One of the saddest things we have to deal with as parents is the realization that our child may not have many or even any friends. It is truly heartbreaking. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt. Thankfully though, with some work, we have a social, friendly, and well-adjusted young man in our world. Realizing our son had some challenges when it came to friendships prompted a multi-faceted approach.
Like most problems, we needed a range of strategies to support him in making friendships. We undertook social training to help him in situations he found challenging, while monitoring and supporting his social life and networks. Most importantly, we listened to him.
Social training sounds a bit daunting, but basically, it is about making the unspoken rules of social etiquette clear to little people who don’t yet get it. We focused on 2 clear aspects and included lots of modeling, practicing in safe situations, and finally letting him try in his own space and time to embed these aspects.
How to help your child be more social
Politely talking to others was our first step. We looked at ways to enter into conversations, ask to join a game, and how to maintain a dialogue. This was great fun to do at home. It became a very much looked forward to game around the dinner table each night.
Our second focus was looking at and interpreting body language. There is a wealth of games available to support this. Facial expressions and body language require clear explanations to children who struggle to make friends—as does how they should respond to them. Games, modeling, and practice again helped embed these new skills.
Managing and monitoring our son’s social life runs the risk of making us sound like “helicopter parents.” In terms of managing, we enrolled him in sports and activities that enabled him to use his new skills. We used team games to support his understanding of social etiquette. However, we were mindful of balancing this and ensuring it did not dampen his passion for the sport.
We also created play opportunities for him with children who had similar interests. This can create problems, but clearly, we chose carefully with other like-minded parents who understood our situation and were happy to support us. In many cases, we found that they had similar issues with their little person, so it was a win-win.
My final point is a simple one but probably one that we overlook unintentionally. As our children’s parents, we are also their strongest advocates. Take the time to really listen with your ears, eyes, and heart. More often than not, they do not have the language to tell us that they are struggling to make a connection with other kids. Still, their behaviors and responses to situations can speak volumes.
Everyone has a place
Navigating children’s friendships, particularly in the early stages, can be fraught with emotion. Remind yourself that your little human will find their place in our world because everyone has a place. Some of us just need a little more help in finding that spot.