As I get into my car with my daughter after school – a school bus full of children passes by. A bunch of children call out my daughter’s name and wave.
My heart fills with pride. I feel happy and satisfied.
Like every other parent in the world – I want my child to be popular and have lots of friends.
Friendships are extremely important in life and no one needs to tell us why.
Every human being wants to belong. Every one of us wants to feel appreciated, needed and loved. And having friends fulfils all these needs.
It can be emotionally devastating for a child to be rejected by his peers and feel left out. It can impact the child’s self-esteem severely, and lead to behavior problems and depression.
How to make friends and sustain friendships is one of the most important skills a child needs to master in the early years.
Through friendships children learn social skills like cooperation, sharing and conflict management. Friendships strengthen a child’s sense of belonging. They hone his ability to understand what others are thinking and feeling and this helps him to adjust socially later in life
It is a myth that childhood friendships are automatic and effortless. As parents we need to build social skills and qualities into our children that will help them attract friendships
Here are the 5 things you should teach your child – to ensure that his life is enriched with friendships
Teach your child how to Smile
Smiling is the first sign that you are open to being friends. As city dwellers we tend to isolate ourselves in our little self-sufficient islands even as we live in close proximity to millions of other people. It becomes a habit to avoid meeting the eyes of the people around you. It becomes a habit to look the other way so that you don’t have to smile. And that is what your children learn from you.
As they watch you - children learn not to smile.
Even if a child is dying to make friends – if he doesn’t smile – he comes across as unfriendly and unapproachable and loses out on opportunities to make friends.
Smile – and encourage your child to smile.
Make it easier for your child to learn how to greet
The first step towards making new friends or penetrating a group of playing children is to walk up and utter a greeting.
If your child is waiting to join a group of playing children he may be able to make eye contact with a child from the group, but unless he can instantly greet the child with a “Hi!” or a “Hello!” to start a conversation - he could miss out on the opportunity to join the group.
It is not easy for children to utter a greeting if they are not used to it. And it becomes even more difficult when they are trying it in testing circumstances where they know that there is a chance their greeting may be rejected or ignored.
To make it easier for your child to greet – throw greetings around freely – when you are at home and when it is not necessary to be formal.
Get up in the morning and say “Good morning”
When you walk into the house shout out a “Hi!”
Yes – social skills need to be practiced repeatedly to emerge automatically and seem effortless.
Teach your child to admire and compliment
Handing out a genuine compliment is another easy way to make friends. Everyone likes someone to notice and like things about them and it can be an easy way to start a conversation
To compliment without sounding fake, one needs to be generous and genuine. Both of these qualities are learnt by children from their parents.
Make it habit to hand out compliments when your child can hear you.
Admire that nice sweater on another little one. Include your child in the admiration too. Tell your child –“Look – have you seen what a lovely sweater that little girl is wearing? Let’s walk up to her and tell her” Take your child with you as you walk up to deliver the compliment.
Don’t compare – it teaches children to envy instead of being generous.
Teach your child kindness and consideration
Kindness begets kindness and is a wonderful place to begin a friendship.
Children learn kindness by watching their parents being kind.
Hold the door open for a child you don’t know. Encourage your child to pick something up that an old woman has dropped.
Offer to help a neighbour with her heavy bags up the stairs. Allow someone to move ahead of you in the queue.
Let your child join in as you perform your little acts of kindness and consideration – allow them to experience the joy that being kind brings. It is a joy that is almost addicting.
Build your child’s self esteem
A child who doesn’t have friends can easily fall into the trap of “Nobody likes me.”
When your child comes back to you crying and dejected - envelope him in your unconditional love. Tell him how wonderful he is because he is polite, friendly, kind and considerate. Encourage him to build on these qualities.
Politeness, kindness and consideration are sure to elicit positive reactions from the recipients and make him feel more likeable
Rejections are inevitable in life – but as parents it is most important that we ensure that these rejections do effect our child’s self-esteem.
If you want to be liked by others – you must first like yourself.
Build positive self-esteem make sure your child knows he is likable
Give your child plenty of opportunities to play and interact with children
Just because two children are thrown together – they will not become friends. You cannot force friendships upon your child – even if those friendships are most convenient. You may want to hang out with your friend – but you must accept it if your child does not get along with her child.
If your child is unable to find friends in a particular group – ensure that you give him other opportunities to socialize. There is no point in insisting that a child make friends with children of your choice.
Enrolling children in non-competitive activities gives them a wonderful opportunity to interact and build friendships around shared interests and must definitely be a priority for parents who have shy or friendless children.
As loving parents we are often unable to see why other children don’t want to be friends with our perfect and wonderful child. This can make us feel hurt and defensive.
To avoid feeling hurt we often try to replace friends with devices or buying them more toys. We try to convince our children that they don’t need to be friends with “those nasty children” and we keep them away from group play to avoid rejection and tears.
Spending more and more time alone however, only ensures that children lose out further on social skills. And this is counterproductive. Children must learn to deal with rejections, anger and conflicts because these are a part of normal social life.
Children need friends. And whatever you do you cannot compel other children to be friends with your child
Help your child build the social skills he needs to initiate and sustain friendships