How to Help Children Make Friends on the Playground
As an adult, you want the kids in your life to have a fulfilled life full of fun and friendships. While you can provide playground equipment for the fun, you’ll need to learn some skills to help the children with making friends. You can’t sit on the sidelines, but you also can’t run your kid’s life. Learn balance and discover how to help your child make friends on the playground.
Observe Kids at Play
You need to watch kids as they play on the playground. Ask yourself who you see that acts boldly in talking to others and who holds back. By observing kids as they play, you can tailor your conversation to their socializing style.
Every kid has different needs, especially when it comes to social interaction, but all children need friends. Keep an eye out for kids who naturally gravitate toward each other. These kids will likely become friends with a little encouragement, especially if they engage in cooperative play. Not all children can pair up on their own, though. While you don’t want to interfere too much with the kids’ play, you may need to step in if kids need some help to keep the interaction going.
One way to help is to steer them toward the playground equipment. Do they have accessories that require interaction between two people? These types of play items can help kids learn to work together and promote cooperative play. Give them ideas such as trying out swings with one person pushing and the other riding or using balls with a Fun Tunnel® for four kids.
As you watch kids play, you may sometimes notice noisy behavior or games. Don’t discourage such actions, because, in the discord, kids share laughter that encourages closeness and relationship building. The noise is good, and if kids are playing outside, let them shout and laugh; they’re often discouraged from doing so during indoor play. Of course, stop any taunting or bullying and ask kids to report such behavior when they see it.
Sometimes, kids may notice you watching them and ask you to settle disputes. Take the chance to teach them about conflict resolution by thinking about the problem from each other’s perspective. Doing this encourages the kids to solve the problem themselves with a little guidance from you while helping them to develop empathy.
You may need to help a child during play. A single kid may feel left out and come to you for help or company. Talk to the child to find out if they’ve asked others to play with them. If not, encourage them to do so. You could also direct the child to play with a group enjoying a game. If several children have the same problem of not having playmates or groups, get them together for non-competitive games that require cooperation such as double dutch rope jumping.
Communicate With Kids
Communication means talking to children in a way that they can understand and that gives them the chance to respond. You want a two-way conversation any time you discuss matters with children. They’ll understand better if you talk about making friends using age-appropriate examples and methods. You may use a picture book to illustrate the idea with a preschooler. For older children, role-playing practicing how to invite others to play on the playground may serve as a better way for them to understand the issue and offer feedback.
When you talk to kids and give them the chance to provide their input, you can verify that they understood what you said by listening to their responses. If they begin to drift off-topic, you can steer the conversation back to the subject of making friends.
How you talk to children about making friends on the playground depends on your relationship with them. Because parents and teachers have very different roles in kids’ lives, you’ll need varied approaches based on which you fill. Are you their parent? Use time at home to talk about playground behavior and making friends. Are you their teacher? Take time to adapt classroom lessons to teach your students the right ways to interact with their peers and make friends.
1. As a Parent: Talk to Your Child About How to Make Friends
As a parent, you have to walk a fine line between hovering over your child and ignoring them on the playground. A study showed mothers who moderately controlled their preschool sons’ peer interactions through arranging and monitoring meetings had children who were more socially competent compared to those who were more neglectful and those who were more controlling.
To help your child make friends, be ready to listen carefully about their concerns. Discuss how it may be difficult for other children to come up and introduce themselves. If you have a kid who feels ignored when trying to initiate interaction, you can play with your child on the playground until others come up to play.
Should the other child still not want to come up to your child, explain carefully to your little one that it wasn’t a personal snub. Some kids want to be alone. You may use toys to illustrate the idea, if your kid is very young, that the other kid wasn’t ready to play with your child.
If your child has difficulty making friends with random people on the playground, schedule regular play dates with other parents you know and their kids. You can meet at the park so the kids will have frequent interaction with the same group, encouraging them to play together and develop friendships. The play area can serve as a neutral ground, so no one feels uncomfortable in the environment, and the equipment gives them plenty of exciting activities to do, such as swings, rope bridges, slides, and more.
Studies have shown that when toddlers encounter familiar children, they engage in more complex interactions, leading to deeper relationships than those who play with unfamiliar kids. Getting children together regularly through play dates can breed this familiarity and the benefits that result from it.
If your child feels scared interacting on the playground, visit the playground earlier than other kids typically get there to give your child a chance to scope out the situation. But don’t let your kid stay on the sidelines the whole time. If possible, time your visit for when someone your child knows is there and use that as a reason for your kid to play. “Hey, look, that kid from your class is here. Why don’t you go play with them?” Familiarity with even one person can make it easier for a nervous kid to get out and play.
