Middle school can be an exciting and challenging time for students. Not only are they are going through physical, social, emotional, and cognitive changes, they are often attending a new school. Switching schools means a brand new learning environment, and that sometimes comes with new, higher expectations. On top of all that, the social landscape has changed and it's time for students to make new friends at school. For some children, making new friends may seem like an impossible task, but we have four ways that parents can help their children make friends and feel more socially confident.
1. Model Behavior
As adults, we know that positive friendships can ease the transition into a new school, as well as help enhance self-esteem, develop social skills, and can even improve academic performance. Kids watch how you interact with your friends. Make sure you demonstrate the correct behavior of how to be a friend. Invite friends over and explain to your child how it is important to maintain friendships by making the time to see your friends. Let her observe you when you are having conversations, so she can hear how the conversation is balanced, with you talking at times, asking questions, and sometimes listening. She can see also see non-verbal communication skills in play by watching how you make eye contact and studying your body language and facial expressions. Your child can learn from you as she watches how you treat people, the types of people you surround yourself with, and what kind of friend you are. Teach her how to see things from another person’s point of view to gain a different perspective, and how to practice empathy.
2. Encourage her to join clubs and afterschool activities
Identify your child’s interests and passions and encourage her to join clubs and participate in after school activities. It is a great way for your child to take an active role on campus, meet kids with similar interests, expand her social circle, and also have fun doing it. Sports are a great way to get involved at school, as are clubs and art programs. If your school doesn't offer these programs, you might look to your town or see if other schools in your area allow students from other schools to join in. Some private schools even offer activities for the community, bringing together their school community with folks from the surrounding towns.
3. Practice social skills
Nurture your child’s social skills and work on developing social strategies. Practice holding conversations with her—taking turns to talk and to listen. Describe what characteristics are important in a good friend and identify what qualities your child has that makes her a good friend to have. Have her observe how other children interact with each other, teach her to read social cues, such as body language and facial expressions, and how to approach other kids. For some students, this behavior comes naturally, but others need some encouragement. If your school offers a speech and debate program, that can be a great way for your child to both develop public speaking skills and meet other students.
4. Talk to your child’s teachers
Your child’s teachers may be able to suggest classmates that your child may be able to connect well with. They can facilitate introductions to other students, and if a child is having trouble making friends, teachers can shed some light on the situation. Their roles in the classroom means that they are often aware of any issues that might be hindering your child from forming close relationships with her classmates.
These are just a few tips you can use that may help your child make friends and build confidence.