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Making Friends

​​​By Julie Almquist, M.S., LIMHP, and Assistant Clinic Director at Boys Town Center for Behavioral Health​

Although making friends comes easily to some children, others struggle to connect with their peers. It's hard for parents to see their child struggling socially and especially with something like making friends. It's important for children to have social engagement and interaction with peers, starting at a very young age. If your child is having trouble making friends, then it tends to affect how they feel about themselves and how they feel they're doing in the world. Of course you want to help, so here are some things to consider.

Start by Teaching Social Skills When Your Child is Young

When your child is toddler age, teach him/her how to take turns, how to greet people and how to make proper eye contact. Then, look for opportunities to expose your child to learning situations, such as sports and other activities where they have peer-to-peer contact.

Catch your child doing well with his/her social skills, and reinforce what they should be doing. Praise your child privately, though, not in front of their friends. And don't put them on the spot — telling them to, "Say goodbye," or "Tell that funny story," may create an awkward situation for your child. It's better to watch your kids and later tell them what they did really well: "Wow, you did a great job of making eye contact."

Some of the fundamental social skills you teach your child will carry over into making friends:

  • Learning how to ask a question or start a conversation
  • Making good eye contact
  • Taking an interest in what others say
  • Transitioning from one topic of conversation to another
  • Following facial and social cues to determine when a conversation is over

How Can I Tell If My Child is Having Trouble Making Friends?

Here are some warning signs that your child may need help socially or with making friends:

  • Your child tells you he/she feels like they don't have friends.
  • Your child's teacher expresses concern that your child isn't interacting with their peers.
  • You notice that your child is standing off by himself/herself rather than engaging with other children.
  • Your older child is isolating himself/herself and avoiding social activity.
  • Your child or his/her teacher says your child is being bullied.

What Should I Do If My Child Is Having Difficulty?

If your child is indeed having a tough time making friends, then it might be tempting to become over-involved with his/her social life. However, this can be a detriment. It's also important to not jump in too soon, which sends the message that you are questioning your child's competency and can undermine your intention.

Instead, talk and work with your child:

  • Sit down with your child and discuss what friendship means and what makes a good friend.
  • Ask your child how he/she picks friends.
  • Ask your child what his/her interests are and who else shares those interests.
  • Ask your child how a friend makes him/her feel.
  • Practice social skills with your child.
  • Friends are supposed to make us feel big in life. Does a particular friend make you feel big in life or small in life?
  • Tell your child that you believe in them and that they can do this.

Make sure to take every opportunity to praise your child when you see him/her using friendship skills effectively. This will give your child the confidence to use these skills on the playground or at school and to develop strong relationships with peers.

Continue to Watch for Red Flags

Most of the time, you can help your child by having these discussions and practicing social skills with him/her. Sometimes, however, you may want to seek professional help. If you see the following red flags despite your best efforts to help your child, then you may want to contact a professional:

  • Reports from school that your child is isolating a lot and not engaging with peers
  • Reports from school, coaches or your child that your child is being bullied
  • Reports from school, parents or others that your child has negative social skills, such as inability to mind ​boundaries, pestering other children, or other social skills that are detrimental to social development

If you need help teaching social skills to your child, or if you are concerned that your child is having trouble with social development, Boys Town can help. Call the Boys Town National Hotline at 1.800.448.3000 to speak to one of our trained counselors.