Making friends was never easy for me at school so I know about this all too well. When I was a kid, parents were not as obsessed with every little bit of their children’s life so my mum and dad were not really aware of some of the friendship struggles I was having at school. This meant I had little help and guidance as a child when it came to making friends. Having said that it wasn’t all doom and gloom in the friendship department.
We did grow up going to church and I had a really great friendship network of kids at my local church who I spent my weekends and afternoons playing with. That was a lifesaver for me. I also learnt that I didn’t need everyone to like me and I wasn’t defined by what others thought of me but what I thought of me … so there were some silver linings.
When I had kids I knew I wanted to do it differently. I wanted to help my kids develop healthy friendships at school with other children which would hopefully make school a place they really wanted to go. I think most parents fear their children having no friends at school and being a source of ridicule and bullying.
When I had my first daughter I realised she was just like me and for many years I really worried that friendships would not be so easy for her at school. She was headstrong, inflexible, wanted it all her way and super energetic to the point where it got too much and you just needed some space.
We were lucky when she started school because her closest friend that she had grown up with was starting at the same school, at the same time and in the same class. This worked out really well for her for the first 2 years of school however in her 3rd year of school this best friend left to go around Australia for a year with her family. That resulted in our daughter not having her main friend around.
Friendship was not easy for Miss 7 for this year. As her mum I could see the worry and anxiety she had going to school and not having a friend she felt safe with. She had a lot of acquaintances but no real friends who she felt were her ‘people’. From what I could understand kids liked playing with her every now and then because she was fun and energetic to be around, but her energy became exhausting for them and they wanted some space. She was finding it difficult to have consistent friends and along with that came a bit of real anxiety.
As her mum I decided that it was my job to help support her and teach her how to be a friend and how to find and connect with other kids who will be good friends. The truth is that it is not so easy even for adults.
After a year of supporting my daughter I am happy to say that for now she has found and connected with some lovely friends which has been great! It did take quite a while to get there but with persistence and guidance she is understanding more and more the skill of finding and being a friend.
Here are some of the things I did to help her:
- I volunteered in her class and at the school to be around to observe her and get to know some of the children in her grade that she comes home and talks about. Just to note this wasn’t a weekly thing but when I could I was around.
- I talked to her daily about her day and who she played with at lunchtime. I helped her unpack some of the relationship issues she was having with other kids and brainstormed some other ideas of ways to respond.
- We spent a bit of time talking about what it means to be a friend and also that other kids may not have been taught how to be a good friend so we have to be an example to them of how to be a good friend.
- We role played some ideas and ways she could respond to other children when they were saying things like she “… could only be their friend if she brought them $2 for tuckshop tomorrow.” … which is not ok!
- Most importantly I organised weekly or fortnightly play dates after school with kids she really liked and connected with but who she was struggling to spend time with amongst all of the kids and busyness of school.
Playdates outside of school were and still are a key to helping your kids connect and make friends. They give time and space for play and developing a friendship and connection. It also allows you as a parent to see how the kids get along and give some guidance and help with how to be a good friend.
Helping your kids make friends is not something that has a start and a finish. Their friendship circles change for a variety of different reasons so it is an ongoing journey for them and you as their parent.
Finding ways to connect your kids with other kids outside of the school day is key in my opinion. Whether that be with kids from school or via sport or music or other interest areas. It is really important for kids that they feel like they have friends, and as a parent there are lots of ways you can help support your child … but it is something you need to actively pursue if they are struggling.