My girls spent most of their free time this week and weekend playing with the neighbors. It was a beautiful weekend here. They rode bikes, made a movie and played street hockey. While they had fun, there was some inevitable drama — disagreements and poorly chosen words.
I think there’s very little that causes drama in a child’s life like their friendships. And the start of the school year seems to exacerbate that. When the kids head back to school, there’s nearly always some kind of drama revolving around their friends. Whether it’s a friend who doesn’t want to hang out with them as much as they did last year or one of the girls is entering a new situation where she doesn’t know anyone, friendships can be difficult.
And making new friends is the hardest thing of all. My girls are really different when it comes to this. My oldest started a new school and joined a new soccer team this year, and it’s been tough. She doesn’t know everyone. Last night we were talking about how much she misses that. She’s also my kid who doesn’t make new friends easily. She’s quiet and a bit shy until you get to know her. She has a tendency to drop her eyes and mumble in new situations.
My younger daughter, however, has never met a stranger. Making new friends isn’t that hard for her. She’s gregarious and a natural-born leader. But even so, new situations can be tough. And meeting new people takes courage.
We want our kids to be able to walk into any situation and make a new friend. We want them to reach out to kids who also need a friend. We want them to be the kind of kids who make good friends. We want them to be the kind of friend found in Proverbs 17:17 who “loves at all times.” But how do we encourage that behavior? How do we help even our shy kids learn to make new friends?
Practice making friends. Role play with your kids before they go into a new situation. Ask them to show you what they would do to make a new friend. Talk about their reactions to new situations and people. Point out places where they can improve their approach to other people. Suggest ways that they can include others like inviting them to join a game or partnering with a new person for an activity. Give them questions to ask someone else in a new situation. This will help them to be ready when they meet someone knew.
Talk about the importance of body language. Crossed arms and downcast eyes aren’t inviting. They turn people off. Explain to your kids how their body language tells others whether they want to be friends or not.
Encourage your kids to seek out new people. Ask your kids to find one new person to talk with each day. Have a list of questions they can ask to get the conversation started. These could include: How old are you? Do you play any sports? What school do you go to?
Pray. New situations are intimidating, even for adults. Pray with and for your kids any time they are entering a new situation. Specifically pray that they would seek out new friends.
Making new friends isn’t easy. It’s hard to make yourself vulnerable and open to rejection. But we want our kids to learn to be comfortable in any situation, even ones where they don’t know anyone. To do that, we have to encourage them to be the ones to reach out to others and recognize the gift found in making new friends.