A new school year brings not only new school supplies and new teachers, but also new classmates and, for kids entering high school, usually a new school. Whether your child is starting at a new school or simply in a different class, the beginning of a new academic year can be a great chance to make new friends.
So we asked some experts for their tips on how you can help kids have great friends—and be a great friend back.
Have family discussions about friendship
Kortney Peagram, founder of Bulldog Solution, recommends that families sit down together and define their family culture by answering questions like “Who are we?” and “What matters most to us?” Doing so helps kids become clear on the importance of traits like kindness, generosity, loyalty, positivity, etc. Encourage kids to exude those characteristics not only at home but also in their friendships and interactions with others.
Similarly, Kristen Dua, a family therapist at Individual and Family Connection, encourages families to spend time talking about friendship. “One fun way is for each to make a Top 10 list for important friendship qualities, like trust, laughter, shared interests, etc.”
Discuss which current friends have qualities on the list and encourage kids to identify how they demonstrate their own top qualities as a friend.
Hello, my name is …
Introducing yourself on the first day of school sounds like an easy way to start making friends, but doing so can be really tough for some kids.
Peagram suggests parents role play and rehearse those first day introductions with their kids (yes, even if they roll their eyes!) to help them know what they’re going to say. That can make them feel more at ease.
“Kids are more open to meeting new friends or talking to someone new when they feel comfortable and confident,” Dua says. “Also, smiling is a great place to start and it doesn’t even involve talking!”
Focus on quality over quantity“Kids just need one good friend,” says Peagram. As long as your child has that one friend, don’t worry about the number of friends your kid has.
However, Peagram cautions parents not to confuse followers for friends. One student she has worked with had a very large number of social media followers but no good friends she saw in person regularly, which was a problem.
Stick to the facts
What if your child has friends you don’t especially like? It’s very normal to have opinions about your child’s friends, but sharing those feelings may not be the way to go. “If it’s negative and not evidence-based, keep it to yourself unless it’s a safety issue,” Peagram recommends.
Instead, solicit your kid’s opinion. Asking “What do you think?” can start an important conversation and get your kids reflecting.
When to get involved in friend problems?
Jill Hope, founder and empowerment coach at iShine and author of the upcoming book, The Powerful Girl Within, acknowledges that it can be difficult for parents to watch their children deal with difficult friendships and/or make friendship mistakes, but she says kids need to learn for themselves.
“There are going to be friendship issues, and as long as your child isn’t getting in with the wrong crowd, that’s OK. Dealing with those issues builds character, helps them understand how to be in relationships with friends and allows kids to learn how to manage themselves. As painful as it is as a parent to watch, it is actually good for them.”
Dua says that by letting teens handle problems solo first, you are empowering them with confidence needed now and later in life.
“Parents can help their child build critical problem-solving skills by identifying their choices and possible outcomes for the situation,” she says. “This is empowering, but also sends the message ‘I’m here for you.’”
Visualize fantastic friendships forming
Hope also stresses helping kids think about what friendship looks like to them.
“When kids are deciding what they want, then they bring that same energy to their friendships.
The people who have the qualities they appreciate will attract each other, and those who don’t will fall away.” She encourages both kids and parents to visualize what a great start to the school year looks like, noting that positivity from parents makes a big difference.
“Fear is picturing what can go wrong,” she says. “Instead, consciously flip a switch and focus on what can go right.”