At Dad Central we get questions from dads on many topics, but a recent conversation highlighted an important topic we haven’t talked much about: helping kids develop friendships.
For some parents, their kids naturally make friends quickly and seem to relate well with other children. For others, watching children struggle to make or keep healthy friendships can be very painful – for both the child and parents.
As a dad, one of your most important jobs is to help your child build relationships and make friends. This can be especially challenging when considering what children experienced through the pandemic. We now find kids often have less opportunity to interact with their peers face-to-face due to busy schedules and the influence of technology.
That being said, with a little bit of effort and guidance, you can help your child develop the social skills they need to make and keep friends.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
1. Model good social behaviour.
Kids learn by watching and imitating their parents, so make sure you are setting a good example when it comes to social skills. This means being friendly and approachable, showing respect to others, and being a good listener. You can also model problem-solving and conflict resolution skills by demonstrating how to handle disagreements and misunderstandings in a positive way.
Whether you realize it or not, dad, your kids are watching and learning from your every move. If you’re angry, intolerant and impatient with others they will notice and begin thinking that’s what you do. Or, they may get embarrassed by the actions you take and become anxious when interacting with you or others. I heard a comment from someone’s daughter that she was afraid to go out in public with her dad because he always yelled at people in stores when he wasn’t happy. Keep your interactions positive and show your children how to respond, not react.
2. Encourage participation in group activities.
One of the best ways for kids to make friends is to participate in group activities, whether it’s sports, clubs, or community events. Encourage your child to try new things and get involved in activities that interest them. This will not only help them make friends, but it will also help them develop important skills like teamwork and leadership.
Be mindful of your child’s temperament and interests when looking for group activities. Depending on age or stage, let the child have a choice in which activity, and take steps to help them engage in the activity at their own pace. Yes, sometimes we have to challenge children to get involved, but it can’t be at the expense of the relationship. Also, the more they are involved and feel like they have a voice and/or choice, the more likely they are to stay involved.
3. Teach social skills.
While some kids may be naturally outgoing and confident, others may need a little extra help developing social skills. You can help your child by teaching them how to start a conversation, join a group, and make small talk. You can also teach them how to be a good listener, how to take turns, and how to share. Practice these skills with your child in a low-pressure setting, such as at home or in a small group setting, and then encourage them to use these skills in real-life situations.
One of the best ways I’ve found to practice the skills is to turn it into a games or act out “role play”. Children have wonderful imaginations and engaging them in this form of play not only develops their skills, but it also develops bonds between dads and kids.
4. Help your child find common ground.
One of the keys to making friends is finding common interests and experiences. Encourage your child to talk to others and find out what they like to do, and then help your child think of ways they can connect with those interests. For example, if your child is into sports and meets another child who is also interested in sports, they can talk about their favorite teams or players and bond over their shared interest.
5. Encourage your child to be a good friend.
In addition to helping your child make friends, it’s important to teach them how to be a good friend. This means being kind and considerate, listening to others, and being willing to share and help out. Encourage your child to show empathy and support for their friends, and to be a positive influence on those around them.
Talking about your own friendships, telling stories about when you were a kid and how you met your friends or become friends is also a great way to help your child learn. Remember, not every story has to be about a good friend – it can be about the time you weren’t a good friend, or when someone wasn’t a good friend to you. I’ve found my children pay close attention and take my message to heart a lot more when I share the lessons I learned growing up.
6. Foster a sense of community.
Finally, one of the best ways to help your child make friends is to foster a sense of community within your own family. This means creating opportunities for your child to interact with others, whether it’s through family events, playdates, or volunteering together. It’s also important to model good social behavior and encourage your child to be a positive member of the community.
In our family, we want our home to be the gathering place for our kid’s and their friends. Our goal is to create an atmosphere that welcomes everyone, helps them feel valued and safe. Yes, it takes more effort, patience and understanding, but for us it’s well worth the sacrifice. When we can see our children interacting with their friends, we learn a lot about their social skills and their friends social skills. This can lead to very helpful talks about the good things we see, but also the potential negatives we see and how to work through them.
Making friends can be a challenge for kids, but with a little bit of guidance and support from you, your child can learn the skills they need to build strong and lasting relationships. Remember to be patient and supportive, and encourage your child to be themselves and embrace their unique qualities. With time and practice, your child will learn how to make and keep friends, and will be well on their way to building a strong and supportive social network.
About The Author – Drew Soleyn
I’m the Director of Dad Central Ontario, Founder of Connected Dads, and a Career Coach at the Queen's Smith School of Business. As an ICF and Maxwell Leadership certified Coach, Trainer & Speaker, I help struggling dads show up at their best for the people who matter most.