Although some kids seem to figure out naturally how to meet other kids and form friendships, many kids struggle with these skills and need some explicit instructions about how to meet and keep friends. Given the number of adults I know who also struggle with forming friendships, I expect many of us could have used some help figuring out these sometimes confusing social interactions!
I created 3 picture checklists to help explicitly teach kids these skills:
- Where to meet new friends
- How to engage with someone new
- How to keep your friends
You can get all three of these lists for free on Teachers Pay Teachers
You can edit these lists for your kids/students on The Trip Clip website
Where To Meet Friends
Before kids can work on getting to know a new person and becoming friends, they need to figure out where to meet new people. Many kids find friends at school, and that is a great way to get to know other kids. They’ll have time to identify the ones they like by spending time together in class, on school projects, on the playground, and at extra curricular activities together. For many kids, this is enough, and they may be able to jump right to the “How To Get Started” section that helps kids figure out how to turn an acquaintance into a friend.
For other kids, though, this process of getting to know other kids at school doesn’t work as well, and parents may need to help their kids find friends outside of school. This list has lots of great ideas of places where kids can meet other kids in a setting that can help them form friendships. In all of these cases, parents may need to stay nearby and involved to help their kids identify potential friends, interact with the other kids’ parents, and extend invitations to help grow the friendship beyond the activity specified. Follow your child’s lead, but also help them when needed. You may also need to practice some of the “getting started” skills in the next section to help you know how to engage with the other parents!
Team sports are a very common way for kids to meet other kids who share an interest with them. If your child is at all athletically inclined, signing them up for soccer, football, volleyball, softball, baseball, tennis, basketball, or any other team sport can work wonders. It still won’t be instantaneous, though. It takes time for kids to get to know each other, identify who they do and don’t like, form bonds, and grow their interactions from teammate to friend. As parents, you can help this process by bringing them a little early, and letting them stay a little late to kick around a ball. Attend any extra practices, games, or activities the coach sets up. Whenever possible, keep them on the same team from year to year, and then be patient.
Individual sports are just as good at helping kids form friendships – and are a better fit for many kids! Try martial arts, running (on a school team or find a running club), swimming (even just lessons are great), archery, golf, dance, ice skating, horse back riding, or anything else your child is interested in. It’s great for their health, and any classes, practices, clubs, or events related to their sport will put them in contact with other kids who share an interest. Just like with team sports, though, it may take time. Offer as much continuity over time as you can and always encourage your child to participate in any events or extra activities related to their sport.
Taking classes, just like doing a sport, puts kids around other kids who share an interest, especially if you let your kids pick the kinds of classes that interest them. Try art, music, chess, robotics, pottery, archery, programming, or anything else you can think of. Look at the classes your local park district offers to get ideas. Work to find something your child really enjoys and wants to pursue to offer continuity with other kids in the class. If they develop a long term interest they can take harder classes, or do more in-depth work in the area to continue their interest and increase their time with others who share their interest.
Youth groups like boy scouts, girl scouts, 4-H clubs and church groups are by definition longer-term activities that are designed to help kids form strong bonds. All of these will be great places for kids to meet like-minded friends.
Story times and book clubs through your local library or book store can offer the same kind of regular/weekly exposure to others who share a love of books. As with the activities above, you’ll want to try to attend regularly to give you time and continuity to get to know others.
Parks, playgrounds, and pools are excellent places for kids to interact with other kids and a very casual environment. It might be hard, though, to walk up to other kids to ask them play, so you might want to practice some of the ideas in the “how to get started” section below to help your kid be ready to meet new potential friends! Parents can practice these skills too for meeting the parents on the edges of the playground :).
Volunteering is another way that is often overlooked to meet others with similar interests, and you’ll be teaching some great lessons and helping the world at the same time. You’ll need to volunteer with your kids, but there are many places that welcome parents and kids for volunteer work.
