Friends are an integral part of an emotionally healthy and balanced life. Naturally, parents want to do what they can to get their children off to a good start in this area. While you can sit back and wait for this process to happen organically, a little advice and guidance in this department can certainly only help your child in the long run. Here are some easy to follow tips and suggestions to help your child create a large circle of good friends.
Start the Socialization Process Early. Begin helping your young child make friends at a very young age. Toddlers can be brought to the library for story time, to a playgroup in your town and to a neighborhood park or playground. Allow your child to observe the other children and to take steps towards communicating and playing with them. Always stay close by to ensure your child’s safety. Encourage your son or daughter to reach out to other kids in a friendly and appropriate way. Be prepared to deal with a certain amount of reluctance and shyness at this age.
Gentle and loving encouragement will help your little one feel more confident. Keep going back even if the first five or ten times results in your child interacting with no one but you. If you have siblings or good friends with children, get together with them as often as possible. Cousins and the children of the parents often become the first playmates and friends. I was lucky enough to have a group of girlfriends who all had babies around the same time. Our children become each others best first friends, with many of those friendships remaining close to this day. I also availed myself of every opportunity in my town to sign my girls up for classes and sports activities for preschool-age children. It exposed them to both boys and girls to interact with while enjoying fun activities.
Show Your Child What It Means to be a Good Friend. If your child only sees you being bossy, critical and downright rude to people that you call friends, that behavior will surely be imitated. That certainly won’t make your son or daughter the most popular kid on the monkey bars. Demonstrate what kind, loving and generous behavior is when you are with your friends and your child is likely to follow suit. I am always aware that my daughters are ever mindful of what I say and do. This has sometimes helped me to hold my temper when getting angry with a friend or speaking carelessly about them after an unpleasant situation.
Discourage Your Little One From Latching Onto One Child. Many young children find a certain amount of comfort with one child and resist socializing with any others. This is not the best of ideas for several reasons. It can negatively impact the child’s ability to get along successfully with different personality types. This is a skill that needs to be developed early, as it is one that is needed into adulthood. Additionally, it can limit the child’s opportunities to socialize at birthday parties and community activities that do not include that one particular child. Encourage your son or daughter to invite different children to play in the schoolyard or at your home. The wider your child’s circle of friends, the more skilled they will become in social situations. This will lead to a full and active social life with a variety of playmates. My younger daughter had a tendency to latch onto one child for a time and lose interest in playing with any others. I always encouraged her to bring other children into the group and to not focus all her energy on one friend. Thankfully she now has a large circle of friends that she spends time with equally.
Help Your Child Pick Up on Social Cues. It is more difficult for some children to pick up on sarcasm, harmless jokes and negative reactions from their peer group than it is for others. If your child frequently is confused by the behavior of other children the same age or seems to be getting shunned when it comes to birthday parties and play dates, this may be the reason. It is possible that your son or daughter may be inadvertently sabotaging their developing friendships. Work with your child on the areas that he or she is unsure about. If this appears to be an ongoing issue, speak to your child’s pediatrician or the school guidance counselor. Further testing may be needed to determine if an underlying issue is present.
Keeping your child’s social development as much of a priority as their physical and emotional development can help them to achieve a well rounded life with a strong support system.