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. His friends care about him, and this helps him feel good about himself.
Friendships help children develop important life skills like getting along with other people and sorting out conflicts and problems. Children with these skills 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.
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, family relationships are still the biggest influence on your child’s development. Good family relationships are what your child needs to learn and grow.
Family relationships 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
Getting to know your child’s friends: why it’s good
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: tips
Playdates and sleepovers outside school can be a great way to foster new school friendships.
You can help your child arrange playdates and sleepovers by asking your child whether there’s anyone she’d like to invite to your home. You could encourage her to invite her friend, and you can talk to the friend’s parents.
Here are some tips to help playdates at your home go smoothly:
- Start with a snack or drink. This can help children feel comfortable with each other.
- Talk with the children about what areas of the house or garden they can use. This can help to prevent tension about what children are allowed to do in your home.
- 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.
- Plan some activities. It could be collage, cubbyhouses, ball games and so on. You might not need to use these activities, but it’s good to have them ready in case you sense children getting restless.
- If your child finds playdates tricky, try keeping them fairly short – for example, 1-2 hours.
When your child needs help to make friends
Most children will find it hard to make friends sometimes. If your child is finding it hard, there are a few things you can try.
Sometimes a simple social reminder might help. For example, you could encourage your child to introduce herself when she meets new children – ‘Hello, I’m Kaia. What’s your name?’
Often children make friends at school through playing the same game together – but it’s hard if you don’t know the rules. You could make sure your child knows the rules of games he wants join in with. If he doesn’t like the games other children are playing, you could suggest he starts a game that he does like by asking classmates to play it with him.
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.
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’.
If your child finds it hard to make friends at school, you could look for extracurricular activities to give your child opportunities to meet children with similar interests. There are lots of things your child could try – sports, dance, art classes, Scouts and so on.
Friendship troubles: what to do
If you can tell your child isn’t happy about going to school, or she isn’t eating lunch or seems to be socially anxious, this could be because she’s having trouble making and keeping friends.
Talking with your child gives you a chance to hear about what’s going on. Some children will be happy to tell you, but others might find it hard. You can encourage your child by telling him about a friendship trouble you had as a child or by reading a story about friendship troubles. If your child isn’t ready to talk, let him know he can always come to you.
It can also be good to ask your child’s teacher whether the teacher has noticed anything different in class or in the playground.
If you’re concerned about your child’s friendships – for example, your child and her friends are doing things that are unsafe – 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 her own decisions, rather than just following friends.
Having friends who don’t go to the same school – for example, children from art class, neighbours or family friends – can help to boost your child’s confidence, especially if he’s having friendship troubles at school.