Skip to Content

Making Friends

What is a friend and why do we need to make friends?

making friendsA friend is a person we trust and like to be with.

For children and young people making friends and having positive peer relationships is critical for their development.

As children get older having a sense of belonging and affirmation from their peers is particularly important in fostering positive self image and identity.

Consequently, the social processes involved in forming and retaining friendships is an important life skill for children and young people.

Why is it sometimes difficult to make friends?

Making friends is often thought of as a natural and ongoing process. However being able to form friendships depends on:

  • the child's self-esteem
  • the communication and social skills of the child or young person
  • whether the child behaves in a way that encourages friendship[1]

Young people's ability to make friends differs from one person to another. For some, making friends is easy, while for others it can be quite difficult.

Barriers to making friends

There are a number of barriers to making friends and getting along well with others:

Attitude Some children and young people, although they may want to have lots of friends, may not appear to be approachable and friendly to their peers.

What can parents/carers do to help?

  • Model positive social skills to the child e.g. how to greet others
  • Encourage and develop a sense of humour
  • Show them how to be kind and how to share with others
  • Model to them how to be respectful of others and how to listen to others' opinions

Conversation Skills - Encouraging the development of good conversation skills is a great strategy in supporting children and young people to make friends.

What can parents/carers do to help?

  • Model to the child or young person how to constructively contribute to a conversation or discussion
  • Encourage children and young people to acknowledge and engage with people who are talking while waiting for a chance to speak up
  • If they need to leave the conversation, explain to them that it's best to wait for a gap in the conversation before saying ‘Excuse me, I have to go.’ or ‘Nice talking to you. See you later.’

Shyness - The way you react to a child's shyness will have a deep impact on his confidence in social settings.

What can parents/carers do to help?

  • Try not to push children into behaving in a more confident manner. This may heighten their anxiety
  • Give children time to respond, and if they don't feel up to it, let them be
  • Encourage children to join activities and sports that they enjoy - that way, they'll meet other children with similar interests
  • Share stories from your own or other family members' lives about feeling shy so your children will know that being shy at times is a common experience

Low self-esteem - Some children who feel they have to measure up to others' standards (i.e. the unrealistic images often displayed on TV or in popular magazines)

What can parents/carers do to help?

  • Encourage children to value their own individuality
  • Be generous in praising a child or a young person when it is appropriate to do so. When required, provide feedback about other strategies and/or behaviours they may have used to achieve a more positive outcome in a social situation

Attachment - Some children may be reluctant to participate in activities without their parents and carers.

What can parents/carers do to help?

  • Provide opportunities for children to socialise with others - initially, they may need lots of support and encouragement from you
  • Arrange for some of their classmates to come over for a play or a sleepover

Children with a disability - Children with a disability who don't have friendships may be at risk of increased difficulties in coping with their feelings and their schoolwork. (Kemple, 1991).

What can parents/carers do to help?

  • Provide some information about disabilities to other children or young people in the neighbourhood (if possible), and in the school (if applicable)
  • Teach other children and young people different ways that they can communicate with the child
  • Prepare the child to answer questions that other people may ask about their disability[2]
  • Ask the teacher to pair the child with a similar-aged child who is good at forming friendships[2]
  • Offer the child or young person some positive role models by telling stories about people with a disability who achieved their own personal goals and ambitions[2]

Teenagers and friendships

By the time a teenager enters high school, friendship problems may begin to present themselves in new ways. Friendships at this point in life are very important, because teenagers are starting to explore new relationships, social roles and personal identities.

The following are simple strategies that may help parents and carers through this time:

Encourage discussion with the young person about their day to day experiences - Try talking casually to young people about their day, by telling them first what you did. This is a better way than throwing them the question ‘What did you do today?’ More often than not they may find it easier to join a conversation than to start one.

Take the time to ‘just listen’ - Sometimes young people may need to talk about their feelings and experiences. They don't always need or want you to solve their problems. They may need to feel responsible for themselves. Try to relax, listen and be understanding if this is the case.

Support healthy and respectful friendships - Take the time to explain what makes a good friend, as well as how to be a good friend to someone else. Explain that sometimes young people can disagree, or have different interests or tastes, yet still be friends.

Help them handle their emotions - Help young people handle their emotions and encourage them to calm down before making any moves or saying anything they may regret later.

Keeping friends

Keeping friends is just as important as establishing friendships. Below are some suggestions about retaining friendships that you may find helpful to share with children and young people:

Appreciate friends - try not to take friends for granted and take the time to thank them for nice things they've done.

Offer time and attention - When people are constantly too busy to give time to their friends, their friends may one day move on without them.

Be forgiving - people make mistakes. Sometimes, a friend may do something unintentionally that the other person may object to. This situation does not always have to end the friendship.

Making friends for some children and young people can be a very daunting prospect. It can be a lifelong problem and some people have a continual struggle to trust and engage with others.

But there's good news! Kids Helpline is here to talk with children and young people about any issue big or small! They can talk to a Kids Helpline counsellor about different problems and issues they face about friendships. In fact concerns about relationships with friends and peers is the fourth most common reason that children and young people contact Kids Helpline for counselling.

Who can I contact for more information?

You may wish to contact your local parenting help service/s for further information.

General links

Helpful Links

http://www.kidspot.com.au/Education-School-Life-Making-friends-at-school+381+58+article.htm

http://www.kidspot.com.au/Preschool-Behaviour-Conquering-shyness+99+33+article.htm

http://services.unimelb.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/359781/ParentTips2010.pdf (pdf)

http://www.parenting.org/tween-years

http://tweenparenting.about.com/od/socialdevelopment/a/TweenFriends.htm

References

  1. Novita Children's Services. Friendships http://www.novita.org.au/Content.aspx?p=87
  2. Novita Children's Services. http://www.novita.org.au/

Other Helpful References

Brotman LM, O'Neal CR, Huang KY, Gouley KK, Rosenfelt A, and Shrout PE. 2009. An experimental test of parenting practices as a mediator of early childhood physical aggression. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 50(3):235-45.

Davidov M and Grusec JE. 2006. Untangling the links of parental responsiveness to distress and warmth to child outcomes. Child Dev. 77(1):44-58.

Eisenberg N, Fabes RA, Murphy BC. 1996. Parents' reactions to children's negative emotions: relations to children's social competence and comforting behavior. Child Dev. 67(5):2227-47.

Frankel FF and Myatt R. 2002. Children's friendship training. Routledge.

Granot D, Mayseless O. Attachment security and adjustment to school in middle childhood. International Journal of Behavioral Development. 2001;25:530-541.

Kemple, K. M. (1991). Preschool children's peer acceptance and social interaction. Young Children, 46 (5), 47-54.

Published: 5 February 2010