A Tip From a Wise Parent
When my kids were toddlers I signed them up for music classes because my husband and I are both musicians and we thought they might enjoy it since they were too young to learn an instrument. Another mom who was skilled at forming friendships noticed our kids enjoyed dancing around together, and on the last day of class she had a little card ready with her name and number written on it. She handed it to me with a smile and said I should contact her if I’d like to meet up at a park for a playdate some time. I decided afterwards that she was brilliant. There was zero pressure on me to say yes or no to an invitation right then, and I was quite simply pleased in the moment that she had singled us out and was able to respond honestly with a smile and a simple thank you. If I didn’t want to continue the relationship, I was unlikely to see her again and could just not call. But if I did want to see if our kids would become friends I had the means to do so, with the proposal of a park meetup already on the table. Brilliant. I did reach out to her, and we had playdates together at nearby parks and eventually in our homes for years. Our kids enjoyed our playdates, and so did the other mom and I!
How To Get Started
For many, many people, taking the next step after meeting someone is the really tricky part. It takes courage to put yourself out there and advance from acquaintance to friend. This list is meant to help parents talk with their kids about ways to do this so they’ll be ready to approach kids on the playground or in a class they’re taking to help grow a friendship.
A great way to start helping your child feel comfortable with talking to another child they don’t know is to help them learn a joke. It’s a great ice breaker!
You can also do some roll playing to have your kids practice introducing themselves. It might feel weird or too formal to walk up to another kids and say “Hi, I’m Jamie, do you want to play?” but that definitely works! Your kids can also tell a joke, or ask a question, or make an observation to another child, and then later say “By the way, my name is Sylvie”. Brainstorm other ways they might initiate a conversation and share their name so they’ll have some phrases to use that they’re comfortable with.
An excellent and casual way to start a conversation with a stranger is to ask them a question, and if you can make it about something the other person is interested in that’s even better. Help your child learn to look for clues, like noticing that the other child has a backpack with dinosaurs on it and asking if they like dinosaurs.
Remind your kids that smiling works wonders for putting the other kid at ease. The other child may be just as nervous about meeting a new potential friend, so remembering to look friendly can help everyone feel reassured!
Some kids will benefit from having a set of activities in mind that they can invite another child to do with them rather than just “play”. Brainstorm some ideas ahead of time that work well in the situation at hand. Maybe your child can invite someone to swing them them, or kick a soccer ball or play tag. Or maybe they’d prefer to play 20 questions or hopscotch. Bringing bubbles you can share when you might be meeting other kids is always a good idea! Have your kids pick a few things they like to do so they aren’t going in cold when approaching a new child. If your kid needs to practice approaching other kids because they’re having trouble doing it at school, working on this skill at a park when you can be nearby to support them is a good idea.
For more good ideas, have your kids ask extended family members about how they met their best friends. Grandparents, aunts, and uncles will probably love remembering these stories, and tons of good and unexpected ideas may emerge about how this kind of thing works in real life!
There are also many good books out there about making friends. Go to the library or look on Amazon to find some to read together and discuss with your kids.
If your kids are nervous, play the “What if” game. Have them think about what horrible thing could happen when they approach another kid to ask them to do something, and then talk through how they would handle it. What almost everyone (kids and adults alike) are scared of is rejection. And they’re not wrong – it can hurt. But it’s usually a pretty minor hurt, and if kids are aware ahead of time that might happen, and are ready to so “No problem!” and walk away to try again with someone else another time, they may discover that their worst fear isn’t all that bad.
The last item on the list, remembering to take turns inviting and accepting invitations, can cover a broad and tricky time as you grow a friendship. I’ve found this to be the friendship topic I’ve spent the most time on with my kids. It takes 2 people to have a friendship, and it’s important that the friendship is at least somewhat balanced. Paying attention to who is doing the inviting (and making sure it’s reasonably equal) and to whether or not the invitations are accepted and returned, is an important part of assessing if the other person wants to be your friend. Take it slow, watch for signals, and do your share of the scary putting yourself out there to extend invitations. If it’s a good match, you’ll be able to identify it as such. If it’s not, it’s fine to accept that this one didn’t work out and try again with someone else who wants to be your friend as much as you want to be theirs. It’s also ok to gently turn down invitations if you’ve decided this person isn’t the right fit for you. It’s important that both people are enjoying the friendship!
