Helping Kids Make Friends
The quality of a child’s relationships is one of the greatest predictors of their health, happiness, and life success. So, it’s no wonder that parents and educators alike often wonder how we can help kids make friends. We want the children in our care to feel liked, accepted, and appreciated for who they are.
When it comes to helping kids make friends, it might seem like there’s not much adults can do. But building friendships relies on factors we can teach and cultivate, like emotional intelligence, confidence, and social skills.
5 Tips for Helping Kids Make Friends
By teaching, modeling, and practicing positive social behaviors, adults can help children create and maintain positive friendships. Here are five simple and actionable tips for helping kids make friends!
1. Teach Kids About Healthy Friendship
We want kids to make friends, but that’s not all—we want them to find good friends. And of course, we want them to be good friends too. We can start by teaching children the friendship values they should both look for and embody.
Tell your children or students that good friends:
- Like you for who you are. In healthy friendships, you won’t feel the need to act a certain way to impress others. Additionally, good friends won’t pressure you to do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable.
- Are honest with each other.
- Celebrate your successes.
- Support your friendships with other people too.
- Treat each other with kindness and respect. They say please and thank you, they ask for and take turns, and they’re willing to share.
- Talk through problems and disagreements without attacking, ignoring, or yelling. When they do make mistakes, they apologize.
- Have empathy for one another. They understand that other people may think and feel differently than they do, and it’s okay. (Simple strategies for teaching empathy to children include pointing out the feelings of others, talking about your own feelings, and discussing the feelings of characters in TV shows and stories.)
Of course, talking about positive friendship once isn’t enough to help kids make friends. Talk about these values regularly, including in the context of situations that you witness or that children mention to you. You may even want to post visuals representing these values around your home or classroom, especially for younger children. These posters have been a great help in teaching my children what it means to be a good friend.
2. Model Positive Social Behavior
In addition to teaching children about positive friendships, it’s important for adults to model positive social behavior. Demonstrate values like honesty, kindness, respect, empathy, and appropriate manners in your interactions with children and adults.
You can also model:
- Active listening skills
- Reciprocal conversation (e.g., sharing information and asking questions)
- Making compromises
- Apologizing when in the wrong
- Navigating conflict and misunderstandings
Children learn social behaviors by observation, so be aware of the values and social skills you’re modeling through your daily interactions. Similarly, avoid manipulation, blaming, or withdrawing affection as forms of punishment or behavior intervention. These behaviors set children up for developing unhealthy friendships with others, rather than helping kids make friends.
3. Observe Your Child in Social Situations
When helping kids make friends, the strategies we use may vary according to the child. For instance, some children may need help with self-regulation and expressing their emotions in healthy ways. Others may struggle with confidence and assertiveness. Some children simply have a tough time starting conversations or keeping a conversation going.
The best way to determine which skills your child needs extra help with is to observe them in social situations. If you’re a teacher concerned about specific students, pay attention to their interactions during unstructured play and partner or group activities.
Once you’re more aware of how your child interacts with peers, you can decide where to focus your attention. How can you best contribute? Which skills can you help build?
4. Set Up Play Dates to Help Your Kids Make Friends
Play dates are an extremely valuable tool in helping kids make friends for several reasons. Play dates:
- Create opportunities to practice socializing in a safe environment.
- Provide children with positive experiences relating to socializing and friendships.
- Give you more time to observe your child in social situations and/or provide coaching in context.
If you have young children, start by setting up a play date with just one other child. If your children are older, you can invite a few kids in the neighborhood for a movie night, or ask the baseball team to come over and eat pizza after practice.
5. Role Play
After observing your children or students, you’ll have a good idea of the social scenarios that most often trip them up. Provide “social scripts” or help them role play scenarios like:
- Starting conversations.
- Maintaining reciprocal conversations. (You can even help children come up with topics to discuss or questions to ask.)
- Asking to play.
- Responding appropriately if someone doesn’t want to play (e.g., Simply walk away and find something else to do or someone else to play with).
- Asking for a turn.
- Apologizing when wrong.
- Being assertive and setting limits (e.g., “I don’t like it when you take my pen. If you want to use it, just ask”).
- Introducing themselves.
- Managing feelings of anger or sadness in social situations.
- Dealing with specific situations/scenarios your child mentions to you.
The more we help children practice responding to the social skills they find challenging, the more comfortable they become. It’s also extremely helpful to give kids concrete strategies for navigating the scenarios that make them feel awkward or uncomfortable. As children become more confident and socially adept, they’ll find it much easier to make friends.
Final Thoughts: Helping Kids Make Friends
Remember that “normal” is different for every kid. Be accepting of your children or students’ varying behaviors and personalities, as well as the amount of social interaction they want. For example, even if you’re a social butterfly, your child may prefer having only a few close friendships.
Don’t put pressure on children to act a certain way, and avoid being overly controlling about their social life. Pushing too hard can make children more socially anxious and push them away from socializing with peers.
Helping kids make friends is all about teaching positive values, modeling socially appropriate behavior, identifying the social and emotional skills they need to work on, and providing practice and support. Equipped with these skills, children can find fun, meaningful friendships that boost their health and happiness.