Among the issues young people face, making friends is one of the most important to them. Young people who have more friends tend to do better in school, have higher grades, and participate in more extracurricular activities. It is sometimes difficult to know which comes first: the involvement in the activities or the friends. Either way, it is beneficial for kids to be involved in extra-curricular activites and other areas of interest to meet like-minded students and develop relationships.
If your child or young person is struggling with making friends, here are a few things you can try to help them increase their social skills and make lasting friendships.
1) Get Them Involved in Extracurricular Activities. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, the more they get involved in extra-curricular activities, the more likely they are to make friends. This is because it puts them with others who have similar interests and values, and creates a common bond with their peer group who shares these passions.
2) Teach Them to “be a Friend First." Teach your children skills about how to be a friend to someone who is in need or someone they know in class. Teach them to do things for them and talk to people when others won’t, to show themselves to be friendly. This communicates care and concern and can help them develop strong bonds with others.
3) Include Them in Social Gatherings with Neighborhood Acquaintances. If there is a “block party" or other event in your adult circles, include your kids. Often your adult friends have kids around your own kids’ ages, whom they can play with and relate to. Having neighborhood friends often helps them with their school relationships too.
Having your child see you interact with friends and neighbors can also be a great opportunity to model positive relationships. Many children pick up on cues from their parents when it comes to interacting with others. If you are anxious or nervous about social situations, your child may learn those mannerisms as well. Take special care to be friendly, sociable, calm and kind when interacting with others. You never know how much your child is learning from your behavior.
4) Invite Kids From Your Child’s School to Your House Occasionally. When your child has a birthday party or other event, include kids from your child’s school. This will increase their familiarity with other kids and can be the start of some new relationships for your child.
5) Teach Kids Introductory Skills. Talk to them about how to properly introduce themselves to new kids and the art of “self-disclosing." This involves telling others information about themselves that only a few know. This process of self-disclosure is a skill even some adults struggle with. Kids should be warned not to give too much information to people they don’t know if they feel uncomfortable doing so. But it is a good technique with kids their own age to learn more about their peer group.
The art of making friends is not easy for anyone, including adults. But it basically involves the gradual unveiling of getting to know someone as you disclose about yourself. Some friendships are not as deep as others, but they learn from each experience. Teach kids to be friendly, courteous, and pay attention to the needs of others and they will have no trouble making and keep lasting friends.