As our kids return to school, there are plenty of anxiety-ridden unknowns: a new teacher, harder curriculum, dress codes, seat assignments, etc., etc. From your child’s perspective, perhaps the most unsettling thought is the challenge of making new friends.
You probably know from experience that stressing out about making friends is usually a waste of time, but try telling that to your kids! Rather than play the “don’t worry about it” card, you can arms your kids with the tools they need to socialize with confidence.
Show them how it’s done
The little lessons you teach your kids throughout the day will have an impact on their ability to make friends. For example, when your child works well with others, making friends will probably come little easier. “You are your child’s first teacher, and your behavior greatly influences the way your child acts and feels,” says Dr. Mary Zurn, Vice President of Education of Primrose Schools.
“Modeling cooperative behavior and helping your child see the benefit to lending a helping hand can turn a chore into an opportunity for fun.” For example, you could say “If we work together to clean up the kitchen after dinner, we’ll all be able to listen to the new book you borrowed from the library.”
Explore common interests
Classrooms are microcosms of our society; a place where people of all cultures, characteristics and interests meet. This scenario provides both an opportunity to teach acceptance and a chance to discover our commonalities. Behavioral therapist and author of Celebrate! ADHD, Kirk Martin, says, “the quickest way to build friends is around common interests.”
He encourages parents to talk to their teacher to find out which students share your child’s passions. “Arrange a play date at your house and give your child and [the] new friend very specific activities to do together at first,” says Martin. “Rather than just saying, ‘Go run along and play,’ say, ‘Why don’t you two try to build the tallest space ship you can with your Legos in the next 15 minutes.'”
Power in numbers
Even though you may not be in the classroom every day, as a parent, you have the ability to create a sense of community within the school and within your child’s specific class. While it’s not realistic to expect all the classroom parents to be best friends, it helps when the moms and dads are at least friendly with each other.
Jacqueline Edelberg, author of How to Walk to School: A Blueprint for a Neighborhood School Renaissance, has seen this strategy at work firsthand. “One of the first things we instituted was a ice cream social before school started so that kids could meet their teachers and make friends with their classmates,” says Edelberg. “We also started a Butterfly Breakfast on the first day of school so that parents could get to know each other.” Not only will your child be more comfortable making friends, but parental participation can help improve the overall educational system.
Mind your manners
Sometimes all it takes for your child to make friends is a knowledge of simple etiquette. It’s no secret that polite, respectful and friendly kids (and adults for that matter) are well-equipped to attract friends and develop solid relationships. Constance Hoffman, an etiquette coach and owner of Social and Business Graces, Inc. in Los Angeles suggests teaching your kids the following skills:
- Make eye contact and have a natural smile
- Always keep your word
- Make comfortable small talk
- Volunteer and participate in school
- State sincere niceties
- Give honest compliments
With a little help from you, your little one will have the ability and confidence to expand her social circle this school year.
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