April 5, 2021

Ways to Help Your Child Make Friends in School

Advice and practice can help build healthy social skills

child with skateboard alone at skatepark

Kids seem to have busier schedules than ever before, as we shuffle them off from one activity or sports practice to another. Some can jump right into social situations, while others struggle.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

What if your child isn’t a social butterfly or prefers to spend time alone at recess or after school? As a parent, there are some ways you can help, says pediatric behavioral health specialist Kristen Eastman, PsyD.

“If your child doesn’t appear to make friends like other kids the same age, they may just need some coaching and practice time on simple social skills,” she says.

She offers these tips to help you assess the situation and give your child a much-needed boost of confidence in approaching social situations.

Take time to observe and understand how your child socializes

Start with a “fly on the wall” approach, Dr. Eastman suggests. Attend a few activities at school (or sports after school) and pay close attention to how your child interacts with others. Do they behave differently than their “norm” at home? If so, why?

Your child may have a tough time starting conversations. They may have anxiety in large groups or a fear of public speaking, and that keeps them from engaging meaningfully with other children. Do they prefer to keep to themselves and observe instead of joining in?

Depending on what behavior you see, you can then decide where to focus your attention, what skills need building and how you can contribute. “Trust your instincts, because you know your kid best,” Dr. Eastman says.

Model positive social behavior

Children really do learn by example, so be mindful of how you interact with others.

Advertisement

Every time you strike up conversations with friends or neighbors, or even the check-out person at the grocery store, your child is aware. Almost every scenario becomes a learning opportunity, allowing your child to see how you join in, negotiate and problem-solve.

Role play at home

If your pre-teen or teenager finds it difficult to start conversations at lunch or during free time at school, sit down and practice at home. Discuss what topics interest them that he might talk about with other kids. Test different options until he finds something that comes naturally.

Give your child a head start

If your child wants to play baseball, but is reluctant to start, visit the field with them and throw the ball around so they can get acclimated ahead of time. Go early to the first practice so you arrive before others start showing up and the scene gets more chaotic.

If they want to take swimming lessons, let them take a couple private lessons before joining a full class, so they’ll already have built up some confidence.

Reinforce and praise

Make it exciting and rewarding to practice trying new things. Even when your child is only making slow progress, make sure to reinforce their efforts.

Acknowledge each small success, and tell your child how proud you are that they keep trying.

Get the ball rolling

For smaller children, setting up a play date with just one other child is often a good idea. If your child is older, you might open up the house by inviting the baseball team over for pizza and a movie.

Advertisement

“Especially in the beginning, the goal is to help your child feel comfortable socializing and make it a positive experience,” Dr. Eastman says.

Don’t avoid the problem

If social situations are difficult for your child, you might rather avoid or ignore the problem. But your child won’t learn to improve their relationships by always sitting at home with you. Dr. Eastman recommends gradually pushing a shy child slightly beyond their comfort zone into new situations, with gentle coaching and encouragement.

“Don’t throw them off the diving board, but ease them toward the deep end,” she says.

Don’t compare your child to yourself or other siblings

Be realistic about your child’s unique personality and temperament, which guides how much social interaction they seek. Just because you have dozens of friends doesn’t mean your child will, too. It doesn’t necessarily mean there is a problem. Some introverted children make a few really good friends instead of having many more casual friendships.

“It’s tough when a parent’s normal doesn’t line up with a child’s normal,” Dr. Eastman says. “As long as they’re doing things they want to do and are happy and well-adjusted, that’s good.”

Related Articles

person holding up finger to ear in social setting
August 22, 2023
How To Navigate Hearing Loss in Social Settings

There are lots of tips, tricks and assistive devices out there that can help

Sad, exhausted parent holding newborn in cage surrounded by drug addiction possibilities
February 15, 2024
Can Babies Be Born Dependent on Drugs?

Neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome, or NOWS, can develop when a birthing parent uses opioids, nonmedical drugs or even some prescription drugs during pregnancy

Baby in onesie asleep on back
February 12, 2024
When Can I Put My Baby To Sleep on Their Stomach?

Your baby needs to able to roll in both directions before they can make the switch

parent holding baby at a doctor's appointment
February 8, 2024
How Many Bones Do Babies Have?

Surprise: A lot more than adults!

Child hiding behind grandmother and a stranger at a park
January 31, 2024
How To Teach Your Kids About ‘Stranger Danger’ (Without Scaring the Daylights Out of Them)

It’s never too early to teach your kids who strangers are and how to avoid unsafe situations

Sad teenager holding smartphone with various chat bubbles in background
January 29, 2024
How To Help Your Child Develop a Healthy Body Image

Foster communication about social media, encourage whole-person attributes and be mindful of your own negative self-talk

pregnant mother with father on couch with son
January 25, 2024
Baby on the Way? Here’s How To Prepare Siblings for Their Arrival

Talk with them about their new sibling early and often

Adult hand uses a dropper to deliver a liquid to newborn by mouth
January 18, 2024
Do Infants Need Vitamin D Drops?

A daily dose of vitamin D can help babies build strong bones, as well as boost their brain development

Trending Topics

glass of cherry juice with cherries on table
Sleepy Girl Mocktail: What’s in It and Does It Really Make You Sleep Better?

This social media sleep hack with tart cherry juice and magnesium could be worth a try

Exercise and diet over three months is hard to accomplish.
Everything You Need To Know About the 75 Hard Challenge

Following five critical rules daily for 75 days may not be sustainable

Person in foreground standing in front of many presents with person in background holding gift bags.
What Is Love Bombing?

This form of psychological and emotional abuse is often disguised as excessive flattery

Ad