No matter your child’s age or learning style, developing proper social interactions can be difficult. And depending on just how tricky those moments are — you may find yourself worried, defensive or feeling all “mama bear.” We get it!
As long as your child is not experiencing bullying (if you believe they are, please contact school leadership), there are a few things you can do to help your child navigate the normal pitfalls of social engagement and learn how to build healthy age-appropriate relationships. Here are a few:
1. Try not to communicate your worry. According to Eileen Kennedy Moore, co-author of Smart Parenting for Smart Kids, children begin developing friendship issues around 7 years of age, but a parent’s imposed anxiety about their child’s social skills can bring it on much earlier.
2. Ask questions to get the full story. Young children naturally interpret their world from an egocentric viewpoint, and may not see things 100 percent accurately. (This is also why you remember a childhood story going one way and your sister remembers it completely different!). Make sure you observe your child’s interactions personally, ask them clarifying questions and even talk to their teacher.
3. Help develop their skills. Making friends often happens as a result of developing conversational and interpersonal skills, as well as developing age-appropriate emotional self-control. Sharing, listening, speaking politely, including others, practicing kindness and gaining impulse control are all important for helping your child become friend-material.
4. Schedule social activities. Does your child communicate a desire for more friendships? Help them by arranging one-on-one play dates as well as providing opportunities for group interaction. Also be open to accepting that your child is perhaps more introverted and completely happy to play by themselves (or with just one close friend).
5. Aim to structure play that avoids competition or conflict. Eliminating fodder for conflict between children may be as simple as removing toys designed for solitary play or items that could be used in an aggressive way. Encouraging cooperative play helps kids to connect and work together. This could include things like puzzles, blocks or Lego, problem-solving challenges like a treasure hunt, art projects, or games that require children to take turns.