Making a new friend can feel elusive and confusing for grown-ups. Most of us have felt the struggle to connect with new people. If you don’t know the steps involved in making a friend, it is going to be extremely difficult for you to know how to teach a child to make friends.
Let me help you demystify the process.
Here are a few simple steps you can follow to teach a young child how to make a friend.
- Smile and say hello. This first step shows others that we are friendly and interested in making a new friend. This is the easiest step in the process and the hardest one to move past.
- Ask questions to find common interests. This next step is a little trickier. It requires you to know what your own common interests are first and then know how to ask others what they like.
- Be patient and keep trying. This is the hardest step of all. Not everyone was meant to be best friends and that is ok. But it still doesn’t feel good to put out the effort of making a friend and not have the relationship click.
So, how do you teach these friend-making skills to a child?
Well, the first thing I love to do when introducing a new topic is pre-teach it with a book. Books are a perfect teaching tool because they are engaging and we tend to remember stories better than “rules” we have to memorize. When I am teaching a younger child how to make friends, I use the book Devon Makes A Friend. It was written by me, an SLP, and a mom to a preschooler, so it was written to be extremely strategic for teaching a child how to make a friend.
Next, I break the steps down into easy to manage chunks. I teach the child one skill at a time, and we practice each skill on its own until we master it. It is important for the student to understand the why behind each step, so make sure you are not skipping this during each step.
To teach a child how to smile and say hello, we begin by practicing in my speech therapy room. I explain that smiling and saying hello shows other people we want to be friendly and we are interested in making a friend. Once the child understands why we are doing this, we practice. We practice by going around the building and smiling and saying hello to people we see. No one has to ask questions or do anything else at this stage of the process. If the student is resistant, explain that we are practicing now, so we know how to do this skill later when the student feels ready. If the student is really resistant, wait until s/he is more comfortable.
Next, I teach the child about interests. I explain to them what an interest is. Then we spend time brainstorming the interests of the child and of other people the child is familiar with.
Once the child understands what an interest is, we talk about what a common interest is. I explain that when two people share an interest, it makes them more likely to be friends. This is because they enjoy the same things and will probably enjoy spending time together.
After that, we start talking about how to find a common interest. This is done by asking specific questions. I teach the child how to generate and ask questions that can help him/her find common interests.
Finally, I explain to the child that making friends can take a long time. This is because not everyone is meant to be our friend. We need to be patient and keep trying and eventually, we will find the right friend for us.
I would also like to say one more thing about this topic. To me, the process of making a friend should not be forced on a child. I use this process with children who have expressed a desire to make a friend. Or, if they have told me they don’t know how to make a friend. If a child is working on this skill, but isn’t ready to use it, I explain that I am teaching them the tools they will need if and when they decide they are ready to make a friend. We discuss the benefits of having friends. I also give examples of when they might want to have a friend.
If you are teaching an older student how to make friends, try this blog post that goes more depth into the friend-making process.