Friendship doesn't necessarily come easily to children and some are much more reserved than others. In the pre-school years children tend to play in parallel, during which they learn a wide range of social skills to enable them to build closer friendships as they get older. You may have a child who is quieter and more introverted than others and making approaches to make friends doesn't come naturally to them. You may have one who doesn't easily recognise the boundaries and can be bossy or not be aware of the best ways of engaging with other children. Below are a few ideas to help your children develop their friendships. If you'd like to discuss your child's friendship issues do contact Camilla. She will help you to figure out the best way to help your child.
- Talk to them about making an approach to another child and have them practise a range of 'opening lines'. These might be simple questions like: 'My name is Sam. What is yours?'; 'What is your favourite game?'; 'Do you have any brothers or sisters?'; 'What's your favourite television programme?'; 'What did you do at the weekend?'
- Practise at home in role play. If your child is reluctant to join in the role play then get two teddies or dolls and make them have the conversation.
- Put into words what you think might worry them about making new friends: 'Maybe you are worried about whether there will be people at your new school or at holiday camp that you like?'; 'It is quite scary going up to someone you don't know... have you ever done that before?'; 'Maybe you think everyone else will know each other and you won't know anyone... what solutions could we have for that?'
- If friendships at school have become difficult you might need to help them develop better responses to difficult situations. If someone says something hurtful or unkind it helps to practise the best way of responding. Show them, using role play, what happens if you get into a slanging match of the kind: 'You're stupid...’ ‘No I'm not, you’re stupid and I don't like you...'. If you demonstrate it, they realise that these kind of interactions go nowhere, so try showing them a powerful alternative and getting them to practise it. In response to 'You're stupid’, a better response would be to just turn your head and walk away (and actually get your child to practice doing that), or to say 'Whatever' and walk away, or 'You may think so, but I don't think I'm stupid’.
- Explain that some children feel the need to boost themselves by putting others down. It’s often because they don't feel very good about themselves. If this is a habit you think your own child has got into, then you really need to focus on building their self-esteem through appreciating and valuing him/her for all their qualities. Be descriptive with your praise: 'You are fantastic' has far less impact than 'Yesterday, you went up to the lady in the playground and you told her that her child had hurt himself. That was very kind and also very responsible of you. You should feel proud of yourself.’
- If your child is on the receiving end of put-downs it can be helpful for them to realise that often it is because the other child is unhappy for some reason. Maybe the 'bully' has a tough home life; maybe they don't feel successful at school; maybe they don't have many friends.
Stories from my own family
When Nico was about 7 he was desperate for a David Beckham shirt. I wasn't prepared to buy one so I said we could paint a T-shirt together. We had a great time. We got T-shirt paints and a cheap, white T-shirt, found an image on the internet and sat together doing it. He was really proud of our creation. The next day he went to play with a group of friends proudly wearing it. When he came back I asked him how the playdate had gone. He said, 'Joe said my T shirt was stupid as it wasn't a real one.' I felt a stab in my heart, but managed to say nonchalantly, 'Oh really, what did you say?' He said, 'Oh, I didn't reply. His parents are getting divorced and he's always getting told off at school so he's just trying to make me feel bad.' I could have fallen off my chair. I was so surprised that he remembered our discussions about patterns of behaviour.
Shortly before Scarlett started school she asked me, ‘Mummy, how do you make friends?’ She’d obviously been thinking about it and it hadn’t occurred to me to talk to her about it. I asked her what she thought was a good way and she said, ‘You could ask what their name is.’ Then we talked about telling people your name or giving them information about you such as, ‘I’ve got a sister and two brothers. Do you have any?’ Asking someone what their favourite sweets are was another idea.
A few weeks later we talked about starting school and she said, ‘Making friends is easy. I just say, “Hello, I’m Scarlett” and they say their name and then we play!‘