Top Tips on How to Help Your Child Make Friends

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This is a guest post by Shaina Braun at Parenting in Motion. Shaina is a former behavior therapist and supervisor working with children on the Autism Spectrum. She is now a professional blogger and stay-at-home mom.

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If you are wondering how to help your child make friends, you came to the right place!

Many children of all ages struggle with socialization and many parents and teachers are researching how to help your child make friends. A good majority of these children crave social interaction with their peers but lack the skills or confidence to initiate or join in on play. It is always tough to see a child sitting alone and watching others play around him. Whether it be in a school setting or out at a park, the playground can be one of the best places to work on social interaction with children.

So let’s talk about how to help your child make friends…

The first place to start if wondering how to help your child make friends is by empathizing with the child. Sometimes we can find ourselves telling children “you have nothing to worry about!” or “it’ll be fine!” This sounds like very motivating and encouraging language to use but we also have to remember what could happen. The playground can sometimes be a cruel place. Children will put each other down, reject initiations to play, leave others out of games, all kinds of yucky things. Children who struggle with social interaction often know this, further increasing their social anxiety. Align with the child, let them know you get it, you understand, you know it’s tough. Aligning yourself with the child, whether you are a teacher, parent, whoever, helps build a trusting relationship.

You wouldn’t be curious about how to help your child make friends if it was an easy process.

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Also, go into the process with patience. Some children are able to build confidence fairly quickly, but for some may take months, and that’s okay. Encourage progress, but don’t force it. Start them out with interaction that is likely to be more successful. Avoid competitive games or groups of children that are typically more rowdy than others.

There are a few ways to approach the topic of how to help your child make friends. Consider their learning style, age, previous experiences with friends, etc.

For some children, it may be enough to have the child observe other children on the play ground and brainstorm ways to initiate play. Say there is a group of kids playing house or restaurant. If he or she is just jumping in, they could come in as a customer at the restaurant or a family member coming home from school.

If the children are playing a rule based game such as hide and seek, have them identify a good time to jump in and announce themselves such as when the group is taking a break or when everyone has been found and the next person is counting. I have seen children attempt to jump in during hide and seek mid-round and while we as adults may think nothing of it, children often view this as an interruption, intrusion or someone attempting to ruin the game. A child being able to identify these cues will reduce the risk of rejection with the other children.

Checking in with the child is simple. If there are children playing dodge ball at recess, you can simply say and ask “it looks like you want to play dodge ball too, I think they are in the middle of a game right now, when would be a good time for you to jump in?” Use your positive, non-judgmental tone if they answer incorrectly, “maybe you could, but I think the other kids would appreciate it more if new players came in at the beginning of the new game.” We want to encourage brainstorming even if we are incorrect sometimes! While I wish we lived in a world where someone could jump in at any time, children are very rule-based and would therefore expect others to jump in at the end of a round, when a new round would be starting up.

If you don’t think your child learns in the manner described in the first way of how to help your child make friends, or it didn’t work, consider the second learning style.

For those children who may have trouble with observing and brainstorming, role play is what I believe to be the absolute best solution. I have used role play to increase social interaction with children on the Autism Spectrum as well as their siblings. The process of role play is slow but I have had tremendous success using this! How it works is simple, however, you want to run through it systematically.

Start out by explaining what you expect of the child. Have them identify a play scenario such as joining another child to play Legos or joining in on a game. Role play using yourself as the “other child” already engaging in an activity. Don’t let the child you are working with get stuck at the beginning, this can cause them to become discouraged. You can give them ideas on ways to approach you, when to ask for a turn, and how to wait for a break in play (demonstrate standing in a line for handball for example). All kids respond differently, practice various scenarios and various responses that a child may give. This make takes several days or even weeks so remember to be patient!

