Parents play a large role in social development and helping their children make friends. Babies are born social creatures but need to be taught how to interact, share, and play together.
Decades of research suggests that parents play a big role in teaching children how to make friends. The most popular kids are prosocial—i.e., caring, sharing, and helpful. They also have strong verbal skills and know how to keep their selfish or aggressive impulses in check. Most of all, popular kids are good at interpersonal skills: empathy, perspective-taking, and moral reasoning. ~Slaughter et al 2002; Dekovic and Gerris 1994, via Parenting Science
To help children become better socializers, adults can instigate cooperative rather than competitive activities.
Several studies suggest that kids get along better when they are engaged in cooperative activities—i.e., activities in which kids work toward a common goal (Roseth et al 2008). This is true in the classroom, and it’s also true when kids play. ~Parenting Science
Some things parents can do to foster friendships:
Organize Play Dates
If a child continues to struggle or feel less than confident in their friend-making skills, be proactive in organizing play dates for kids. “After-school play dates can support socialization in many ways, [by allowing] social practice in an environment that may feel more forgiving than school,” says Boroson. “Socializing can be much easier in one-on-one situations … and the greatest potential benefit is the creation of a shared experience, a bond that the two children can then build on at school.” ~PBS.org/parents
Practice Interactions & Greetings
Parents can practice with children, so they feel more comfortable beginning interactions and in social settings.
…a lot of shy kids have trouble greeting others, looking down and mumbling when they are introduced a behaviour that can be interpreted by other kids as a lack of interest in being friends. Kennedy-Moore says parents should privately help kids practise making eye contact, smiling, speaking loudly and using the other person’s name. “You have to work with a child’s personality, rather than against her personality,” she says. “Not everyone is born a bounding-into-the-room extrovert.” ~Today’s Parent
Seek Outside Advice & Help
Teachers and organizations can be a great help if you child is really struggling with social interactions.
- classroom teachers and school counselors can be helpful, both by providing information about the child and suggesting helpful resources within the school,
- local community mental health centers can provide information about possible parent education programs, child social skill training programs, or local counselors or psychologists who are working with children who have friendship problems, and
- local parks and recreation offices can provide information about community social recreational opportunities for children, such as scouting and recreational group options. ~FastTrackProject
Friendships are important to all children but do not forget that not all personalities are extroverted. If you have a child with more introverted tendencies, you can still help him or her make friends, but do not forget to honor his or her personality. A lot of personal and quiet time may be needed between social interactions.