By Nadine Briggs and Donna Shea
As the new school year approaches, all parents are hopeful that their children and teens will be able to make new friends and reconnect with previous friends. For those with social challenges, this can feel daunting and be quite an anxiety-provoking experience. Here are some tips excerpted from our bestselling book on friendship strategies, How to Make & Keep Friends: Tips for Kids to Overcome 50 Common Social Challenges.
Bonus comments have been added by us to help you prepare your kids for a successful and social return to school this fall.
Tips on Making New Friends
We believe that there is a friend out there for everyone and having one or more good friends can make life more fun. It is important to keep trying to make new friends by talking to, and listening to, different people. Think about it as going on a friendship treasure hunt.
1. Try to make just one new friend and not several friends all at once.
Some kids think that they need to be entertaining to the whole class, bus, or lunch table. This usually doesn’t work out as planned, so tone down the extra humor and lead with just being nice and showing interest in other kids.
2. Be friendly and be the one to say hello first to other people.
When kids feel anxious, they can come across like they’re not interested in being friends and might be afraid to approach other kids. Try to gain just enough courage (10 seconds will do it) to sit next to someone new and say “hey, what’s up?” and maybe “my name is ____, what’s yours?” to get things started.
3. Practice conversation starters with family so that you are ready to talk with other people.
Practice asking Mom how her day was and have Mom answer you with some level of detail. Practice asking follow-up questions and listening to the overall idea of what she is saying. Conversations are made up of questions, comments, and statements, so you want to make sure there is a good balance of each.
4. Remember to listen when other people are talking.
It can be tricky to listen to what someone else is sharing, especially if it isn’t interesting to you. You might have to fake being interested in what they’re saying even if you’re bored. Remember that other people listen to the things that you like, even if they don’t share your interests.
5. Show that you are friendly with your facial expression. Practice smiling in a mirror.
If you feel anxious, you might have a worried or angry look on your face and not even realize it (sometimes referred to as *resting mad face*). Try to pay attention to how your face feels and think of something that will make your face brighten up and make you smile. For some that might be a pile of puppies and for others it could be winning in a video game. Just like the tip #2 above where we suggest you say hello first, you also want to be the one to smile at someone first. Just be careful you don’t stare and smile too long, that could make the potential new friend uncomfortable.
6. Ask to sit with a new person at lunch or on the school bus.
Be prepared if they say “no, I’m saving this for someone” or any type of rejection (it’s possible that the person might ignore you and/or not saying anything, too). That doesn’t mean that the person doesn’t necessarily like you, they just haven’t taken the time to get to know you yet. If that happens, just ask someone else. Phrases you could use are, “you cool if I sit here?” or “is this seat saved?”
7. Ask what kinds of things they like to do.
Since everyone is just coming off summer break, you can ask about their summer. Did they go on any trips or go to any camps? Make comments on the things they tell you or ask more questions. Even if they don’t ask you what you did, you can offer that information to keep the conversation going.
8. Remember that other kids also want to make new friends so they might be interested in having you as a friend.
Most kids are hoping to meet new people and form new friendships in a new school year. Think optimistically when you approach new people and your positivity will show in what you say, through your body language and in your facial expression.
9. Show you are friendly by helping other people out.
Hold the door open, ask if someone needs help finding their class, pick up a pencil that someone drops, and generally think about other people and show them kindness.
10. Throw out a feeler for a get-together.
As you get to know new people, you might want to socialize with them outside of school. You could ask a new person, “do you like to swim? Maybe you could come over and hang out at our pool sometime?” When you first ask someone to hang out, it’s best not to ask them to hang out on a specific day or time. Throw out the feeler and see if they’re interested first. If not, it doesn’t mean that they will never be friends with you. It might just mean that the new friendship needs a bit more time to develop.
We hope that these friendship tips help your child or teen to feel more confident heading into the new school year. For more tips on how to make and keep friends, check out How to Make & Keep Friends: Tips for Kids to Overcome 50 Common Social Challenges and the rest of the book in the How to Make and Keep Friends book series.
To check out social skills groups offered by the co-authors of the How to Make and Keep Friends book series, contact Nadine Briggs at Simply Social Kids at email@example.com or Donna Shea at the Peter Pan Center at firstname.lastname@example.org.