Advice for Improving Your Child’s Social Skills So They Can Develop Friendships
As the parent of a shy child, it can be heartbreaking watching them struggle to make friends and develop social skills. After all, you only want what’s best for your child, and friendships are an important part of their development and overall happiness in life.
While you can’t make friends for your child, you can certainly help them develop the social skills they need to make friends and be a good friend.
For parents looking for advice when it comes to improving their child’s social skills , we’ve provided some insight into the importance of childhood friendships, and compiled some of our top tips for helping children make new friends.
The Importance of Developing Friendships at an Early Age
When kids develop friendships at a young age, they learn social skills that will help them succeed throughout their lives.
With social skills and meaningful friendships in place, they can become well-rounded and happy people who live fulfilling lives. Good friendships also offer a variety of health benefits.
Children can start developing friendships as early as age 4. But some young children need help developing the social skills required for maintaining friendships, such as empathy, cooperation, communication, negotiating, and problem-solving.
Young children’s social development is largely learned through play. So try to expose your child to different types of play with other kids, including unstructured play.
How to Help Your Child Make Friends
Consider these tips to help your child become more social, be a better friend, and make new friends.
Role Play at Home
Practice social interactions at home, such as taking turns, sharing, greeting people politely, making eye contact, smiling, speaking loudly enough, and using the other person’s name.
You can practice social scripts and everyday conversations, teaching you child how to start up a conversation with a peer, and how to ask another kid if they want to play.
Discuss what topics interest your child that they can also discuss with their peers. And find topics that come naturally to your child in a discussion.
Your child can open up the door to friendships by asking simple, low-risk questions about topics they share a common interest in, such as, “Hey, what is your dog’s name? My dog’s name is Dino.”
Also, ask your child what nice things they would do for their friends, what they like about them, and how their friends would feel if your child didn’t share toys with them.
Model Positive Social Behaviour
Since you are your child’s primary role model, be mindful of how you interact with others. Model positive behaviour with your own friends, and show your child how to be a good host.
You can say to your child, “My friend is coming over and I’m going to make dinner for her.” And when your friend is over, you can demonstrate how to treat friends who are guests in your home—e.g. putting their needs first, making them comfortable, and not being mean or bossy.
You can create opportunities for your child to socialize by setting up playdates with kids, especially with those who share similar interests as your child. Or invite over family friends with kids.
Before a playdate, help your child prepare by having them pick out a few games in advance and going over what it means to be a good host. You can also ask your child how they will know if their guest is having a good time—e.g. if they are smiling and laughing.
Also consider signing up your child for activities they would enjoy that are not competitive so they can meet new kids in a fun environment. You could even ask your child’s teacher if any kids in the class would make a good friend match with your child.
If your child is older, consider inviting over their sports team or other peer groups for pizza and a movie.
For a shy child, trying new activities and making new friends can be scary. But you can make these experiences fun, exciting, and rewarding. Reinforce your child’s efforts with specific praise that acknowledges their successes, no matter how small.
Don’t Force the Issue
It may take some time for your child to warm up to socializing with new friends. So don’t push them too hard or you’ll make them uncomfortable. It’s okay for them to be hesitant at first. And expecting them to turn into extroverts overnight is unrealistic.
But as long as you help coach your child and create opportunities for them to socialize in a comfortable setting, they will become more comfortable with time and practice.
Monitor and Correct Poor Social Behaviour
During playdates, anti-social children can be bossy with their friends. So keep an eye out for poor social behaviour. And if you notice anything problematic, pull your child aside and remind them of the good friend/good host rules. Point out which rule they broke with their poor behaviour and ask them to promise not to do it again.
If sharing specific toys is difficult for your child, put those toys away before playdates to avoid any problems.
Work on Confidence and Self-Esteem
Improving a kid’s self-esteem and confidence will help them become more confident in social situations and more likely to attract friends. So, help your kid build confidence in their self and their ability to socialize with others.
Help them realize their own strengths. And let them build confidence in their social skills through guidance and practice.
Encourage Active Listening
Active listening is an important social skill that your child will benefit from well into adulthood. Active listening means paying attention when someone is talking, facing the person, making eye contact, staying quiet, and responding when necessary.
You can teach your child how to be a good listener by being one yourself. So, when they are talking to you, stop what you’re doing and give them your full attention. And when you are talking to them, ask them to do the same.
By setting an example, teaching your kid social skills, and giving them ample opportunities to practice, they can be more confident in their ability to talk to others. And they will have an easier time making friends both in childhood and throughout the rest of their life.