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The complexities of the friendship maze

For many children, friendship can sometimes feel like a bit of a maze hence the friendship maze. They may find it difficult to make friends or challenging to build relationships and many find it hard to respond to the inevitable ups and downs friendships bring.

If you notice your child struggles with social interaction and perhaps presents as shy and cautious when it comes to making friends, try not to put any pressure on the situation. We can easily excuse our children’s behaviour, and as a result start apologising for them by saying ‘she’s shy’ or ‘why are you being so silly?’ but by doing this we run the risk of labelling our child. They may hear those around them saying ‘she’s shy’ and may go on to believe ‘I’m not good at making friends’. Some children may pick up on a sense of frustration or disappointment from those around them too, and this can give the implicit message that it’s about their personality.

Here are five ideas to help you and your child deal with the friendship maze:

1. It’s not about your child’s personality, it’s about social skills

If your child struggles to make new friends or build existing friendships, take a moment to reflect on which exact part they struggle with. The ability to have effective social interactions can be summarised into four specific skills;

  • starting and keeping a conversation going
  • listening and understanding others
  • responding to social cues
  • having positive interactions

All of these are skills and you can help your child get better at any of them because this is not about their personality but about a specific skill they need to strengthen.

2. Starting a conversation

If you notice it’s starting a conversation and keeping it going that your child finds hard, practice this with them. For instance, give them some opening lines to fall back on when they get tongue tied: ‘I like your bike’, ‘Do you like… X?’, ‘What did you do at the weekend?’.

3. Common interests & humour

Hoping for your child to connect more effectively with others? Help them find children with common interests to share in their knowledge and love of a particular topic. Humour is another great connector; help your child develop their sense of humour and encourage them to seek out those who are on the same wavelength as them.

4. Help them develop their emotional awareness

Friendships and interactions with others often trigger big feelings and emotions. Help your child name and recognise these including jealousy, frustration, embarrassment, disappointment etc. ‘I wonder if you might be feeling jealous of your brother…let’s talk about what that feels like’, ‘I wonder if you might be feeling disappointed about not being invited to the party...’. Learning to name and understand big emotions will help them respond to the inevitable ups and downs of friendships. Empathy is a skill which is important for Children to acknowledge, understand and implement in their friendships to create a successful bond. Empathy allows them to develop their own emotional awareness as well as their emotional intelligence.

5. Allow conflict

Conflict resolution is an essential skill and one your child will need for forming friendships and interacting with others. Rather than stepping in to prevent or resolve arguments between siblings or friends, allow your child the independence to develop and apply these skills. You can do this from the side lines, being there to support and model where necessary.

Helping your child with the areas above will strengthen their skills and their chance of making genuine connections. A great book for those who may struggle with making new friends is ‘Meesha Makes Friends’ by Tom Percival for age 5+.

Louise’s recent Instagram Live on this topic can be found here.

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