Helpful Tips for Teaching Your Child on How to Make Friends

Some kids are just naturally shy or more withdrawn, and although some hesitance to interact with other children they don’t know is normal, encouraging them to socialize from an early age will help them to develop their emotional, interpersonal and conversational skills.
Whether your child is just going through a “shy faze” or has always had difficulty making contact with or relating to other children, it is important to understand how you can support them and help them move past their shyness.
First of all, you have to realize that the ability to make friends is not the same as being popular, and being liked or accepted by a group of people has little to do with friendship. Not all kids will be popular or enjoy socializing in groups, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
However, what is important is that your child understands how to empathize with others and communicate effectively in order to form meaningful relationships both throughout their childhood and later on in life.
Here are a few tips and ideas for helping your child to make friends and form meaningful relationships from an early age:

Encourage your child to find common interests with other children
Common interests are the basis of many friendships, so it can be helpful to encourage your child to look for things they have in common with other kids and use that as a starting point. For example, if your child loves science projects, you could suggest that they invite someone over for a play date and organize activities that center on that theme.
Of course, just because two children share a common interest doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be friends, but it is a good place to start from.

Teach your child through your own actions
Children learn the most from what they see around them on a daily basis. As their parent you are their primary teacher and they will be watching you for cues on how to interact with others and what kind of behavior is acceptable.
The best way to teach them to be friendly and sociable is to model confident, relaxed and amiable behavior with new people you meet and interact with throughout your day. This will help your child to see that there is nothing scary about meeting new people and that on the contrary, it can actually be very enjoyable.

Make sure your child understands basic social skills
While sociable behavior comes naturally to many kids, you shouldn’t take it for granted that your child will know how to behave in a social situation. Take the time to teach your child about basic social skills like making eye contact when talking with someone, shaking hands when you first meet and giving compliments or making small talk to put people at ease.

Don’t use labels
It can be dangerous to label your child as “shy” when talking with others in front of him or her as this could cause them to feel like there is something wrong with them or can’t change the way they are. A better approach is to acknowledge it when your child feels nervous and talk it through with them.
You can explain that even though they don’t feel comfortable at first, once they get used to the new situation and talk to others around them they will start to relax and have fun. Make sure you stay near them in case they feel overwhelmed so that you can guide them through it by holding their hand or initiating discussions with other kids.

Discuss things they can do to manage their nerves
Even the most outgoing children can feel nervous or withdrawn in a new situation, so it’s good to discuss this with your child and explain that it’s fine to feel that way but that there are things they can do to manage the stress.
For example, before a birthday party or play date at a friend’s house, you could have a talk about what take the pressure off of having to jump into games with the other kids or perhaps speaking to a friend they already know will help them to relax and get to know the other kids gradually.
Also talk about relaxation techniques like deep breathing or just stepping away from a situation that is making them tense.

Provide opportunities for socialization
Even if your child doesn’t enjoy socializing much, it is important that you encourage them to do so from time to time so that they don’t retreat into their shell. It’s fine if they don’t want to visit friends every day, but finding opportunities for them to practice their social skills is important to their development.
Things like summer camps, arts and crafts workshops, scouting or even just regularly trips to the playground can help your child grow accustomed to interacting with other kids and making new friends.
About the author:
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Jane Bongato is part of the team behind Open Colleges, Australia’s provider of child care courses and counselling courses. She is an early childhood educator and for the past six years has worked closely with special needs children. She enjoys reading, painting or meeting friends during her spare time. (Find her on Google+)

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