Helping your child make friends

By Poppy O’Neill

For children, social interactions and expectations can be confusing! Things like rejection, big life changes, sensitivity and shyness can impact children’s ability to make or keep friends. Without guidance, children might feel helpless and baffled by the ups and downs of friendships. But there’s a lot you can do as a parent to help your child build a healthy, fulfilling social life. 

The foundations of good friendship come from a positive relationship with ourselves. When self-esteem is high, a child is resilient, confident and makes good choices about who they spend their time with. Building a strong bond with your child will help boost their self-esteem, and something as simple as talking and listening more to your child can make the world of difference.

By the time we reach adulthood, most of us have learned to read body language quite naturally. However, children are still learning and may not be able to pick up on cues quite as easily. Around 93% of communication is non-verbal, so helping your child read body language will boost their friendship-forming skills, as well as strengthen the bond between you.

Try narrating your body language. It might feel strange at first, but adding context to the way you’re holding your body will help your child learn the outer signs of inner emotions. For example, if your shoulders are hunched, you could say: ‘Look at my shoulders, I’m so tense from work. I’ll relax them now, that’s better. I feel a bit calmer already.’

Model good listening skills by using active listening when your child is talking to you. Turn towards them and come down to their level, give them your full attention and when it is your turn to talk, repeat in your own words what they have told you, so they know you have heard and understood them.

Always remember that your child is not alone and neither are you. There are so many wonderful friendships just waiting to be discovered. Every time you connect with your child in the spirit of kindness and empathy, you build their self-esteem and ability to connect with others. 

Let your child teach you something

A sense of mastery is a powerful way of building self-esteem. What is your child good at that you don’t have the first clue about? It could be a computer game, a particular animal they’re interested in, or perhaps their favourite author. Give them the opportunity to teach you all about it.

Sit down together for twenty to thirty minutes and let your child take the lead. Ask plenty of questions and be really patient and curious. Be ready with paper and pencils in case they want to draw you a diagram, and if you spot a mistake in what they’re saying, keep it to yourself – nurturing the relationship is the goal here. You’ll learn more about your child’s imagination and inner world, and your child will get a big boost of self-esteem from being the expert.

Eye contact and body language

Making eye contact can be a real struggle for some children, and it’s something that can have a big effect on how we relate to one another. Learning to make appropriate eye contact will also ensure your child picks up on all sorts of body language and nonverbal communication.

Try standing with your child in front of the mirror and making silly faces at each other. Keep eye contact and act out emotions for each other to guess. See if you can have a whole conversation without words! Children learn best through play, experience and connection so this kind of game will help build their social skills, empathy and emotional intelligence.

Poppy O’Neill has written several books on mental health and wellbeing for adults and children. Her most recent book Help Your Child Make Friends is published by VIE, priced £9.99

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