There are many reasons why young children might be shy and making new friends seems like an impossibility. They could be naturally quiet, or they could be new to the school or the neighborhood and don’t have the confidence or the tools with which to reach out to other children to make friends. Birth order, whether a child is an only child or one of many, can also be contributing factors. Children who have some physical or emotional issues may also feel uncomfortable about being around other children whom they don’t know. And, in some cases, children may be hesitant about making friends because the other children aren’t friendly or welcoming.
The reasons that keep children from connecting to other children in a happy and healthy way are numerous. Identifying those reasons is the first step in helping your child overcome his or her shyness and the first step in ultimately helping your child make friends.
When we think about our superhero, Lily, we notice that she is very confident. She goes around singing, “I am me, I like me, that’s who I am.”
The question is, “How can we instill that kind of confidence in our own children?” It’s obvious that Lily has an outgoing personality and is the one at school who reaches out to other children and befriends them.
But not all children are like Lily. Consider some of the suggestions below for helping your child gain the confidence to deal with his or her shyness and, ultimately, reach out to others and make friends. Also listed are some strategies your child could practice when attempting to make new friends as well.
- As Lily inspires her friends to see the heroic potential each of them possesses, it’s also important for you to help your child identify those special character traits that makes him or her unique. You can further help your child understand that it’s those traits that will attract other children to be friends with your child.
So, for example, if your child is good at sports, others will want to engage him or her in a sports activity. If your child is a wiz in a certain subject in class, others will want to partner with him or her on a project. If your child is funny and fun to be around, others will naturally gravitate to your child. Even if your child is quiet, but has a great smile and is friendly and kind, others will embrace your child. Explore together what would make your child a good friend to others, and discuss why someone would want to be your child’s friend.
- Unfortunately, there are times when your child is too stressed or anxious about the process, and it becomes a major hindrance to forming those important friendships. This is when it’s important for you to provide your child with the tools on how to engage other children in a meaningful way. So, for example, you might want to role-play some possible scenarios on helping your child start a conversation with another child.
Discuss possible topics such as a food that he or she loves, a new book, an upcoming movie, the latest toy craze or a sports personality or other celebrity that he or she follows on social media. Help your child feel confident about discussing and sharing something that he or she loves, is interested in, and would probably interest other children as well. Helping them learn to ask questions about others is a great way to teach them friend-making skills that will last them a lifetime.
- Stress and anxiety can also be a factor in forming friendships if your child is new to the school and especially before social and other school events. So, as a parent, “What can you do?” Whatever you choose to do, it is probably best to do it in advance. Discussing expectations of what the social or other school events might be, as well as possible scenarios of how to handle the new situations, can help alleviate some of the stress and anxiety. If, for example, you are bringing you child to a new school, arrange for your child to visit the school and possibly meet with the teachers, administrators and even custodial staff, before the first day of school.
Before a social or other school event, find out who, of your child’s classmates, will be attending and what your child can expect to experience at the event. Perhaps it’s possible to carpool to the event so your child is already part of a group, and it eliminates that awkward feeling of walking into a crowded room and having to seek out someone you know. The more your child knows about what to expect, the more comfortable your child will be, and the more likely he or she will make friends.
- If your child is new to a school, inquire what steps are in place to integrate new students into the school community. Are there “buddy” programs? Are you matched up with a mentor family that has a child your child’s age? Is there a visitor’s day when your child shadows another child throughout the school day and before he or she actually starts his or her first day? Does your child get to meet the school faculty and staff? Doing your homework about the new school your child will attend, can be particularly helpful to you and your child.
As mentioned earlier, the more you know about a new situation, the more comfortable you will feel, and so will your child. It’s also important for you to communicate regularly with your child’s teacher and other important school personnel, in order to address any adjustment issues immediately.
- We all know that we are happiest and feel most comfortable when we are doing something that interests us and that we love. Your child is no different. That’s why we are always told to get our kids involved in school activities. In order for your child to feel part of the school community and meet and make friends, it’s important for you to take steps to get your child involved in school activities. Probably one of the best strategies to help your child avoid the natural pitfalls of being the “new” kid is to get involved in the school community, as soon as possible.
Encouraging and supporting your child, with the help of teachers and others at the school, is critical in helping your child if he or she is shy and stressed or anxious because of it.
- If you have a child who is like Lily and is very outgoing and very open to meeting new friends, you might suggest ways that he or she can seek out those shy children and befriend them. It’s empowering for your child to take a leadership role when he or she reaches out to other children. More importantly, it helps your child find the heroic potential that Lily believes all children possess. What a tremendous life lesson this can be.
- There are times when your child’s ability to make friends may be as simple as his or her negative attitude about his or her ability to make friends. Your child may have had a bad experience in the past and has convinced himself or herself that they can’t make friends. It becomes a “self-fulfilling” prophecy that we hear referenced so often. Your child begins to believe it, and it becomes a major hindrance to making friends. As a parent, it’s important to address the issue and try and reverse those negative feelings and self doubt that your child is experiencing.
As mentioned earlier, this is when it’s important to help your child build self-confidence and begin to see himself or herself as worthy of having friends and being a good friend. Begin by focusing on the things that make your child special and unique. You might try something as simple as having your child identify his or her special character traits and repeat those positive affirmations throughout the day. Positive reinforcement can be very powerful for young children. As parents, it is an effective and simple parenting strategy to help your children feel good about themselves.
- As your child gets more and more involved in school activities and begins to form friendships, you want to make sure you keep that ball rolling. Perhaps hosting a family gathering, of school friends, at your home and frequent play dates, will help build even stronger bonds of friendship for your child. With your ongoing love and support, combined with your outreach to members of the school community, your child should begin to feel confident and a sense of belonging.