If you’ve ever watched your child play alone at preschool, had them miss out on birthday party invites, or listened to them tell you that they have “no friends”, you know how heartbreaking it can be.
As parents, we wish we could snap our fingers and give our kids everything. But helping them make friends is one of those tricky areas that can be especially hard for parents to understand and address.
Do you get involved, or do you take a back seat and see if everything pans out on its own?
For some expert advice, RiotACT sat down with Tiffany Martz, Acting Director of Artemis Early Learning in Fyshwick. Tiffany and her team are at the frontline of this issue, as childcare centres are often a child’s first meaningful socialisation experience.
“It’s very common for parents to worry about their child’s friendships, especially if they are naturally quiet or shy,” says Tiffany. “Sometimes the worry is brought on when the child expresses hurt or disappointment over the subject. Other times, the parent notices a lack of conversation about friends, or a disinterest in making friends, and becomes stressed.”
Tiffany assures us that in the case of the latter, there’s usually no reason to be alarmed.
“If your child doesn’t appear to have many friends, but isn’t concerned about it, then it’s best not to worry. Every child is different and matures differently. Some children don’t need lots of friends to be happy, just like some adults. They are perfectly content entertaining themselves, which should be embraced and accepted.
“If you try to intervene, or push your child to make friends, you are placing unnecessary pressure on them. You may even be signalling to them that what makes them comfortable and relaxed is not OK.”
When it comes to watching your child play, Tiffany also notes that children at a young age often play near each other, but not necessarily with each other.
“This will change as they become more aware of others and interested in what others are doing – rather than just exploring their immediate environment. Over time we introduce activities, games and scenarios to slowly and comfortably allow them to learn social skills they can build upon. Our dining room experience at meal times is a great opportunity to develop these social skills.”
If, on the other hand, your child has expressed concern over a lack of friends, or is clearly lacking confidence, Tiffany says there are some steps you can take.
“Parents can try to facilitate friendships, and increase confidence in social situations, simply by making time to socialise their children with other children. This may mean a quiet playdate with one or two other children, in a place they feel comfortable. Don’t force a friendship, just allow them to get used to being around another child and sharing an experience with them.
“If your child is home with you most of the time, it may help to let them spend a day or two each week in childcare or playgroups. Often, the younger a child gets used to being in social situations – especially those that require them to follow a routine and share a space and resources with other children – the easier they will find the preschool transition.”
Tiffany notes that most childcare centres are structured to help you transition your child from the home into this new, larger social environment, which can ease concerns about separation anxiety.
“At the end of the day, your child doesn’t have to be the most outgoing one in the room. They just need to have confidence in themselves and be able to interact with others in a positive and productive way. So, working on building that confidence and the skills to communicate, rather than being overly worried about how many friends they have, is the key.”
To learn more about transitioning your child into local childcare, please call 02 6239 3927 or visit Artemis Early Learning.
Have you ever struggled with helping your child make friends? How did you handle it?
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