Did you know that learning to socialize is one of the most complex skills your little one will learn in their life? And, the fundamental way to make friends is through learning how to play!
So, how can you help your little one build crucial social skills needed to create friendships? Here are a few tips from our friends over at Good Days with Kids!
Friend-ship Making Skills to Teach
- Learning Names: Help your child learn the names of kids they know. Keep a class list at home, or have photos of the other kids – run through the names with your child.
- Meeting: Teach how to make eye contact, smile warmly, and introduce themselves.
- Greeting: Once they know someone, encourage them to say hi, use the other person’s name, ask them about something specific – “how was your trip?” “what book did you bring today?”
- Use Kindness to Connect: Suggest that they share a snack, make a drawing or card for a friend.
- Finding common ground: Ask your child what they know about what another child likes to play or talk about, that your child is also interested in, so they know how to connect to them.
- Joining into play: Teach them how to come up to the group with a smile, and ask “Can I play?” Or, play nearby, with friendly body language, and they may invite you in. Make a suggestion for how you could participate: “That looks like a fun town you’re building – can I add a house?”
- Keeping a conversation going: Teach your child some standard conversation starters: “do you have any pets / brothers / sisters” or “what is your favorite food / book / movie / video game?” Teach them how to ask follow-up questions. Teach how to stay on topic, by teaching the analogy of a conversation as a Lego tower. Your friend says something. You say something related that connects. Then they ask something related that connects. You’re building a tower of connection.
How to Create Opportunities to Build Friendship and Practice Social Skills
Playdates. Set up playdates with other children. The one-on-one practice is the best skill builder, and also the best way to build closer friendships.
Tips for success:
- Timing: Pick a time of day when both kids tend to be in good moods. Keep the playdate short.
- Have some plans: Work with your child to plan and set out possible activities that they think their friend would particularly enjoy. Sharing a fun experience builds connections.
- Minimize conflict triggers: If there are toys your child has a hard time sharing, or games your child has a hard time losing, put them away for the playdate.
- Supervise, but try to step back and let them play without a lot of interference from you.
- Snacks: If things aren’t going smoothly, offering a tasty snack is often a good intervention.
- 2 person or 4 person playdates are best. If there’s 3 kids, one often gets left out.
Free Play Opportunities: Take your child to the park, Gymboree Play & Music or other free play locations, often. If your child wears a t-shirt or carries a backpack with a favorite character, or brings a favorite book, that can end up as a conversation starter with someone who shares the same interests.
Extracurriculars: Enrolling your child in activities and classes with a focus means that they’ll find kids there that they have something in common with. However, within the structure of something like music class or soccer practice, they don’t have a lot of time for free, unstructured interaction, which is what really helps to build friendships. So, try planning some playdates or free play opportunities with those kids after the lesson is over. 
 More Good Days. “Teaching Friendship Skills.” January 29, 2018, gooddayswithkids.com/2018/01/29/teaching-friendship-skills/