9 Tips To Help Your Kids Make Friends

Being a parent of school kids is like being back at school yourself. 

You feel all those same feelings -  joy, fear, anxiety, bewilderment, accomplishment and failure - but from a far more difficult perspective.

At the moment, the big question at Roasted Fox HQ is, "How to make and maintain friendships?".

It turns out, that I'm no expert so I found an article by Gwen Dewar, Ph.D on parentingscience.com. I will reproduce it here with thanks because frankly, I needed it.



How do kids make friends? Newborn babies are born ready to socialise, and no wonder: Throughout our evolutionary history, the ability to make friends has been a crucial survival skill.

But that doesn’t mean that marvellous good manners and irresistible charm will “just emerge" during your child’s development.

Decades of research suggests that parents play a big role in teaching children how to make friends. The most popular kids are pro-social - i.e. caring, sharing, and helpful. They also have strong verbal skills and know how to keep their selfish or aggressive impulses in check. Most of all, popular kids are good at interpersonal skills: empathy, perspective-taking, and moral reasoning.

So it seems that making friends depends on skills that kids can develop with practice:

  • conversational skills
  • interpersonal skills
  • emotional self-control

Here are some research-based tips to help kids make friends.

For an overview of friendship in children, see this article about the traits and parenting tactics that help kids make friends.

Tips to help kids make friends:

1. Be An “Emotion Coach"

Everybody has negative emotions and selfish impulses. But to make friends, we need to keep these responses under control. Studies of Western kids suggest that children develop better emotional self-control when their parents talk to them about their feelings in a sympathetic, problem-solving way.

By contrast, kids whose negative emotions are usually trivialised (“You’re just being silly") or punished (“Go to your room and cool off") tend to have more trouble with self-control.

Does emotion coaching really help kids make friends? That seems likely. A recent study found that that the emotion socialisation strategies mothers used on their 5-year-olds predicted changes in how well their children regulated their own emotions. This, in turn, was linked with children's friendship quality 2-5 years later.

2. Practice Authoritative (Not Authoritarian) Parenting

Studies of both Western and Chinese children report that kids are more likely to be rejected by their peers when their parents practice authoritarian parenting --an approach characterised by low levels of warmth and high levels of control.

Authoritarian parents discourage thoughtful discussion and attempt to control behaviour through punishment. Kids raised this way are less likely to develop an internalised sense of right and wrong. And kids subjected to harsh punishments tend to show more hostility and aggression.

Authoritative parenting is also characterised by high levels of control, in that parents set limits and demand maturity from their kids. But authoritative parents relate to their kids with warmth, and attempt to shape behaviour through rational discussion and explanation of the reasons for rules.

Studies show that authoritative parents tend to have kids who are less aggressive, more self-reliant, more self-controlled, and better-liked by peers.

What's cause and what's effect? It's possible that some kids are more inclined to be defiant, and these kids elicit more heavy-handed discipline from their parents. But it also seems likely that certain aspects of authoritative parenting--like the fostering of discussion, particularly discussion about emotions and social conflicts--might boost social skills and help kids make friends.


3. Teach Kids How To Converse In A Polite Way

The earliest lessons kids learn about communication happen at home, and it seems they make a difference. In a recent study tracking young children over a period of many years, Ruth Feldman and her colleagues found that parents who showed high levels of reciprocity in their communication with children had kids who developed more social competence and better negotiation skills over time.

But we can do more than engage kids in the give-and-take of family dialogue. We can also offer concrete advice about how to make new friends.

A number of experimental studies have reported that unpopular kids improve their status with peers after they’ve been trained in “active listening". An active listener is someone who makes it clear he is paying attention--by making appropriate eye contact, orienting the body in the direction of the speaker, remaining quiet, and making relevant verbal responses.

In their book, Children's Friendship Training , Fred Frankel and Robert Myatt of the UCLA Semel Institute outline a formal program for grade school kids who have trouble making friends.

One aspect of the program involves making conversation. Frankel and Myatt argue that kids need to practice the art of “trading information." Tips to pass onto kids include:

When starting a conversation with someone new, trade information about your “likes" and “dislikes."

Don’t be a conversation hog. When engaged in conversation, only answer the question at hand. Then give your partner a chance to talk, or ask a question of your own.

Don’t be an interviewer. Don’t just ask questions. Offer information about yourself.

Frankel and Myatt suggest that kids practice their conversational skills by making phone calls to each other.

For kids struggling to make friends, avoid competitive games and other situations that can provoke conflict or discourage cooperation.

Several studies suggest that kids get along better when they are engaged in cooperative activities - i.e. activities in which kids work toward a common goal. This is true in the classroom, and it’s also true when kids play. For example, one study compared how 4th grade boys behaved during competitive and cooperative games. During cooperative games, unpopular boys were less disruptive and behaved with greater maturity. Popular boys showed greater tolerance.

Based on such findings, Fred Frankel and Robert Myatt recommend that parents steer kids away from competitive games, at least until kids develop better social skills.

Got a play date? Frankel and Myatt also recommend that parents plan ahead and put away toys that discourage social interaction or provoke fighting. That means putting away toy weapons. It also means putting away toys designed for solitary play or which inspire self-absorption, like video games. And if your child can’t bear to share something, it’s best to hide it until the play date is over.


4. Foster Empathy And Sympathetic Concern For Others

Although even babies shown signs of empathy, I think it’s a mistake to imagine that full-blown empathy will “just emerge" if you leave kids alone. Here are some tips for fostering empathy, perspective-taking, and sympathy in kids.


5. Help Kds “Read" Facial Expressions

You might think that interpreting facial expressions is a “no-brainer," but experiments suggest that elementary school children can benefit from practice. Read more about it, and about specific activities kids can try to practice reading faces.


6. Coach Kids On How To Cope With Tricky Social Situations

Let’s get really specific. If you see some children playing and you want to join them, how do you go about it? Victoria Finnie and Alan Russell presented mothers with several hypothetical scenarios and then asked these mothers what advice they would give their preschool children. The researchers discovered the mothers that gave out the best advice were the mous with the most socially-adept kids. What did the mums say?

Before making your approach, watch what the other kids are doing. What can you do to fit in?

Try joining the game by doing something relevant. For example, if kids are playing a restaurant game, see if you can become a new customer.

Don’t be disruptive or critical or try to change the game.

If the other kids don’t want you to join in, don’t try to force it. Just back off and find something else to do.


7. Monitor Kids’ Social Life

Studies in a variety of cultures suggest that children are better off when their parents monitor their social activities. This doesn’t mean hovering over kids or getting in the middle of every peer interaction. But it does mean supervising where kids play and helping kids choose their friends. Research supports the idea of “bad influences." In one study, primary school kids who named more aggressive peers as their friends were more likely to develop behavioural problems over time. And kids with behaviour problems are more likely to get rejected by their peers.

8. When Possible, Let Kids Try To Work Things Out On Their Own

Young toddlers need to be closely supervised. But as kids get older, parents need to back off. Parents who hover over their kids are robbing them of the chance to develop their own social skills.


9. Watch Out For Bullying

One exception to the dictum “let kids work it out for themselves" is bullying. Bullying isn’t a healthy part of childhood, and expects agree that adults need to get involved.



Good Luck!



You can read the original article here.