Friendship is something the majority of children and young people take for granted. Whether they have a large circle of mates or prefer to hang out with one or two close friends, most form relationships with similar-age children easily.
Friends are important, no matter if the friendship is brief or lasts a lifetime.
Making friends and learning how to form relationships is an essential part of a child’s development and is a skill they will use throughout their lives.
Having friends boosts a child’s self-esteem and confidence, whether it’s playing in the playground or street, running around a sports pitch at weekends or simply enjoying shared interests like music or drama.
Conversely, the failure to form friendship groups can have a harmful effect on a young person’s emotional well-being, particularly if they feel they are somehow at fault.
Struggling to make friends
Some children have a harder time fitting in than others and the social skills required for making friends don’t come naturally to them, e.g. being willing to share.
Children can be very cruel. If they perceive one child to be different from everyone else – perhaps they are big for their age, have unusual interests or are from a different background or ethnicity – they may act as a group to exclude that child from playground games, sleepovers or out-of-school activities.
Young people who are shy may find it difficult to make the first approach, making them seem unfriendly or stuck-up to others. Children who are bossy, big-headed or controlling may also be given a wide berth by their peers.
Children who struggle to make friends often feel isolated, suffer low morale and are more likely to be bullied.
Making and maintaining friendships can be particularly hard for young people with autism.
Helping your child to make friends
While you shouldn’t try to force friendships, you can help a child who wants to make friends to develop those important social skills.
- Talk to them about thoughts and feelings, including imagining how other children might feel about certain things.
- Help them practice what they might say to other children in specific situations.
- Give them the opportunity to meet children outside school, e.g. team sports, dancing lessons, etc.
- Talk to their teacher – they might have some ideas.
- Encourage them to invite a classmate to your home for tea.
- Socialise with the parents of similar-age children, perhaps inviting another family to your home for a barbecue or games night.
- Older children might like to get involved in volunteering for a charity or cause they care about.
The worst thing you can do is criticise your child or imply it’s somehow their fault that they have no friends. Spend time with your child and enjoy fun activities that boost their confidence.
Even if your child is a natural loner and prefers solitary pastimes like reading, drawing or computer games, they will need to form relationships at some point in their lives.
Social media and mobile apps mean young people can now make new friends at the touch of a button (although they should be aware that these friends are not always who say they are).
Young disabled people may struggle to make friends, making them vulnerable to ‘mate crime’. Mate crime is a form of disability hate crime in which someone is befriended for the sole reason of taking their money, possessions or to commit crime.
Mate crime is growing and should always be reported. Call the police on 101 or report it online.