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Help Your Kids Make New Friends

On the Menu: Talking About Making Friends

For Ages: Six and up

THE SCENE
Nine-year-old Kevin loves watching his favorite TV program, but tonight he's barely paying attention. After some prodding, he finally shares the bad news: His best friend Eric won't be attending the summer basketball program with him after all. "I won't know anyone there," he says. "I don't want to go."

Words You'll Need
Transitions between school and summer programs can be stressful for children, especially if the change involves meeting lots of new people and making new friends. At one extreme, children may actively express regrets about choosing the new program and want to opt out before it even begins.

Other children may feel uncomfortable acknowledging any fears about starting something new. How your child anticipates these changes depends on his temperament and his previous experiences with new endeavors. No matter how your child responds, there are specific ways you can support your kids through these difficult transitions.

The Words: It stinks that Eric won't be going with you.

The Reason: Acknowledging your child's disappointment about his friend's change of plans will validate his feelings. Some children, especially boys, may feel embarrassed about their dependence on friends, or their fears about new situations.

The Words: I can see why Eric's decision might change your feelings about going away this summer, but I can help if you tell me more about why you don't want to go.

The Reason: You'll be better able to help your child overcome his fears if he can tell you specifically what he's worried about.

The Words: It might be hard at first if you don't know anyone, but I know you'll make friends. Once people get to know you, they like you a lot. You have a great sense of humor, and kids like hanging out with you.

The Reason: Letting your children know that you believe in them, and actually listing their strengths, is a good way of giving them support and reminding them that they have the skills to cope with new situations.

The Words: A lot of kids are probably worried about starting the program.

The Reason: Let your child know that his feelings are normal, and that he's not the only one who's frightened.

The Words: Remember when you first started on your soccer team? You didn't know anybody -- even Eric -- and now the two of you are best friends.

The Reason: Reminding kids of their previous experiences of being new and successfully making friends will help them gain the confidence they need to succeed in this new situation.

The Words: Let's keep talking about this honey, and as the day gets closer, maybe we can talk about ways you can help yourself feel more comfortable.

The Reason: You should have several conversations with your child about his concerns about making friends. Perhaps there are tangible things that can make him feel more comfortable -- such as wearing his favorite shirt, getting a haircut, or taking some favorite food to share for snacks.

Beyond the Rap

  • In situations like these, when children are expressing fears about starting something new and asking to get out of it, it's tempting to let them off the hook. Whether you do or not will ultimately depend on your child, what's going on in his life, and how he has dealt with new situations in the past. However, it's important to remember that successfully meeting a challenge like this is an important confidence-builder that will carry over into his adult life.

  • Some children take longer than others to feel comfortable in new situations. Let your child know that there's no set timetable for making friends, but that you do expect that it will get easier every day.

  • You and your child might find out the names of other kids attending the program and if possible, find a way to get together with their families ahead of time. Seeing a familiar face on the first day could make a big difference to a shy child.

  • If a week or so goes by and your son or daughter continues to complain about not making friends, you might call the program director to find out how your child seems at camp. The program staff might find ways of helping him or her get to know other kids.
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