In the school, at the playground, or at home, children typically spend time playing or doing fun things together with their friends. Just like adults, having friends is important for children too. In friends, children find playmates and peers, who can understand and can offer them social and emotional support because they are going through similar situations as well.
Making friends requires many subtle skills and some children may have greater difficulty than others. Helping the child to develop some of these abilities can increase their opportunities for success.
Discuss with the child how potential friends may behave towards him/her:
Do they smile at you?
Do they try to talk to you?
Do they give or share things with you?
Do they take turns with you? Offer to help you? Walk with you?
Share with the child how to recognise unfriendly behaviour:
Do they move away from you?
Do they laugh or make fun of you? Hurt you?
Do they try to make you do things that get you in trouble?
Do they take things from you?
Collect pictures depicting both friendly and unfriendly faces and body postures. Discuss with the child why they are friendly or unfriendly. Alternatively, when watching TV programmes or movies, use suitable opportunities to discuss what makes the characters appear friendly or unfriendly.
Practise making friendly faces and poses with the child in front of the mirror.
Role-play how to be friendly towards another child, e.g. offering to share a snack.
Practise topics the child can talk about when speaking to other children – movies, TV programmes, sport, local outings, toys – so they have something to say.
Rehearse the different ways to speak with different people using the same topic so the child can see the difference, e.g. grandmother, shop assistant, teacher, classmate, best friend.
It is also worthwhile to practise many of the non-verbal social skills by encouraging the child to talk at mealtimes or family lounge-times about things they did that day at school or at home – guiding them if they are making social mistakes e.g jokes that are not funny, when to speak, what volume of voice to use, giving suitable eye-contact, how close to sit/stand to the person, what sort of touch is acceptable.
Show the child how to play some common card/board games such as Uno™, Monopoly™, Scrabble™, Jenga™ etc., so they know of things to play with their friends.
Encourage the child to learn how to turn-take, follow rules and accept losing. When the child has achieved most of the above-mentioned abilities, it is a good idea to create opportunities for him/her to practise what has been learnt with other familiar family members and friends before trying them out with people outside of the family. Encourage the child to have a friend over from school – make it short and successful to start with. You may need to structure the play – i.e give them ideas what to do.