About your child’s school-age friendships
Your child’s world gets bigger when she starts school. Relationships with other people – like the children in her class at school – become more important.
Friendships are good for your school-age child’s self-esteem. When your child has good friends, he feels like he belongs. He has people he can have fun and share interests with. His friends care about him, and this helps him feel good about himself.
When children make friends, they develop important life skills. These include getting along with other people, being independent and learning how to sort out conflicts and problems. These skills are important for your child to learn because children who get along with others are less likely to have social and emotional difficulties later in life.
Play is a big part of how children connect with others and make friends at school. Being involved in games can help your child get to know her schoolmates and settle into school more easily. She’ll learn about taking turns, sharing, and cooperating with her new friends as she plays.
School friends and parents: why your child needs both
Young children enjoy playing with their friends, but they still need their parents. In fact, during the early school years, home life and family relationships are still the biggest influence on your child’s development. Good family relationships are just what your child needs to learn and grow.
Also, you give your child a stable, safe home base through the ups and downs of making and losing friends. In fact, the care and love you give your child at home helps your child manage other relationships.
If your child is upset at being left out, or has had a fight with a friend, he knows that you’re still there for him. And you can help him work it out by talking with him about what happened and how he felt. For example, ‘How did you feel when Ali wouldn’t let you play?’ This helps your child learn about his feelings and how to handle them. Sometimes just listening or giving your child a hug can be enough.
After school one day my son told me that his mates wouldn’t let him join in their game at lunch time. He felt sad and left out. We talked about what happened and things that could help. I encouraged him to take a ball to school the next day so that if it happened again, he could start his own game.
– Jacinta, mother of a six-year-old
Why getting to know your child’s friends is a good idea
Getting to know your child’s friends helps you find out about:
- some of the important people in your child’s life
- who your child is talking about and their personalities
- what kind of influence friends have on your child
- how your child gets along with her friends
- who to invite for playdates and birthday parties
- other families with children of a similar age.
If you’re not sure who your child’s friends are, just ask, or watch who he goes to in the playground at school. You could also talk with your child’s teacher. If you’re able to help at school sports, in the canteen or in the classroom, this can also give you a chance to see who your child gets along well with.
We share the driving with a couple of other families to and from after-school activities. When it’s my turn it gives me a chance to spend time with my kids and their friends.
– Carla, mother of a five-year-old and a seven-year-old
Supporting your child’s school-age friendships
Children who find it easy to make friends
If your child finds it easy to make friends and gets on well with them, you can arrange playdates and sleepovers by talking to other parents.
If your child finds playdates tricky or she and her friends aren’t getting along, try keeping the playdates fairly short – for example, 1-2 hours. You could also help the children choose an activity that they’ll both enjoy.
At the beginning of a playdate at your house, you can talk with the children about what areas of the house or garden they can use, including the bathroom, and offer a snack or drink. Be available in case a child needs help, but give your child and his friend time and space to learn how to get along with each other.
Children who find it harder to make friends
If your child finds it hard to make friends, you can be more active in helping her.
You could look for extracurricular activities – for example, sports, dance or art classes – to give your child opportunities to meet children with similar interests.
Sometimes reminders about what to do might help too. For example, you could encourage your child to introduce himself when he meets new children – ‘Hello, I’m Kai. What’s your name?’
You might need to be active in setting up playdates for your child. For example, on the way home from an activity ask your child if there’s anyone she’d like to invite. At the next class, help her to invite her friend.
Another idea is to ask your child whether he’s interested in the games other children are playing at school. He might be keen to play soccer, but unsure about the rules. If he doesn’t like the games that they’re playing, you could suggest that he starts a game that he does like by asking some classmates to play it with him.
Other ways to support friendships
Some schools have a buddy system, where the younger students have an older student as their buddy for the year. If your child needs help finding her friends or isn’t sure of what to play, she could try asking her older buddy for help.
Many schools have other great ways of helping children find someone to play with, so it’s worth asking your child’s teacher if you think your child needs some help.
If your child has special needs, he might also need extra help with his friendships. You could try making friends with other parents and getting together after school at a playground. Give the other parents and children some ideas on how to include your child. For example, ‘Bill loves watching people play soccer. He can throw the ball in and be the scorer’.
I was surprised how going to dance class each Sunday helped my daughter with getting along with others. She came out of her shyness a bit quicker, even though she didn’t know anyone there when she started.
– Colin, father of an eight-year-old
If you can tell your child isn’t happy about going to school, or he isn’t eating lunch or he seems to be socially anxious, this could be because he’s having trouble making and keeping friends.
Talking with your child gives you a chance to ask her what’s going on and listen to what she has to say. Some children will be happy to tell you what’s been happening, but others might find it hard. You can encourage your child by telling her about a friendship trouble you had as a child or by reading a story about friendship troubles (ask your local librarian or school librarian for good books). If your child isn’t ready to talk, let her know that she can always come to you.
It can also be good to talk with your child’s teacher about whether the teacher has noticed anything different in class or in the playground.
If you suspect your child is being bullied or your child is bullying others, you need to step in and help your child.
If you’re concerned about your child’s friendships – for example, your child and his friends are doing things that are unsafe as part of their play – talking is the best first step. For example, ‘Is it a good idea to jump from the top of the slide? You might get hurt’. This can help your child learn to make his own decisions, rather than just following friends.
Having friends who don’t go to the same school – for example, from art class, neighbours or family friends – can help to boost your child’s confidence, especially if she’s having friendship troubles at school.