Back to school! It is an exciting time of new backpacks, new shoes, new teachers, and new friendships.
The academic aspect of school is a top priority for parents. But a successful school year also depends on your child’s ability to make and keep friends. A child earning straight A’s, but feeling socially isolated, may find going to school a daily challenge. Friends enrich our lives, increase our self-esteem, and provide moral support when life is difficult. And from a developmental perspective, the ability to form successful peer relationships is a critical life long skill.
When I work with students, I explain to them that there are three basic “secrets” for making and keeping friends:
- SHARE! Try to keep an extra pencil in your backpack to share if someone needs one. Or if you see that a peer doesn’t have a snack, offer to share some of your chips or crackers (if food allergies aren’t an issue).
- No gossiping or spreading rumors! If you have nothing nice to say, just don’t say anything at all. The person who is being talked about will ALWAYS find out who started the rumor – always.
- Be a positive person – Try not to complain, give your friends compliments, and be interested in other people’s activities.
Over the years I have collected advice about how to make and keep friends from my students. The following are some of their very wise suggestions:
- Be yourself. Everyone will like the real you.
- Always stand up for yourself and others.
- Be clean! Brush your teeth, have clean clothes and clean hair.
- Get involved – play a sport, participate on or off stage in a theatre production, or join student council.
- Remember: a conversation is 50/50. You talk for half the time and the other person talks for the other half. Try not to talk too much or too little.
The reality is that some kids just have a harder time fitting in. Impulsive kids often act in ways that inadvertently cause obstacles for friendship such as struggling to take turns or controlling their anger if they do not get their way.
If you notice that your child is struggling socially, try to practice building skills at home. For example, practice taking turns during a family board game and explain that friends at school will expect this behavior.
Another suggestion is to meet with your child’s teachers as they will have great insight into your child’s peer interactions and may also be able to suggest classmates for after school playdates.
If your child has a playdate at your home, take some time to prep for the event. Talk with your child about what it means to be a good host. Have your child choose some games or activities in advances and teach your child that it is good manners to let the guest make the choice of what to play with first. Also, serve a fun snack to make the playdate feel special. Research has shown that children will usually only remember the last 15-20 minutes of an event, so if there is a rough patch in the middle of the playdate, you can step in to ensure that the playdate ends on a positive note.
I know that worrying about your child’s social skills can be overwhelming and I am here to help. If you would like support in this area, please give me a call at 310-849-6751 or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org