During parent-teacher conferences, and even throughout the year, I have noticed that one of the most common questions/concerns parents seem to have, second only to questions about academic progress, is how their child is doing socially.
Students’ social interactions, friendships, and the worries that can come along with “fitting in” socially, can greatly impact students’ academic progress because it plays a huge role in how they feel about themselves. And, as any parent and educator know, how students feel about themselves in general significantly influences all aspects of their lives.
Often students with special needs struggle with making friends for various reasons. Sometimes, it’s simply because they feel “different” or aren’t sure how to relate to their peers. Or, maybe they don’t get quite as much time with their peers throughout the school day because they are getting extra help in academics. Read on to learn about some strategies and tools I have used in assisting kids to make new friends in the classroom, as these same strategies and ideas can help parents at home.
6 “Easier” Ways To Make And Keep Friends;
1. Talk about it! – First things first, talk to you child about the idea of making new friends. Don’t be afraid to address it head on. Your child is likely thinking about it, even if they don’t realize, or fail to mention it, so open up the conversation. Let your child know that you are aware of what they may be feeling, and maybe most importantly, that it is completely normal and okay to feel that way.
2. Share a Story – Now that you’ve opened up the conversation, share a story about a time you had to make new friends. Either as a kid or even as an adult. And don’t be afraid to share a story about a time when it didn’t go as you’d hoped – but just be sure to share what you did to make it better, too. It’s often helpful for your child to feel they are not alone in how they are feeling AND for them to have some background in what you did/didn’t do when you were trying to make new friends
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3. Read a Book – Find a good book about making friends and read it to your child(ren). While reading, talk about the characters and what they are doing. Consider some of the following questions when reading to further the discussion with your child:
• What did the characters do that seemed like a good idea?
• What did they do that maybe wasn’t such a good idea?
• Is there anything else the characters could have done?
• How would you feel if you were (insert character’s name)?
4. Practice It – Make a game to practice situations – and join in with your child(ren) when you’re doing this. Write different scenarios on cards, even dress up, and/or make/find a Readers Theater on friendships, and act out how to make friends. This may seem silly, but this practice will help your child feel more comfortable when they are actually in the situation because it won’t be as unfamiliar to them and they will have some background knowledge.
5. Set up “safe” situations – If you’re new to the neighborhood, or even if your child just hasn’t found a group of friends around your house yet, go for a walk and talk to the people you run into, or make some phone calls and invite kids over. This will give you a chance to help your child, and likely even other children, learn how to make friends in a safe situation. Plan activities that force them to play together and talk and interact so they can work on the skills you’ve practiced in a natural setting.
6. Revisit It – Finally, don’t forget to revisit each of these steps and continually check-on with your child on how they’re feeling. Ask specific questions. For example, rather than saying, “So how do you feel about your friends at school,” ask something more specific. Below are some examples.
• “Tell me the names of your friends you played with at recess.”
• “What did you and (friend’s name) do at recess today?”
• “What are some other games you could play?”
• “If (insert name) isn’t in school tomorrow, what can you do?”
Setting your child up for success by not only ensuring that they open up about their concerns and worries with making friends, but also providing your child with practice and familiarity with how to make friends, will make them feel more comfortable when they are in the situation, when you aren’t around. And, in turn, they will have many opportunities to make lifetime memories with different friends, both at home and at school, which will ultimately make your child feel better about themselves.
Who doesn’t want that?!?!
What are some unique ideas you have for helping your child make new friends?
~ Diana Chase