When my oldest was in 5th grade and making his birthday party list, he included by default the kid he considered to be his best friend. They’d been best friends since 1st grade. But I’d noticed something my son hadn’t. I knew when that boy’s birthday was, and was aware we hadn’t received an invitation the last two years. And although most (though not all) of our playdate invitations were accepted, we almost never got one in return. My son had missed the cues that his friend had moved on, and I had to gently point out to him what I’d observed, and that we hadn’t really seen much of that friend in the past year. My son considered this, and realized there were plenty of other kids on the list he liked quite a lot, including someone he HAD been spending a lot of time with recently. 10 years later, that’s who my now 19-year-old would consider his best friend. He’s still in contact with the first friend, but it’s been a more casual friendship all of these years, and that was ok with everyone. As a parent, I thought it was important to help my son not only find good friends, but also be self aware enough to not be the kid who keeps pursuing someone who has tried to send signs that they’ve moved on.
How To Keep Friends
An incredibly common mistake people make once they’ve made a friend is to forget that, like with any relationship, good friendships take work. You can use this list to help teach your kids the many things they’ll want to think about to be sure they’re being a good friend. Kids can also use this list to make sure their friend is a good friend to them! Both people in the friendship deserve to be treated well.
First, remember that friends are there for each other in good times and in bad times. Having fun with friends is great, but it’s not always just fun. If your friend is sad, or needs help, your kids should do what they can to make things better.
Friendships really do take work. If one person is always supporting the other, or always doing all the planning, or all the inviting, that’s not a good balance. Kids should always make sure they’re sharing the work of supporting the friendship!
Being a reliable friend is also important. Teach our kids that it’s not ok to cancel on a friend if a a better offer comes along, and that they should remember when they make plans and show up when they say they will.
Talk to kids about how to be a good listener. They should make sure they’re truly listening to the other person and not just thinking about what they want to say next themselves. They should also make a point of remembering details about things their friend is interested in.
Good friends are trustworthy. A huge benefit of having a friend is having someone you can share things with that might be private or something you don’t want everyone to know. Teach your kids that if a friend shares personal things with them, they should keep those things private unless their friend tells them it’s ok to tell other people. This is a good time, though, to talk about what kind of secrets should be kept and what kinds of secrets should be shared with a trustworthy adult like a parent. The rule I used with my kids is that they should keep their friends secrets unless they were worried that their friend was in danger or could get hurt. That was when it was time to make sure an adult knows what’s going on.
Another part of being trustworthy is be sure to have your friend’s back. Talk to your kids about the importance of not saying mean things about their friends to other people, and that they should stand up for their friends if others are being mean.
Keeping in touch with friends is a necessary part of maintaining a strong friendship. If kids get busy with schoolwork or activities or other friends and forget to check in with a friend, it will hurt their feelings and eventually weaken the friendship. If you want to remain friends with someone, be sure to reach out to them often enough to continue to feel connected.
The last item on the list is an incredibly important one and one that most people forget to do. Teach your kids that when they are feeling close to a friend, or they appreciate something their friend has done, they should tell them. It’s a simple thing to do but it can make a world of difference in deepening a friendship if you let the other person know you value having them in your life.
How To Make Friends As An Adult
As I worked on this blog post, I found myself spending more and more time thinking about how hard many of these skills are even for adults. I’ve had a lot of conversations with my own friends about the difficulty of making friends once you’re out of school, and worse, after you’ve had kids and your time is so limited. Many people look up one day and realize their world is so centered around their kids and family that they’ve lost track of the friendships they had that were about them as individuals.
I decided to modify the lists above to make a version to remind adults about how to do this too. You can read my post here!
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