It's painful to watch your child struggle, especially if she doesn't have any friends. Striking a balance between allowing your child to solve the problem and too much intervention is a challenge. Learn what you can do to improve your child's social development. If she's old enough to be a friend, there are actions you can take to help.
Factors including culture, peers, health, family dynamics and personality influence your child's ability to socialize and form friendships. Children learn a great deal by watching and listening to the adults around them. Think about your friendship style--act toward your friends and family the way you hope your child's friends will act toward him. Positive actions will help him recognize how to be a friend.
In 1932, Mildred Paren coined the term parallel play, which refers to children playing side-by-side--but not together--with similar toys, according to "Child Development Reference." A young child needs to achieve specific developmental milestones before she's ready to make friends. Give her time to move through such important phases as parallel play, which provides the groundwork for developing friendship skills.
Discuss with your child how his behavior can contribute to his struggle to make friends. For example, engage in a role play where you act as child who won't share. Act out the same role play as a child who will gladly share. Talk about which behavior is indicative of a good friend.
Friendship and self-esteem are interrelated; lack of friends can make him feel out of sync with his peers and result in negative self-esteem. Be empathetic and honest when addressing any behavioral concerns. Remind your child that developing a friendship takes such core friendship values as time, commitment, patience, generosity, kindness, sensitivity and a willingness to give of himself.
Making friends when you're the new kid is a challenge even if your son has healthy social skills. Reassure him this process takes time and give him a chance to make new friends before you intervene.
It's often difficult to have an objective opinion of your child's social development. Ask someone you trust--such as your child's teacher, guidance, counselor, religious adviser or health care provider--her opinion regarding your child's social skills. If the feedback indicates a need for professional intervention, these same trusted professionals can act as your guide.
To have a friend, your child must have the skills to be one. Speak openly with your daughter about her needs--you might learn her goal is one good friend. Not everyone is comfortable in big groups; provide support by understanding she may be most comfortable with a one-on-one relationship.
Ask your child if there's a new skill or activity he would like to learn or a favorite pastime he'd like to share with a potential friend. Help him join a group that matches his interests and goals. Exposure to like-minded children can improve his friendship skills and broaden his horizons. Schools, religious groups and communities sponsor clubs, sports teams and organizations that attract kids with shared interests.
- "Better Homes and Gardens": Help Your Child Make Friends
- Child Development Reference--Vol. 6: Parallel Play
- Child Development Reference--Vol. 7: Social Development--Infancy and Preschool: an Emphasis on Biology and Parenting, Childhood and Early Adolescence: an Emphasis on Peers
- U.S. Department of Justice's Youth in Action: Make a Friend--Be a Peer Mentor