Making friends is an important part of growing up and is a lifelong gift. What can we parents do to help our children discover the value of having friends? Or assist a child who is struggling to make friends? Here are suggestions from Geri Stern who is head instructor with Fun Time, a Parks and Recreation Program, and has also successfully raised four children.

Friends In The Early Years

  • Start early to introduce the concept of friends. At age two, children take pleasure in dealing with people. They imitate the action of others, including siblings. Though your toddler will probably prefer to play alone with toys, expose him/her to other adults and youngsters.
  • Around three, children begin parallel play. They usually feel good about themselves and start to develop the concept of give and take. Organize a playgroup in your home with mutual friends or consider a preschool setting.
  • If your child is hesitant about participating in a group, encourage him/her. Get the child and bring him into the group, staying there awhile.
  • Invite a friend over to play. Have planned activities for part of the playtime -- baking cookies, a game. If going over to someone else's house is threatening to a young preschooler, go along to bridge the insecurity gap.
  • Young children can be very possessive and unwilling to share toys. Have a talk before a playmate arrives. Ask what special toys the child would rather not share. Put those away. Explain that the remainer will need to be shared.

Friends In The Elementary School Years

  • Elementary children often vie for control and may find it hard to agree on what to play. I've often used a kitchen timer. Children take turns determining the play during 20-minute intervals. The guest has the privilege of going first. When the timer dings, it's the next child's turn.
  • If disagreements arise during play -- as often happens -- be there as a consultant only. The children need to work out their problem. Try to get them to talk through the dilemma and reach a compromise. Don't single out one child; put the responsibility on both. Say, "I notice that the two of you seem to be arguing. What can you do to get along better?"

Dealing With Low Self-Esteem

A child may come home from school or play group saying, "No one likes me. No one will play with me." Again, get the child to talk through the situation. Ask for concrete examples. Be supportive, acknowledge feelings and help the child move through feelings to change behavior that can correct the situation. Your child may have personality conflicts with another child. Explain that in life we all can't have everyone liking us all the time. What can you do to help the child who truly has few or no friends? This child may be suffering from a low self-esteem.

  • Together explore his/her interests and talents. Enroll child in a class or group activity of his choice.
  • Ask the teacher for assistance at school. Perhaps he/she could help the child enter group play or teach others to appreciate the child by having him/her share a special hobby or talent.
  • Observe your child during recess or play group to determine problems and find solutions. If concerns persist, consult a professional.