By Audrey Bowlds, LSW
Going back to school can be stressful for children in many ways, especially as we continue to deal with the pandemic and its aftereffects.
A child diagnosed with a mental or physical illness may also struggle returning to school more than their peers. Whether your child is new to their school or returning, making new friends can be hard.
One way to make sure your child is ready for the many social interactions they will have throughout the school year is to model positive social behaviors. Children are constantly watching and observing what their parents/guardians do, say, and how they react to positive and negative situations.
These behaviors can shape children into the adults they will be in the future and helps them develop skills to handle their own situations. Using positive social behaviors in front of your children with friends, family, or even the cashier at the grocery store can help your child learn social skills.
According to Gwen Dewar, Ph.D., there are evidence-based strategies to help children make friends:
- Help children regulate their own negative emotions. When your child can regulate their own negative emotions by noticing and naming what they feel, they can better express their feelings with others in a healthy and calm way.
- Teach understanding. Emphasize the importance of listening to the emotions and perspectives of others. When your child understands these emotions and perspectives, they can learn to be empathetic towards others.
- Practice cooperation and acceptance. Knowing how to handle introductions and participating in conversations is a key component to your child starting a positive friendship. It is important that your child is capable of cooperation, negotiation, and compromise while interacting with peers, as well as accepting others’ mistakes, apologizing, and making amends.
Parents can also help their child learn positive social skills by showing them warmth and respect, and not controlling the child through fear, punishment, or manipulation of the child’s feelings. It is important to be your child’s emotional coach and nurture their ability to empathize.
Providing a secure social environment for your child is a great way to prevent social anxiety when they speak to peers. Host social activities that encourage cooperation with others while showing your children how to handle awkward social situations that might occur. Lastly, it is important to monitor your child’s social life without becoming too controlling, especially as they get older.
Sometimes children have trouble making friends even after following these tips. Reaching out or having your child reach out to other support systems such as their Youth First Social Worker, counselor, or teacher can be extra helpful in learning positive social skills and forming lasting friendships.