Is your child struggling to make friends? Are you hoping to help him? I’m happy to tell you that, just like learning to play an instrument, making friends draws upon a skill set that can be developed with knowledge and practice.
The United States has seen a surge in depression, anxiety, bullying and suicides over the past few years. Last week, a 13-year-old boy in my community killed himself. He was described as not having many friends and seemed to be almost invisible to his classmates. A strong group of supportive and encouraging friends is a powerful weapon against depression, anxiety, bullying and suicide. I believe it is time to go on the offensive if your child does not have a strong cohort of friends and equip her with the tools to make stronger connections.
My family has a wonderful group of friends. We make friends easily. I want to share what I have learned over the years to help any of you who want this for your children. I was highly influenced by the classic Dale Carnegie book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. Since reading it in college, the lessons percolated in my mind and influenced by behavior. If your child is lacking in the friends department, I suggest you purchase this book. Read it first by yourself. Highlight the items you would like to discuss with your child. In this article, I will draw upon his book while augmenting it with additional strategies for making friends.
I would also like to add that the ability to make friends and engage people will serve your child well throughout her life. Not only can it help her emotionally and in her personal life but will also help her professionally. These powerful soft skills can have a big impact on earning potential. The ability to get along well with other employees and customers is enhanced as is the ability to persuade others to her point of view.
Here are some techniques for making friends:
- Smile–People prefer to be around happy people much more than crabby or glum people. A warm smile is one of the easiest and most impactful things you can do to draw people to you.
- Project confidence–People are attracted to confident people. People want to follow confident people. Look people in the eyes when you speak with them. Stand up straight with good posture. Address people by their name. Don’t speak lowly of yourself in your conversations with others. People are attracted to winners.
- Be someone you want to be around–Be positive, friendly and encouraging. Display enthusiasm and energy. Don’t whine or gossip. Think about the people you most like to spend time with and how they behave. Model some of those best traits.
- Be a good listener–People love to talk about themselves. In fact, folks who are good listeners are often considered the best conversationalists. Be an active listener who makes it clear you are paying attention by making appropriate eye contact, orienting the body in the direction of the speaker, remaining quiet, and making relevant verbal responses. As you listen, you may find some common interests. Even if it turns out you don’t have much in common, you may learn something. In fact, when you listen more and talk less your knowledge as well as insight on life is significantly expanded.
- Show up–You are more likely to make friends with someone if you see him often. Go to parties, park days, field trips, hikes, sporting events, etc. Create your own events. Invite peers to your house.
- Use technology as a tool to bring you closer to people and not further away–Technology can be a great tool for keeping up with friends and sharing what is going on. For homeschoolers who don’t see their friends every day, it can be especially helpful. My kids have a pretty big group of friends that chat on Google Hangouts. Technology can become deleterious in building friendships when it causes you to want to stay home and not have face-to-face contact and experiences with others. Additionally, if you are out but are on your phone the bulk of the time then that hampers relationship building. Finally, uncivil behavior on social media will make it more difficult to make friends.
- Make the other person feel important–Become genuinely interested in people. If you find someone interesting and want to be friends with her, talk in terms of her interests. Show sincere appreciation for others.
While some of these techniques may sound contrived, when you become genuinely interested in other people you will often find that life is much more interesting and there is much more to learn.
“Curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”–Walt Disney
Your child may consider doing some detective work before approaching a conversation. Listen to conversations amongst the friends she would like to know better. Then, discuss the conversations she heard at home. With your child, role-play joining in a conversation about those things and building upon what she heard. You may also use this tool from Parenting Science to help your child decipher facial expressions.
Special consideration should be given to the children your child is pursuing in friendship. Personally, I like for my kids to spend time with kids who share most of the values that our family does. One of the benefits of homeschooling is we have greater control over who our children spend time with. As the child starts moving into his tweens, the influence and impact of friends play a greater role.
Special Note for Homeschool Parents
Homeschool families have a tremendous opportunity to make wonderfully close friends because you can be out in the world together engaging in such a diversity of experiences. This creates a very strong bond. On the other hand, homeschoolers can become isolated if they don’t make an effort to build relationships. Here are some tips:
- Build your tribe--I wrote this article about proactive steps you can take to build a solid community of friends. Once you find families you have chemistry with, be deliberate about creating social outings and building relationships.
- Break the crutch of parents and siblings–Some children who have a hard time making friends stay close to their mom or siblings at social situations with other homeschool kids. This actually inhibits them from engaging with other kids and making friends. When you go to homeschool events, be mindful of this. Try being out-of-sight so your child can’t cling to you or her sibling.
- When possible, sign your children up for homeschool classes or activities to meet other homeschoolers– Most of our best friends we met at our homeschool co-op six years ago. We have continued the co-op each year and most of our homeschool activities are done with our co-op besties. If there is not much in your area, build something–even a weekly park day should work. You know the saying, “If you build it, they will come.” A local homeschool Facebook group is a great place to get started inviting people.
- Sign your child up for sports or other after-school programs–My kids are quite active with sailing. The majority of the kids they sail with are not homeschoolers. However, they’ve made some wonderful friends who they greatly enjoy spending time with and adventuring together out on the water. Additionally, many life skills are developed when playing sports.
One side note I would like to mention is that waiting tables in high school and college helped me tremendously with my people skills. If you want to make decent tip money, you have to learn to smile, be friendly, make people feel important, project confidence, be positive–so many of the skills I talked about above. If even for just six months, the benefits of working as a waiter can be tremendous on an individual’s social skills. While your child may not yet be old enough to wait tables, it is certainly something to keep in mind for the future.
I hope this article is a springboard to get you thinking and help your child to start making good friends. If you see that I missed something, please send me a message. This information is intended to help people.
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You may also be interested in:
How to Build Your Homeschool Tribe
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If You are New to Homeschooling or Thinking About It….
Six Reasons We Homeschool Year-Round
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