Teaching your child about the importance of making friends is as vital as learning their ABCs.
At a glance
- Making friends for children is critical to enjoying school and learning.
- Guide children to control their impulses.
- Role model good social behaviour, turn-taking etc, for your child.
- Many children prefer just one special friend.
- Help your child think of ways to start conversations or games with others.
- Invite other children over for play dates and watch their behaviour.
- Speak to your child's teacher if your child is having difficulties making friends.
Cathrine Neilsen-Hewett, Academic Director of the Early Years at the University of Wollongong, says if children are happy socially they tend to be more engaged in their learning.
"If you speak to any Kindergarten child, one of the most important things for them is having friends and having people to play with," Cathrine says.
She says children who are on their way to developing a healthy social life and good learning strategies:
- have good self-control skills such as sitting still and listening quietly
- work easily in small or large groups
- follow directions and cooperate with others.
If children are happy socially they tend to be more engaged in their learning.
An important factor in helping children to be happy socially is guiding them to control their impulses. At the end of preschool, children can sometimes still act out their frustrations or wants by hitting or through verbal aggression, however by the end of the Kindergarten year, "children who are still playing like that are the ones who are at risk of being rejected by their peer group," Cathrine says.
"Children very quickly develop reputations, so you want to step in as soon as you can and develop those appropriate social skills. You don't want your child to be known as the one who hits other children, or the one who doesn't share. You want to cut that off as soon as you can in Kindergarten and really work on that."
Role modelling at home
Cathrine suggests using opportunities at home to model good social behaviour, such as teaching your child to take turns, share their toys and even give attention to others.
"Children who are more popular are those who ask a question of another child and then listen to their responses. It's modelling that at home when they're interacting and talking with each other, and it's about how to engage peers in conversation and pay compliments to their friends, ‘Gee, I really love that picture'. That success in terms of peer interactions is critical," she says.
Inviting children over for play dates in small groups on the weekend and monitoring their interactions is also helpful because you can see how your child is interacting, and guide the behaviour if need be, Cathrine adds.
Children who are more popular are those who ask a question of another child and then listen to their responses.
Cathrine Neilsen-Hewett – University of Wollongong
Connecting with your school
If your child's behaviour at school does become a concern it's important to approach the teacher.
"Effective learning is all about partnerships and having a sense of connection between the home and the school environment. When there is a sense of disconnect that's when children are at risk. It's about being connected to your community, to other parents as well as the teachers and the children," Cathrine says.
Social butterfly or seeking one best friend?
Not all kids feel comfortable in a big group and many will choose to have just one special friend. It can be hard for very social, extroverted parents to relax when their child doesn't seem to have many friends, but it may genuinely be what your child prefers..
If your child is a "harder to get to know" type, it could be they find it difficult to break the ice with other kids. Communication skills are still being developed in early primary school.
You can help by encouraging play dates with specific children. Volunteering for an hour or so a week in the classroom with give you the opportunity to meet all their classmates (and even have a quiet word with the teacher) so you can suggest possible play mates to your child.
Perhaps you can organise an after-school coffee at a local park with one of the other parents, to give both children the chance to get to know each other one-on-one, with the added security of having you nearby.
Helping your child make friends
- Talk to your child at home each night about who they are playing with. Ask specific questions like "What games did you play at lunchtime today?" "Who else was playing too?"
- Discuss with your child what makes a good friend.
- Suggest things they might do, like taking a ball or toy (nothing too big or valuable) to school and asking a classmate to join them in a game.
- Choose a possible classmate and ask your child to find out one thing about them. For example, "Does Sophie have any pets?" It can spur your child to be curious about their peers and gives them a question to help break the ice.
- Make an appointment to speak discreetly with your child's teacher if you feel your child is having trouble making friends. The teacher will probably observe your child's interactions at recess and lunch and also pair them with different classmates during classroom activities to help break the ice.
- Read the School age: Development pages at Raising Children Network to understand age-typical social development for children.