Nobody wants to play with me.
You were happy, excited, and more than a little anxious about his first day of school. But after a kiss, cuddle, and wave, he walked in without hesitating. You blinked back your tears and continued on your day, thinking about him every hour/minute/second, and hoping he was okay. Deep down, you knew he was okay. Except… he wasn’t. Not totally. He didn’t make a BFF and, well, he was lonely. So he was sad. So now you’re sad. Sigh.
Teach him how to fish.
Making friends seems like it should be easy. But for a lot of munchkins, and for a lot of their parents, it’s not the most natch thing in the world. Especially if they’re used to the world revolving around them, which is often the case for numero uno. Our firstborn used to sulk if no one commented on his “fancy” clothes when he walked into a room. Centre of attention much?
It’s always best to let your kiddos figure things out for themselves. But there are ways you can help speed up the process. Here’s what you can do if he struggles to fit into that complicated JK social scene:
- Read a book or four on the topic and talk, talk, talk about it. Some of the books that started our best conversations are How to be a Friend, Join in and Play, Worst Day of my Life, Ever, and How to Lose All Your Friends. Sure, there might be some sarcasm in that last one, but the younglings will be intrigued and it’ll make perfect sense once you chat it out.
- Role play. You need a little one-on-one action to focus, and your child has to be in the mood. If the stars align and you’re able to find someone to take care of the baby while both you and your mini-me have enough energy to run around, channel your inner Nicole Kidman/Mike Myers/six and infinity-year-old and ham it up. Teach him a few key questions such as “What’s your name?”, “How old are you?”, and maybe even “What’s your favourite toy/food/colour/show?” if he’s game. It was a real breakthrough when our oldest started using names and sentences, as in “Hi, Madeline. What’d you have for breakfast?” instead of a mumbled “Hi,” which almost always shut that conversation down.
- Stay in the schoolyard after the bell rings whenever you can – it gives him a chance to interact without the rigid school structure getting in the way. Between circle time, show and share, and snacks, their days are jam-packed, so there’s not a lot of time to figure out how to mingle. The more he hangs out with the same familiar faces, the more, well, familiar they’ll become.
- Set an example. This is even more important if you’re in the introverted camp, because chances are your monkey’s following in your footsteps. Introverted doesn’t mean shy though peeps, so the sooner you teach him how to overcome that shy label, the better. Thinking out loud in front of your four-year-old helps him understand a lot more than when you keep it to yourself. So when you say something like “I’d like to talk to that mom over there, but I’m not sure what to say,” it helps ease his anxiety about approaching potential besties. If you’ve been reading and talking, he’ll likely make a suggestion, and after you follow through and (hopefully) have a good experience, you can keep the convo going so he knows how rewarding the end result can feel. And if the other mom’s not receptive and the chit-chat’s a let-down, give him the lowdown on that too, so he knows that even you can’t win ‘em all (and how to move on when he doesn’t).
- Get the playdate ball rolling. Pay attention when your kid mentions anyone he played with at school, or when you see him playing well with someone else in the yard. Then once you’ve introduced yourself and invited his potential bud over, set them up and leave them alone. Sure, you should step in if it sounds like they’re having trouble, and you can call them for a snack if they need a pick-me-up, but aside from that, let them figure out how to play without running interference.
- Stay patient. He’ll have good days and bad, kinda like the rest of his life, so it’s important he learns how to deal at a young age.
As with everything he’s learning these days, the more exposure he gets, the more comfortable he’ll feel. Good friendships can’t be forced, and he’ll make them no matter how much you step in or step out of the picture. Let him fly solo. But be there to back him up. And maybe bring cookies.
Email us if you’d like some ice-breaking tips for yourself, it makes the playground a lot more fun!