By Amanda Morin
There’s a lot that goes into making and keeping friends. If your grade-schooler struggles with social skills, he may need some coaching on how to connect with other kids. Here are some ways you can help.
Teach your child conversation starters like, “I liked your show-and-tell” or “Can I play with you?” Practice unexpected situations using “what-if” scenarios, such as “What if Steven says you can’t play with him?”
TV can be a good practice tool. As you watch with your child, ask questions like, “How do you think her friend is going to react to what she said? What would you say if someone said that to you?” Then brainstorm other ways the character could have interacted.
Teaching your child what to say to other kids is a good start. But it doesn’t have to end there. Talk about, rehearse and role-play social situations regularly. Kids with learning and attention issues can often learn the script, but have trouble calling it up under pressure. That means ongoing practice is key.
Your child’s issues may contribute to his trouble making friends, but he’s probably not the only one. Other grade-schoolers have social challenges, too.
Tell your child, “I know this is hard for you. Making friends is hard for lots of people. But you’re a great kid and together we will make this work for you. You’ll make a great friend for someone.” If forming friendships is something you struggle with, share that, too. It can take some pressure off your child.
Kids need to know that friends aren’t “one size fits all.” Explain to your child that there are friends to play sports with, friends to do school projects with and friends he can share secrets with—but that not all of his friends will be all of those things. Remembering the different kinds of friends and the limitations of a friendship can help avoid hurt feelings.
You know why you want your child to have friends. But do you know why he wants to? Ask him. It’s as easy as saying, “What kinds of things do you want to do with friends?” or “Why do you want to be friends with John?”
Talk with your child about who he’d like to spend time with. Ask questions like, “What do you and John have in common?” and “Is Steven easy to talk to?” Be open to what your child is saying, even if you worry it’s not a good match.
Talk about the qualities of a good friend. It can help your child know what to look for, and also how to be a good friend. For instance: Good friends don’t hurt each other’s feelings. Good friends trust each other and help each other solve problems. Good friends can disagree without being mean.
Provide chances for kids to be with each other. That means making your child’s friendships a priority. It could be as simple as volunteering to drive carpool or inviting a friend to come along to make a trip to the grocery store less boring.
Around fourth grade kids start being more aware of differing values and points of view. When a friend crosses the line into doing things that make your child uncomfortable—such as lying, cheating or bullying—he might not know how to handle it.
Let him know that friendships can change over time. Assure him it’s OK to want to hang out with kids with whom he has more in common. And tell him that sometimes friends just drift apart and begin to have other interests.
Different kids have different needs. Listen closely to your child and pay attention to his signals. If he’s withdrawn when his sibling has friends over or feels left out and sad when he’s not invited to a birthday party, he might need help making friends.
If he seems content, keep in mind that solitary isn’t the same as being lonely. Sometimes kids with learning and attention issues have so many things to manage that adding friends to the mix is too much.
Making friends in middle school can be stressful and tricky. If your child struggles with social skills, it may be even more challenging. Here are some ways to help your child connect with other kids.
Many kids are starting to form their first real friendships in preschool. But others don’t seem to know how. Here are ways to help your preschooler through the process of making friends.
Amanda Morin is a parent advocate, a former teacher and the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.
Mark Griffin, Ph.D., was the founding headmaster of Eagle Hill School, a school for children with specific learning disabilities.
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