Friendships are critical to helping children improve their communication, sharing, empathy, problem-solving and creativity.
– Professor Rachelle Theise, Child Psychologist at NYU Child Study Centre
This month is host to Friendship Day, so we’re giving you some tips to help your shy child make new friends.
Foster children can find it especially difficult to connect with people, often due to distressing life experiences and underdeveloped social skills. But don’t worry, there are plenty of ways for you to help them find their flock.
To encourage people to like them your child needs to know how to be friendly and how to contain any selfish urges. Things like smiling at people and offering a sincere compliment may seem obvious, but they are behaviours that need to be learned. Just make sure they don’t go overboard or start giving away all their possessions.
Start with saying hello to a classmate
Then ask to borrow a pencil
Share a treat at lunchtime
Ask to join in at playtime
Invite a friend round for a play date
You can prepare your child for these situations through role play. Begin by showing your child the right way to behave, then let them practice on you. Give immediate praise and feedback to show them how they’re doing, and then repeat.
The most outgoing, athletic and popular people in the class are usually the ones children want to meet. But that doesn’t mean they’ll be the perfect match. So instead of focusing on the biggest characters, encourage your child to make friends with people who have similar interests.
It’s also a good idea for your child to have a variety of friends. Some from an extracurricular activity they’re passionate about, some they wait with at the bus stop, some they sit with in class and so on. Encourage your child to try to get on with the friends of any new friends they make. The more the merrier.
Whether you choose board games, charades, cards or anything else, this is a great way of showing your foster child how people should play together. If you have a biological child, the results could be even better.
Pack interesting toys or snacks in your child’s school bag so they have something to share and talk about. Their classmates might even make the first move.
Call or meet with your child’s teacher and ask if they have any ideas to help your cause. They may be able to suggest classmates who would be a good match for friendship, and can keep an eye on the progress when you’re not around.
Start by inviting one child at a time so no groups can form and nobody can be left out. Also, keep play dates brief so they end on a high note with the potential friend wanting to come back. (They’ll also want to come back if your home is fun, so make sure you have plenty of games and snacks – get your foster child to help you choose them.)
Your child should be hosting play dates, not you. Unless they need your help, leave your child and their friends to it. Greet them warmly, make small talk, then move to the background.
Hopefully your foster child will start making friends in no time. But if not, don’t worry. Keep up the good work and remember that some children take longer than others to pick up new skills. It’ll be all be worthwhile in the end.
We offer comprehensive training and support to our foster carers, so they can help their foster children thrive. Ask your supervising social worker for advice. If you think you could foster a child and help them reach their potential, get in touch with your local team.