Many children seem to naturally have the ability to make and keep friends. They always seem to know the right way to behave and the appropriate things to say in order to make friends and develop relationships. They have great interpersonal skills and relate and converse with others easily. Children are attracted to these friendly kids and they seem to gather new friends everywhere they go. If you have one of these children then you can consider yourself blessed. Other children seem to have difficulties in this area. As both a teacher and a parent, I have noticed that certain children can benefit from some relationship coaching in the area of friendship. If you happen to have one of these children, here are some ideas that can help them develop their interpersonal skills.
Role-playing: You can let your child practice certain situations with you. This will help the awkward or shy child prepare themselves for an upcoming event. For example, you might role-play what to say to other children at a birthday party or on the first day of school. Direct teaching of communication skills can be a powerful tool.
Modeling: Demonstrate to your child about specific phrases that they might use. It really does help. On the first day of kindergarten, while the parents were still gathered to see their children off, my son tugged on my arm and asked, “What words do you use again to make a friend?” The modeling you give will depend on the age level of the child and the particular situation.
Visualization: Have your child visualize themselves with a friend or friends. Have them describe how they feel with this friend and picture themselves doing a fun activity with this friend. In seeing themselves as someone who is likeable and friendly, they will attract friends to themselves. In contrast, children who picture themselves as awkward of friendless may unintentionally create that reality for themselves.
Play dates: Take the initiative as the adult and invite another child over to play or to join your family on an outing or social event. This is a tried and true technique and inviting someone over seems to be a universal invitation to friendship. Do not assume your child has the skills to arrange this for themselves. Try to help them out by setting up the initial play date. Sometimes contacting the parent of the other child and making an invitation can be effective.
Organizations: Take advantage of youth organizations and activities such as Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, church youth groups, sports, and camps. By sharing an activity, your child may meet children with similar interests. While sharing an activity, your child will have plenty of time to practice the relationship and communication skills you have been working on at home.
Ask for help: If your child really struggles in this area, ask for help from your child’s teacher or another child’s parent. The teacher may be willing to sit them near a prospective friend or partner them with someone for a particular activity, if they know of your concern. Teachers spend many hours every day with your child and may have a strong sense of who would be a good match for your child.
Teach your child how to treat a friend: This will probably be an ongoing lesson. Some children need continual coaching from the sidelines. Prior to a play date or get together, you might remind your child what types of behaviors and attitudes make people want to include them. Again using visualization and modeling will help your child remember to practice their new interpersonal skills.
Talk it Over: Ask your child what worked and what did not work in the area of making friends. Help them to think about what they could do next time they have an opportunity. Praise them for their attempts and appropriate choices. Help them come up with a plan for future interactions. If there was a disagreement during the get together, discuss with your child how to resolve the conflict.
Look for Opportunities to model and teach social skills: When the waiter approaches your table at a restaurant, look them in the eye and use their name. Teach your children to do this as well. Look for other opportunities to be friendly and introduce yourself to people, demonstrating to your child your own ability to strike up a conversation with someone. Point out to your child how you ask people about how they are doing and show a genuine interest in them. Modeling how to interact with people appropriately in real-life situations will also help your child develop these skills.