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Expert Tips with Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith, PhD

Hi families,

Summer is finally here! Maybe this means a new summer camp, seeing relatives, or hanging around the neighborhood. Summer is often a chance for kids to make new friends; and, by doing activities outside of their usual school friend group, they can make friends who are different from them! Making friends can be hard—especially if it's a new skill, or a skill that got rusty this past year. While making friends who are different from us can be challenging, it’s a very important thing to do, and teaches kids a lot about themselves and others. There are lots of ways to support our kids in this learning.

I’m hoping that this summer is one with lots of new friendships for our kids. Making friends is a skill we will come back to throughout our lives, and one of the best things we can do to support our kids is to be great models for how to make friends and how to be a good friend. Here's to hoping you have a great summer with new friends as well.

Take care!

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith, PhD

Associate Professor, Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, The Wright Institute
Mom of Three (ages 12, 10, and 3)

How to Make Friends

(With People Who Are Different From You)

1

Shared Identity

The great news is that research is really consistent about what it takes to make friends across our “differences,” and that is to find what we have in common. Help kids find shared interests like sports they play, toys they enjoy, places they like to go, or things they like to do with their family. Teach kids to ask questions about others, such as, “I like going to the park with my family—do you?” or “I really like dinosaurs—do you?”

2

Shared Goals

When kids realize they need each other to solve a problem, they’ll work together to do it. For example, have them play cooperative games, such as working together to build a large structure, or fixing a broken imaginary car together with toy tools. The idea is to focus on the things they need to do together, rather than on a competition—this can help them become friends.

3

Modeling

Kids learn everyday by watching their grown-ups. If you are at a neighborhood gathering, a family cookout, or a playground, be sure that you do things like introduce yourself to others, ask about shared interests, and connect with folks who are different from you. You can also help support your child with language like, “Would you like to introduce yourself?” or “It looks like that little girl likes trucks like you do—should we go ask her to play?”

4

Story

Kids learn a lot from our behaviors and stories about our childhood. Did you ever make a friend who surprised you—someone you thought you’d never get along with? You can talk about the friendships you see in books or on tv. You can say things like, “Wow they sure are different but they are friends somehow—how do you think that happens?” “Was that person being a good friend by sharing?”

Help Your Kids Socialize

1

Offer Some Grace

This is a great time to be kind to ourselves, our children, and others. People have experienced this transition in all sorts of ways, so we should expect a range of responses. Some kids are socializing easily, others have forgotten some skills, and others have never been in social situations with peers and need to start fresh. Remember: little kids are wired to be resilient and bounce back from hard things; sometimes they just need a little time and an extra hug. Give them (and yourselves!) a little love as you do this work.

2

Story Time!

Help build social and emotional skills and self-confidence by reading or telling stories about trying new things and making new friends. Books are great for this, but kids really love hearing about how YOU did this as a kid. Can you share a story of what it was like to make friends when you were a kid? What worked for you? What did you learn? What would you want your kid to try?

3

Let Kids Go At Their Own Pace

If your child is acting shy or seems nervous in social situations, know that they won’t feel that way forever. You can help them warm up by saying, “I’ll be here, and you can hang with me until you’re ready to play with your friends.” They’ll likely become interested in what their friends are doing and eventually venture out (whether it’s at this play date or the next one), but knowing that they have a safe place is everything.

4

Practice

If your child is acting shy or seems nervous in social situations, know that they won’t feel that way forever. You can help them warm up by saying, “I’ll be here, and you can hang with me until you’re ready to play with your friends.” They’ll likely become interested in what their friends are doing and eventually venture out (whether it’s at this play date or the next one), but knowing that they have a safe place is everything.

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