As a parent, it can be devastating to watch your child try –and fail – to make friends.
Watching your child strike out in school or at the playground is almost physically painful for most parents.
And when well-meaning attempts at matchmaking fail, it can leave parents just as angry at their own child as they are with his schoolmates.
Sending your child to preschool or a playgroup isn’t the solution.
Many parents who notice their child has trouble making friends assume that sending them to preschool or day care will do the trick. The assumption of course, is that by being together in a group with other children, your child is bound to make some friends.
In fact, the opposite is sometimes true. Most children who have trouble making friends find large groups overwhelming and unpredictable. They don’t possess the skills they need to get along with one child; a larger group just makes things worse.
Arrange playdates with one other child, and use the following tips to make sure everything goes smoothly:
Choose a child with a “helper” personality.
How do you decide who to invite over? I’ve found that children who are “helper” personalities are initially the best choice. Those are future teachers or social workers who go over and help a hurt child without being told, or automatically show the new kid where to put away their coat and hat on their first day.
You can also ask your child’s teacher for suggestions; they will usually be able to suggest one or two children who get along with your child.
Tap into shared interests to help the playdate go smoothly.
If you know both children go crazy for Matchbox cars, take out the car collection and use it as an icebreaker. Make sure the cars are out, distribute them equally among both children. Or, if one child chooses a game that you know the other child also likes, call the other child’s attention to it and suggest a specific way they can play together.
For example, if your child’s guest pulls out the railroad tracks, you can suggest to your train buff to show him how to build a bridge, or to help him build a town around the tracks.
Help them interact with each other.
Often children who have difficulty making friends choose to play alongside, rather than with other children. It took a long while for N., for example, to learn that she had to stay in the room and play with a child who came to play with her. She would often wander away, leaving the other child completely alone.
Some kids don’t mind that, but aside from being a bit awkward for you, it doesn’t help much. I found that by calling N.’s attention to what the other child was doing, I could get her to stay next to the other child longer.
If for example, the girls were playing with dolls, I would point out to N. how her friend’s doll was going to bed. Then I would ask her friend if N. could bring the doll a pacifier or a blanket to “help” the doll go to sleep.
Help both children understand each other’s behavior.
Children who visit might be understandably bothered by your child’s behavior. Some children with poor social skills might hog toys, tantrum unexpectedly, or seem very shy. It helps for you to act as interpreter and explain why both children are acting as they do.
For example, if your child has a fit and starts throwing toys around, you can say, “Wow, Sarah is really mad today. She just threw that doll down on the floor.” Then you can turn to your child, explaining, “Amber is wondering why you threw the doll down. It scared her, and made her a little sad.”
This tip will be most successful if you keep things simple and clear. You don’t need to tell a whole long story: one or two sentences are usually enough, unless the other child asks for details.
Create opportunities for both children to work together.
You can, for example, pretend to be a lion that wants to eat the children, and suggest that they work together to build a fence from pillows to keep you away. Doing this is a subtle way of helping the children team together – which of course can help them grow closer to each other.
Inviting other children over for structured playdates is an excellent – if not essential- method of helping your child make friends. In order to be successful, however, you’ll need to schedule playdates about once a week.
Each playdate needn’t be long; in fact it’s much better to limit things to about a half hour in the beginning, only extending time when you see the two getting along better. Also, it’s a good idea to switch off between friends; once a week per child is plenty.
Do you have a problem with a specific behavior your child exhibits when a friend is over? Let me know about it in the comments, and I’ll be happy to help you out. And if you found this post useful, share the wisdom – like or tweet it so someone else you know can benefit.