Making and Keeping Friends

Friendships and the transition to school

Many children start secondary school expecting to make new friends. At the same time, they are concerned that they may lose contact with their current friends, particularly if they’re changing schools. For some children, the desire to stay with their group of friends influences where they would prefer to go to secondary school – and if they move to a different school they wonder how they will keep in touch and sustain their friendships.

Friends help each other make the transition from primary to secondary school easier. Friends are people that your child can talk to, share things with, confide in and sometimes argue with. Remember, conflict is a normal part of growing up. Conflict is not necessarily bullying, even though it may be upsetting and need resolution.

Parents and friends play different roles in the life of children. You influence your child’s long-term decisions to do with values and morals. Your child’s friends are more likely to influence short-term choices, such as the way they dress and their interests. Strong relationships with you and your child’s friends help your child grow into a well-adjusted adult with strong social skills.

Right now, your child’s friendships will tend to be based on sharing similar interests, acceptance and sharing. Same-sex friendships are the norm during the first years of secondary school.

Helping your child keep their current friends

Friendships need time, attention and trust if they are to survive. Ensure your child has the opportunity to spend time with their friends to maintain their connection.

Talk to your child about their friends – what things they like to do with them and the things they appreciate or like about their friends. Talk about ways your child could show their friends how much they mean to them.

Talking with your child can also give you the chance to start a conversation about how they are going with their friends, and they are more likely to talk to you about any problems that come up. Listen to your child and use open-ended questions. As part of your talks, you could let your child know about your own friendship history. This might help them see other options and help them feel understood.

Through your behaviour and the time and effort you put into your own friendships, your child will learn how to be a friend and have friends.

Talk to your child about forgiveness. Sometimes friends do things that upset us. This doesn’t mean the friendship has to end. Understanding that everyone makes mistakes is an important lesson to learn.

Helping your child make new friends

At school

Friendships are usually made between those who have common interests, but it takes time.

Some children make friends easily, others find it difficult. You know your child best and will know how they will feel about approaching children they don’t know and starting up a conversation.

If your child has some difficulties, encourage them to:

  • be approachable by saying hello, smiling and not appearing too anxious
  • look for someone else who may also seem shy and talk to them
  • encourage your child to ask questions to start conversations, like ‘what school did you go to last year’, ‘do you like music/maths/running (whatever your child is interested in)’, ‘what’s your favourite subject this year’ and ‘why do you like it’
  • listen to what others are saying and suggest that they look for an opening before saying something, even if they are feeling self-conscious or awkward.

Outside school

Support your child’s interests and get them involved in clubs or groups that have similar interests.

Encourage your child to have a wide range of friends from places such as sports or social clubs, music or dance classes. This means they can form friendships with children other than those at their school and with whom they share an interest.

The internet also lets young people make friends in new ways. Friendships built through social networking are different from real-life relationships. In the best cases, these friends offer your child a chance to talk about sensitive issues without fear of being judged, and a chance to experiment with identity in a more or less anonymous way. You’ll still need to monitor your child’s online friendships and social media activity to ensure that they are staying safe.

Your child’s friendships can often be very fluid. It is the quality of friends that your child has that is important, not the number. Whether your child has one special friend or many friends isn’t the issue. As long as they are happy and content you can be assured that they’ll do fine.

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