Making friends may look like something that is easy and effortless to do, but it can be challenging for some children.
And just like any relationship, keeping and maintaining friendships also require work.
The first friends for children are usually their siblings, followed by cousins or neighbours, then classmates from daycare, nursery school and kindergarten.
Every child has a different temperament and character.
Even friendly ones need some time to warm up to others and to establish a relationship.
The most confident of children may also face difficulties making friends, especially if their approach is too strong for a quiet child.
Fortunately, making friends is a skill that can be developed.
Parents have a big role to play in teaching children how to make friends.
Encourage their social skills
Parents can start by helping children develop the necessary social skills.
These include conversational and interpersonal skills, as well as emotional self-control.
Children who are good at interpersonal skills such as empathy, perspective-taking and moral reasoning are usually popular and well-liked by their peers.
There are three main ways you can help your child develop these skills:
Talk to your child about her feelings in an understanding and helpful way.
This helps her to learn and regulate her own emotions better, which may lead to enhanced empathy and the ability to show concern for others.
Open communication will also give you opportunities to gain insight from her emotional experiences in her social world.
Include thoughtful discussions and explanations on rules, as this will help shape behaviours within a warm relationship.
Children raised this way tend to be more self-reliant, less aggressive and have better self-control when interacting with others.
In addition to engaging him in give-and-take dialogues, practise active listening with him.
This includes making appropriate eye contact and orienting your body to him when he talks.
Be sure to pay full attention to what he says and give appropriate responses to indicate that you’re listening to him.
Remember that children watch and learn from adults (and less from what you tell them), so be mindful when talking with others.
Provide ideas about conversation
Your child may be at a loss on how to start and end a conversation.
Teach her the basics and show her how you use them when interacting with others.
You can also show her how to cope with social situations she may have trouble with, such as joining in when others are playing and what to do or say.
You can practise with your child.
If she feels awkward, you can try using toys to represent people and show her how a conversation might flow from there.
Ultimately, you should still progress to face-to-face conversations with her (by role-playing) as this will help her better recognise body language.
Avoid being an interviewer or hogging the conversation – you want her to speak for herself!
Here are some simple conversation basics for kids:
There are many ways to get a conversation started, and most start with a simple greeting, e.g. “Hi, my name is Aishah. What’s yours?”, “What are you playing/doing?” or “Can I play too?”.
Don’t know what to talk about?
Conversation topics can make or break the flow of any conversation.
There are a wide range of topics that can be used, e.g. “What’s your favourite game/food/colour?”.
Teach your child to share and listen during a conversation.
A simple way to engage the other person is with open-ended questions, e.g. “There are so many cartoons, which one do you think is the best?”, “I like fried chicken and watermelon juice. How about you?” or “Why do you like the colour blue?”.
It’s important to teach your child how to end a conversation politely, e.g. “It was nice to talk with you” or “I have to go, see you later!”.
Humans are social beings
The development of interpersonal skills is important as your child will benefit by being better able to socialise with others.
Those who are able to make good friends will enjoy social support in their lives for the things they do and the experiences they go through.
A lucky few may even enjoy friendships that last a lifetime.
So make it a point to build up your child’s social skills by teaching and guiding them at every opportunity.
Dr Yang Wai Wai is a clinical child psychologist. This article is courtesy of the Malaysian Paediatric Association’s Positive Parenting programme in collaboration with expert partners. For further information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.