Even if you’re not there with her, your interactions with your child could encourage her to form new friendships
By Shiffy Friedman, MSW
At my daughter’s kindergarten orientation this year, she was surprised to discover that, due to a grade rearrangement, some of her friends from the year before wouldn’t be in her class anymore. In the hallway, we met met one of her former classmates. “Rochela is so sad that you won’t be in her class this year,” the child’s mother told my daughter. Not only my daughter’s eyes were glowing when she said that. Mine were too.
As dedicated mothers, we want our children to succeed in all areas at school, but what we care most of all is to ensure that our children emerge emotionally secure and happy. Here are five ways you can help your preschooler make friends so that school is a pleasurable place for her all year long.
As with every aspect of childhood development, discussing the topic with your child while truly listening to what she has to say will help you guide her through the friend-making process. Don’t bombard your child right after she returns from school. After she had something to eat and drink and she seems relaxed, open a conversation with a specific question like, “So, Nechama, who did you enjoy playing with today?” or, “Who did you sit next to at lunch today?” Avoid general questions such as, “How was your day today?” because they usually result in a one-word response and bring an abrupt end to the conversation. And direct questions like “Did you make any friends?” are also generally unhelpful because they may turn off the child from the discussion. Instead, specific, indirect questions that allow for conversation will give you a chance to express your interest in your child’s life as she opens up. Once your child starts talking about the girl she likes, ask what she likes about her (“She has the cutest shoes!” is a perfectly normal answer) and what she thinks she can say or do to help the relationship blossom. A healthy involvement in your child’s life is the greatest gift you can give her. It fills her with the confidence she needs to build strong relationships based on trust and open communication.
Once you see that your child is developing a relationship with a friend or two, be there to encourage those friendships for her. According to the child’s age, arrange social activities, teach your child how to express affection and appreciation in a healthy way (“I’m so happy to sit near you at lunch today.” “I like when we play together.”), and discuss how we can read facial expressions (“When your friend does like this, what do you think she’s trying to tell you?” “How can you tell if your friend likes the game you’re playing?”). Even from a young age, children are open to learning about sharing, how to let their peers know that they disagree, and how to have an age-appropriate conversation. The knowledge and skills you model and teach are the cornerstone to every relationship they will ever cultivate in their lives.
Slow But Steady
Although you may be anxious to know how your daughter is adjusting socially, pushing her to make friends will only increase her stress levels and may cause her to feel incompetent in the social scene. At the same time that you’re arming your child with basic social skills techniques, keep in mind that it’s perfectly normal for a child to take her time with making friends. Actually, in a recent study published in Child Development, research reveals that friendships that take time to develop are not only the ones that last, but they may also be indicators of a child’s future emotional stability. By letting your child know that she doesn’t have to rush into it, the relationships she develops will happen naturally, at their desired pace.
An excellent way to ensure that your child doesn’t get stressed out by the social scene is to validate her feelings of shyness. You can even reassure her with statements like, “Mommy is also shy when she first meets new people.” As long as the child feels that her behaviors are normal, she’ll have the opportunity to take her time and enjoy the friend-making process.
Our Divine Friend, Hakadosh Baruch Hu, is always there for us with a listening ear, especially during the month of Elul. Use this opportunity to pour your heart out to Him, to beg for your child’s success in every aspect of school—and life. By modeling a close relationship to Hashem, your children will not only benefit from your tefillos, but they will learn to express their deepest concerns, requests, and appreciation to Him, as well.
Shiffy Friedman is a kollel wife and mother of four kids. Whenever she’s not busy with drop-off or pickup (no carpools in Yerushalayim!) she works as a writer, editor (at The Wellspring) and therapist.