Why is my child having trouble with making friends?
When looking at our child’s skills, we will commonly be puzzled to why they are having so much trouble completing a task that we take for granted. The role of a speech pathologist is to break down the smaller steps that are required for your child to be successful in completing a skill such as making friends.
Making friends is actually really complicated and requires a huge number of smaller skills to be developed first. These skills include (but are not limited to):
- Greetings (e.g. hello, goodbye)
- Eye contact
- Personal space and body language
- Friendly tone of voice
- Engaging in conversation (e.g. asking/answering questions, commenting, complimenting)
- Turn taking and sharing
- Oral language skills (e.g. understanding and use of language)
- Emotional regulation
While children often learn social skills via interactions, others may benefit from direct and specific teaching of each of the skills above.
Is there anything I can do at home to support?
Being Friendly – You can support your child to learn to demonstrate friendly behaviours through specific teaching. First, explain why we want people to think we’re friendly (so they’ll want to keep us as their friend), then explain how we can show friendliness with our facial expression, body language and tone of voice. Participate in role-playing examples of friendly/unfriendly and discussing the role-play after. Once your child understands how to show friendliness, you can build on their understanding by teaching them to identify friendliness in others, as well as background cues – which is called inferencing. Explain that these cues can help us to know when we should or shouldn’t approach someone, or tell us more about a situation.
Turn-taking and sharing – You can support your child to develop turn-taking skills and sharing through almost any game involving two or more players. During game play, phrases such as ‘your turn’ and ‘my turn’ should be modelled, and then slowly fading out these prompts until the child can independently identify who’s next in turn. You might want to provide a sound prompt (e.g. it’s y…) then pause and wait for the child to initiate. You can also use social stories to teach the importance of sharing.
Resources to support how to be a good friend by being friendly, taking turns and sharing can be found on the Talking Mattes website here: https://www.talkingmatters.com.au/about-us/resources/social-stories/ (‘Being a Good Friend’ and ‘Listening is Cool’)
Emotional Regulation – You can support your child to develop appropriate social skills by allowing your child to see you managing your feelings and social situations well. You can think out loud, identifying and explaining your feelings about a problem, then demonstrate a socially appropriate response. For example, “I am angry that I didn’t get to go first because I wanted to but I will patiently wait until it is my turn.” Resources to support managing feelings can be found on the Talking Matters website here: https://www.talkingmatters.com.au/about-us/resources/social-stories/ (feelings book)
How can a speech pathologist support these skills?
It is common that families and teachers will identify concerns with specific skills such as making friends. Speech pathologists are trained to analyse your child’s current skills and difficulties to identify smaller goals your child will need to achieve as stepping stones towards achieving a larger goal, such as making friends. As every child is different, the skills that one child needs support in, is likely to be different to another child. Hence a thorough assessment is always the place to start. Supports for working towards making friends may include, but are not limited to:
- Identifying if any of the above skills are lacking through the assessment process
- Developing skills through fun and creative activities
- Supporting parents to develop their child’s skills at home, school and in the community
- Developing social skills through group programs (see Talking Matters website for further information at: https://www.talkingmatters.com.au/about-us/group-programs/)
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