A new school year is starting. School bells resonate again through the air, the backpacks are filled with freshly sharpened pencils and immaculate notebooks, and the hallways recover the energy coming from the students. Children return to school with a mix of excitement and concerns."How will be my teacher?", "Is it gonna be harder this year?" and a crucial question: "Will I make new friends?".
This period of the year can be daunting for many students, especially those who are shy or introverted. However, parents can play a vital role in helping their children navigate this critical moment. This article will explore how parents can support and empower their kids to establish healthy and meaningful connections.
Preschool and Kindergarten (Ages 3-5)
During their early years, children are taking the first steps into the world of socialization. Parents can help their little ones build the social skills and confidence they need by emphasizing the value of playdates and supervised social interactions. Explain to your child that playdates are opportunities to have fun with other kids, share experiences, and learn valuable social skills like sharing, taking turns, and communication.
It's a good idea to connect with other families to facilitate playdates and coordinate times for their children to meet. During these playdates, parents need to supervise and encourage positive interactions. You can help your children express their feelings and needs through verbal communication and guide them toward resolving conflicts peacefully.
Elementary School (Ages 6-11)
Elementary school is a time when children begin to discover their passions and interests. Encourage your child to explore extracurricular activities, whether it's joining a sports team, art club, or science program. These activities provide a fantastic opportunity for your child to meet like-minded peers who share their interests, which creates a natural foundation for friendships.
Besides, at this stage, children start to develop empathy and an understanding of the people around them. It is a great opportunity to have conversations about recognizing and acknowledging emotions in themselves and their peers. You can teach your children how to be supportive and empathetic towards their friends during difficult times.
Establishing open and honest communication with your child is vital during their elementary school years. Take the time to ask about their day, their friends, and any challenges they may be facing. Listen attentively to what they say and acknowledge their feelings and experiences. When your child feels heard and supported at home, they are more likely to feel confident and secure in their social interactions at school.
Middle School (Ages 12-14)
As children progress through their school years, they encounter more complex social dynamics, which may lead to friendship conflicts. Providing your child with conflict-resolution skills is important to help them navigate such situations. Encourage them to actively listen, express their feelings calmly, and seek mutually beneficial solutions when conflicts arise.
Participating in team sports, clubs, or group activities that align with their interests can benefit your children. These settings promote teamwork, collaboration, and the development of new friendships. Through shared experiences and common goals, your child can build meaningful connections with peers who share their passions.
Middle school is a time when children begin to understand the importance of setting boundaries and recognizing healthy relationships. Talk to your child about the significance of respecting personal boundaries and identifying when a friendship might be unhealthy or harmful. Encourage them to prioritize friendships that uplift and support them while also being a good friend.
High School (Ages 15-18)
In high school, teenagers continue going deeper into their passions, which also supports shaping their identities. Similar to previous stages, exploring different hobbies, subjects, and extracurricular activities allows them to meet others who share their enthusiasm. During this time, students are also presented with several opportunities to get involved in clubs, organizations, and community service, where they can connect with peers passionate about similar causes. As parents, it is important to support their children by suggesting clubs, activities, and events that align with their inner motivation and values.
It is worth mentioning at this phase the topics of online friendships and digital safety. Teach your teenagers about responsible online behavior, privacy settings, and the potential risks associated with social media. Encourage them to maintain a balance between online and offline friendships, as both are valuable for their social development.
Some fundamental tips can be applicable regardless of the developmental stage of the children. Promoting good listening skills and active communication, teaching the importance of being a good friend and how to recognize toxic friendships, and being a role model for your child in terms of friendships, span all ages.
While supporting your kids in these crucial moments of social growth, remember to be patient and flexible, recognizing that every child is unique and may require different timing and approaches to building friendships. The most important thing is to stand by your children's side, instilling kindness, confidence, and resilience in them to ensure that they can enrich their lives through social connections.
Helping children make friends: What parents can do, article by Claire McCarthy, MD at Harvard Health
How Kids Make and Keep Friends, article by Vincent Iannelli, MD, at Verywellfamily.com
How to help kids make friends: 12 evidence-based tips, article by Gwen Dewar, Ph.D. at Parenting Science