-on-one settings or likes be alone occasionally, give him what he needs.
- Watch her interact with other kids. You can learn a lot about your child by observing her as she socializes with peers. This can be particularly helpful if your young child seems to be having trouble making friends. Watch her behavior -- is she bossy? Aggressive? Does she have trouble sharing, or have a meltdown when a playmate beats her at a game? Then work on some positive skills for building friendships.
What to do About a Troublesome Playmate
All kid friendships can have their ups and downs. And in fact, handling conflict with a peer is a valuable skill for your child to learn. But while occasional skirmishes over things like who gets the blue marker next are normal, if a playmate is consistently being hurtful -- physically or emotionally -- it’s time for you to step in.
- Tell your child to discuss his feelings with the friend. Most grade-schoolers will be able to have a conversation about feelings. Learning to express his emotions is a valuable skill. Whether his friend apologizes or not, your child will have had his say.
- Teach her to walk away, especially if her friend is being hurtful physically.
- Create some distance. If a friend continues to behave badly, try to set up playdates with other kids. Move your child into other activities, and if his hurtful friend is in the same class, talk to the teacher about seating them away from each other.
Today, my son has shed his shyness and blossomed into a second-grader who makes friends easily. Watching him interact with his buddies, I often marvel at the way he makes them laugh, and the easy way he and they listen to each other’s stories and ideas. He’s turned into the kind of kid I would’ve liked to have for a friend when I was his age.
I know the teen years are coming, and I won’t be able to have as much input in who he spends time with. But when I see the great way he handles friendships today, I’m hopeful that it’ll be relatively smooth sailing ahead.