You will next want to have the child practice with a child that also knows they are role playing. Pick a peer that the child is comfortable with and have them run through a few scenarios together. Only when the child is ready, you can have them try it out with a group of kids that would likely be open to this child approaching them for the first time. I have actually had a mother that I was working with approach a group of boys at the park to let them know that her son (6 years old with moderate Autism) is learning how to play with others and may initiate playing tag with them. She went on to tell them that it would be great if they could play with him for just a few minutes. The boys were incredibly open to the idea and they ended up playing for a good 10 minutes before taking a break.

Like I said before, be empathetic. Times have changed. Socially, children are becoming tougher and tougher on each other. When you have a child that is struggling socially, try to remember how scary it can be for them. Support them, encourage them, and be patient. They will get it, we all do with the right resources in place! Hopefully you leave here with some ideas as to how to help your child make friends.

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Children will put each other down, reject initiations to play, leave others out of games, all kinds of yucky things. Children who struggle with social interaction often know this, further increasing their . Align with the child, let them know you get it, you understand, you know it’s tough. Aligning yourself with the child, whether you are a teacher, parent, whoever, helps build a trusting relationship.

Also, go into the process with patience. Some children are able to build confidence fairly quickly, but for some may take months, and that’s okay. Encourage progress, but don’t force it. Start them out with interaction that is likely to be more successful. Avoid competitive games or groups of children that are typically more rowdy than others.

For some children, it may be enough to have the child observe other children on the play ground and brainstorm ways to initiate play. Say there is a group of kids playing house or restaurant. If he or she is just jumping in, they could come in as a customer at the restaurant or a family member coming home from school. If the children are playing a rule based game such as hide and seek, have them identify a good time to jump in and announce themselves such as when the group is taking a break or when everyone has been found and the next person is counting. I have seen children attempt to jump in during hide and seek mid-round and while we as adults may think nothing of it, children often view this as an interruption, intrusion or someone attempting to ruin the game. A child being able to identify these cues will reduce the risk of rejection with the other children.

Checking in with them is simple. If there are children playing dodge ball at recess, you can simply say and ask “it looks like you want to play dodge ball too, I think they are in the middle of a game right now, when would be a good time for you to jump in?” Use your positive, non-judgmental tone if they answer incorrectly, “maybe you could, but I think the other kids would appreciate it more if new players came in at the beginning of the new game.” We want to encourage brainstorming even if we are incorrect sometimes! While I wish we lived in a world where someone could jump in at any time, children are very rule-based and would therefore expect others to jump in at the end of a round, when a new game would be starting up.

For those children who may have trouble with observing and brainstorming, role play is what I believe to be the absolutely best solution. I have used role play to increase social interaction with children on the Autism Spectrum as well as their siblings. The process of role is slow but i have had tremendous success using this! How it works is simple, however, you want to run through it systematically.

Start out by explaining what you expect of the child. Have them identify a play scenario such as joining another child to play  or joining in on a game. Role play using yourself as the “other child” already engaging in an activity. Don’t let the child you are working with get stuck at the beginning, this can cause them to become discouraged. You can give them ideas on ways to approach you, when to ask for a turn, and how to wait for a break in play (demonstrate standing in a line for handball for example). All kids respond differently, practice various scenarios and various responses that a child may give. This make takes several days or even weeks so remember to be patient!

You will next want to have the child practice with a child that also knows they are role playing. Pick a peer that the child is comfortable with and have them run through a few scenarios together. Only when the child is ready, you can have them try it out with a group of kids that would likely be open to this child approaching them for the first time. I have actually had a mother that I was working with approach a group of boys at the park to let them know that her son (6 years old with moderate Autism) is learning how to play with others and may initiate playing tag with them. She went on to tell them that it would be great if they could play with him for just a few minutes. The boys were incredibly open to the idea and they ended up playing for a good 10 minutes before taking a break.

Like I said before, be empathetic. Times have changed. Socially, children are becoming tougher and tougher on each other. When you have a child that is struggling socially, try to remember how scary it can be for them. Support them, encourage them, and be patient. They will get it, we all do with the right resources in place!

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