9 Ways to Help Your Child Build Friendships
How many time have you heard on the news or read on social media of a special needs child who is sitting alone at their birthday party because no one decided to show up? Or the child who wrote his wish list for Christmas and all it had on their was a friend. Just the other day I posted about a child who even though he had been bullied, opted to wear a t-shirt on the first day of school that read, “I will be your friend.” So that others would know they don’t have to be alone.
It plays out over and over.
Like I said, this topic resonates with me because it is an area my daughter has long struggled with. I have sat and listen to her cry because she is lonely. She wants a friend who will like her for her. I have hugged her a thousand times as she cries out wondering why no one likes her.
I have long been an observer of people. I get a sense of people rather quickly. This applies to children as well. I know why neuro-typical and other children shy away from being friends of our kids.
Our kids are unpredictable. Many times, they don’t act their age. They can become easily frustrated and lash out. They can become overwhelmed and meltdown. They have a hard time reading social ques and filtering their words. They find it difficult to express their emotions in sage constructive ways. They can become easily fatigued and need more time to rest.
The list of “difficulties” goes one. Yet, often the other kids are child is trying to be friends with never gets to see all they amazing friendship qualities they have. Like loyalty. Where they are willing to stand up for those they care about and they will wait patiently for them to be able to play.
They don’t get to see the love and care about how they think about them when they are apart. Creating pictures or small gifts for them. How they talk about all the things they did together as it is exciting and means so much to them.
I believe there is another reason children often shy away from being friends of our kids. That’s other parents. We are living in a time where judgement of others seams to trump how we behave and interact with others. Parents are still playing “keeping up with the Jones” or become embarrassed if they’re with your child when they have a meltdown.
Parents may be saying things like; be kind, be empathetic, be accepting of others, etc…BUT they’re not leading my example with their own actions. Therefore, kids don’t believe what they are saying and don’t do it either.
So where does that leave your child? And What can you do to help them make friends?
- Look for groups/clubs that cater to your child’s special needs. I am seeing dance classes, archery lessons, therapy riding, and more starting to become more main stream.
- Find the common denominator – things like similar hobbies and passions make it easier for friendships to evolve. Lego, robotics, animals, etc
- Volunteer for things your child like to do, whether its picking up trash, hanging out with the elderly, socializing cats & dogs, whatever.
- Mix up the ages – often our kids may act younger than they are or older than they are. Finding groups with mixed ages will help. They may find they enjoy talking with elders or playing with a child who is younger than they are. Or Older kids may be more understanding and make a great friend or mentor (like Big brothers/Big Sisters)
- At school, ask the counselor to start a friend bench or lunch bunch. The friend bench is a program where there is a bench in the play area. If anyone sits there the other kids know to come over and invite them to play. The lunch bunch program is where teachers and staff observe the lunchroom for kids who end up sitting by themselves on a regular basis. Then they invite all those kids to sit together, so no one has to be alone, and new friendships can be made.
- Keep play dates short and focused. I find that depending on the needs of your child it may be better to keep play dates short minimizing the likelihood of mishaps, and if they are focused, dreaded boredom or indecision doesn’t have a negative affect on the relationship. You may also need to find “neutral” ground for play dates as some children don’t like others playing with their things.
- Work on friendship, social, emotional, behavioral skills. This does take time, but role playing can help, talking through scenarios ahead of time gives them alternative ways to interact in a given situation, asking your child to see how they affect others (through Social Mindfulness), building up coping mechanisms so they know when to take breaks and walk away, and learning to apologize for mistakes.
- Educate and empathize. I like to keep other parents informed of our needs, as well as, help them understand what it must feel like for your child who is struggling to make friends. It’s also important to understand where the other child and parent is coming from, if they have concerns about the friendship.
- Change Your Expectation. You can not control what other kids and other parents do. You can only control how you respond. Understand that their will be a lot of kids who are not going to be friends with your child. Instead, focus on building up their social skills, while looking for places with kids similar to yours.
I breaks my heart when I see my daughter struggle. I pains me when I hear or read the stories of special needs kids being lonely. No one should ever be without community or friendship (unless they choose to do so). We are all connected.
If you have any other ideas or techniques you have used to help your child build lasting friendships, please drop them in the comments below.