In time for the 2014-15 school year, veteran teacher Debora Gant went on Facebook to offer tips to parents who are worried about their child's ability to make friends.
"I wanted to address a topic that is near and dear to the hearts of parents everywhere: Helping your child make friends!" wrote Gant, who teaches second grade and has been a Kalamazoo-area teacher for almost three decades.
"Over the years I have see parents broken-hearted, agonizing over the fact that their child reports they have no friends. No one wants a child to be friendless, or feel that they are friendless."
With her permission, here are Gant's suggestions:
1. Talk to your child.
You may ask a few questions like, "Who are your friends? What do you usually do on the playground during recess? Who do you play with?" If the child says, "No one," inquire further. Sometimes children "think" that they don't have friends because they engage in group games, with a lot of children participating. Other children may very well consider your child their friend! Sometimes all that is needed is a paradigm shift, so that your child "sees" that they do have friends!
2. Teach your child what it means to be a friend.
This is an interesting, but very important concept. Get a book from the library about friendship, and read it to your child. This can be a springboard for your discussion on what friends do. Friends care about each other. Friends inquire about how the other person is doing. Friends have things that they like to do together. Friends are kind to each other. Sometimes friends disagree, but they try to work it out. You may use a few of your adult relationships as examples. This will help your child to go from the general concept of friendship to more specific details about what friendship looks like. Avoid saying, "Oh, You're shy just like I am," and leaving it like that. That statement leaves the child with no hope that anything different will happen.
3. Make suggestions.
Suggestions that may increase opportunities for friendship include, asking someone to play outside before everyone goes out. You child may say something like, "Shonda, Kevin and Mary, do you want to jump rope with me when we go out for recess? I saw that you were jumping double dutch yesterday. Could you show me how to double dutch?" Or, "Do you want to eat lunch at the same table today?" Sometimes, children who share similar interests also become friends! Also, a buddy from the classroom could also be a good friend for recess. Table or group partners get to know each other very well, and sometimes play together outside as well.
4. Practice at home.
Role playing possible "friend making" scenarios at home may help your child build confidence to try the same thing at school!
5. Expand the definition of what a "friend" is!
This is an important one! Your child may be only looking at the group they are in, such as children who who to school, for friends. The problem is, that sometimes if children spend a lot of time together, they depend only that group for all social interaction. That is how cliques get started, and in my opinion, there is no room for cliques in the classroom! So ask your child to explore friendships in other groups, or in other classrooms. As a teacher I intentionally "mix it up" in the classroom so children have the opportunity to get to know children who are similar and different from themselves.
6. Talk to the teacher.
Teachers can help parents get a more complete picture of their child's day. If there are issues, a teacher can be a wonderful ally, and will talk to your child and help them make friends. Children can be moved to different places in the classroom to help them make friends easier, teachers can put students together for partner projects and so on. Please approach the matter in a positive way: "I'm concerned because Penny, says she doesn't have any friends. Have you seen any problems in the classroom?" vs, "My child doesn't have any friends, and the kids are all mean to her! What are you going to do about it?". Together any issue can be addressed.
7. Report any suspected bullying to the teacher.
If you suspect that your child is being bullied, let the teacher know immediately. Bullying is not allowed, and all children must be taught how to interact positively with others. All school districts want to protect children from bullying to the best of their ability. No one should suffer in silence.
Concludes Gant: "One of the goals of any teacher is to help children learn to develop positive relationships with peers.This is a lifelong skill that will serve them well, all the days of their lives! Have a great school year!"