Talking, modelling and showing how it’s done
Talk to your child about what makes a good friend . This might mean reminding them that they need to treat others the way they’d like to be treated themselves. Explain that they have to make connections with people, to share and to contribute; they need to look out for others and never be mean to them; and they have to try to understand others’ feelings.
We can also show them what friendship looks like. This might mean reading books, sharing family stories, watching movies, or listening to songs about friends. It could mean involving them in a variety of social events so they can meet a range of people as well as seeing how we behave to our friends. It could mean having pets, since animals can be great friends too.
Practical stuff Inviting someone over, or accepting an invitation to go play is the commonest start, especially if you’re new in town. Before any playdate (home or away) remind your child that they need to respect their playmate, play nice, and share … because getting a reputation for bad behaviour or bullying can take some time to undo. If anything bad does go down on a playdate, explain to children how important it is that they apologise if they’re responsible, or tell you if it’s serious.
If your child is reluctant or embarrassed to invite people home – or it’s hard for any other reason – try to find some other places and times where they can meet up with others. It might be the park, the beach, the pool, or the mall. If you can’t be there, perhaps another adult or family member can?
School is a big part of their lives, but children don’t make friends there only. Emphasise that they can make friends anywhere: at sports or other clubs, in car pools, in walking buses, after school, on holiday, online, through letters, in hospital, over the ‘phone. If things aren’t great at school, encourage them to join groups and see if they can make friends elsewhere: it’s great for self-confidence.
Shyness and friends
It’s hard for shy children to join in activities (or sometimes even face talking to people). But by not letting others get to know them, shy children make it harder for others to find something to like about them. They need to let their light shine, even if it’s just a little bit.
Try encouraging them to smile and speak up at home; maybe practise some games skills, social skills, or suggest things for them to talk about with their peers.
If they’re not confident of finding a group to join at school, perhaps suggest something to take in to play with: it might encourage others to join them and it stops them focusing on looking lonely. Encourage them to accept invitations and join in – even if it is just for a little, or on the edge – and celebrate their bravery when they do.
Differences and friends It can take time to find a person who is a really close match for our feelings or personality … so keep telling your child to stay positive and never give up. Suggest that sometimes what we think of as “barriers” or “differences” (how someone looks, sounds, moves, their language, or their culture) are more inside our heads than real. So encourage them to keep an open mind. Look for opportunities to explain and celebrate their difference with others: like cultural days, concerts, exhibitions, and outings. You can also look for opportunities to show that they’re not so different … like cultural days, concerts, exhibitions, and outings.
No one wants to be my friend! Every parent dreads hearing these words. Before you hit panic mode, remind yourself (and your child) that no one likes everyone all the time: there are probably some people neither of you like too! Ask yourself whether it’s a temporary situation that they can sort out, or something longer lasting that they’re not able to deal with by themselves.
Reassure them that you love them and are going to work something out together. Have a chat with teachers and other parents to establish whether it’s something they’re doing (or not doing), whether there’s bullying involved, or whether it’s not really about them at all. Check out our factsheets for advice on bullying and cyberbulling. If they’re doing something that’s making it harder for people to like them, and it’s something they can change, you need to confront the behaviour and work on it. Issues with aggression, bullying others, selfishness, not listening, personal hygien e, and shyness can all be worked on. It might take some work and some tough love, but it will be worth it.
If it’s something that can’t be changed, then try chatting to teachers or other parents. In the case of some special needs conditions, children (or parents) might be staying away because they’re afraid of the unknown. Anything you can do to explain the situation will help