Whenever you talk to your child about making friends, be careful not to compare the kid to their siblings, cousins, neighbors, or yourself. Temperament and personality differ significantly between kids, which makes comparisons unfair. Every child has a different need for their number of friends and how quickly they make them. Just help your kid practice good social skills, and they’ll make friends in time.
If you find talking to your child difficult, consider reading age-appropriate books about making friends together. While you may have a hard time finding the right words for your child to understand how to make and keep friends, the characters in the books can make it easier to address the situation.
Maybe talking to your child and reading books together doesn’t seem to help them to open up on the playground. Talk to your child’s teacher about the issue. Because the educator interacts with your child several hours each day, they may have some additional insight. Ask the teacher about how you can help your child make friends on the playground while seeing if there are things that can change in the classroom to make friendships easier for them. You’re not alone in helping your child make friends.
2. As a Teacher: How to Talk to Students About Making Friends
As a teacher, you can encourage kids to adopt more positive social skills that will help them make friends during recess time or other social events. Promoting friendships is critical for kids’ health and well-being, as these bonds serve as a powerful tool against bullying. Kids who have more friends have a lower chance of becoming a victim of bullying.
Having critical social and emotional skills can help children to step out in social situations to make and keep friends while avoiding negative relationships that could result in bullying or being a victim. These skills include the following:
- Self-awareness: Knowing about your feelings
- Self-management: Recognizing when to regulate emotional responses and impulses
- Social awareness: Identifying others’ perspectives and how to behave in specific groups
- Relationship skills: Learning cooperation and when to seek help in inappropriate social situations
- Responsible decision making: Considering ethics, safety, and respect for others when making choices
Among these skills, promoting relationship skills is vital to helping a child make friends on the playground.
Inside the classroom, you can enforce rules against bullying and promote positive interactions among kids. Ways to do this include building social and emotional skills and discussions into your classroom. Reach out to students who appear left out of groups and teach inclusion among the students in the class. When they get on their own on the playground, the skills they learned from you will help them build friendships of their own.
Another idea to use inside the classroom is grouping kids to work on projects. When it comes to teaching kids to make friends in class, cooperative work on a project can help. While you don’t want kids to create cliques by staying in the same teams all year, rotating group members can prevent this. Changing groups also helps kids learn to work with everyone in the room, not only those they like. Such work will help kids learn to cooperate and build friendships in the classroom that can extend to the playground.
A unique idea you could introduce on the playground is a Buddy Bench. These benches, numbering over 2,000 in United States schools, allow students who don’t have a playmate to alert others of their willingness to join a group. Anyone who saw someone sitting on the Buddy Bench could go over and invite the child to play with them. This bench offers a way of teaching kids how to make friends with others they usually don’t play with. If your school doesn’t have a Buddy Bench, you can raise funds to have one installed.
Introduce Ways to Communicate Effectively With Peers
When it comes to kids building friendships, they’ll eventually run into conflicts. For their relationships to last through such incidents, the kids need strong conflict resolution skills and will need to learn how to react positively in challenging situations. Practicing these communication habits can ensure kids will communicate effectively with their peers without hurting anyone or feeling emotional stings themselves.
1. Talk About Feelings
For kids to avoid breaking friendships over misunderstandings, they need to learn to communicate how they feel. A kid who feels hurt but doesn’t know the words to describe the feeling may blame the friend. Instead, encourage your child to name their feelings. If your kid says, “My friend is mean,” help them recognize that their friend made them feel sad or hurt. The revised way to express the situation would be, “I felt hurt when my friend cut in front of me for the line to the slide.”
Rephrasing into personal feelings toward behaviors removes blame from anyone, making it easier for kids to find a resolution to their conflicts. They can also learn to step back from an event and think about how it made them feel. Taking a second to stop and think prevents reactions that could escalate into arguments.
2. Brainstorm Solutions
Thinking of solutions instead of impulsively acting out can give your child space to become more rational about conflicts instead of emotionally reacting.
Take time to brainstorm solutions to a conflict with your child. Have them identify three possible solutions they’d like to see happen. If these ideas benefit only your kid, it’s okay. Next, have the child think of three solutions their friend may prefer or think of. Looking at the conflict helps build your kid’s empathy. Finally, have your child identify ways to resolve the dispute that both could agree upon and have mutual benefits.
If your child doesn’t have a current conflict, think of some problems that may occur. For example:
- Both you and your friend want to play with the same toy.
- You want to go on the swings, but your friend wants to play on the slide.
- Your friend said something hurtful about you.
- You disagreed with your friend about what game to play.
3. Show Empathy to Your Child
While brainstorming solutions from their friend’s perspective can help your child build empathy, you should also model the behavior you expect.
When your child tells you about the problem, listen carefully and show empathy toward your kid. For example, say, “It sounds like you had a bad day. I hear that you felt angry today when your friend jumped ahead of you in line.” When you model that your child can tell you about difficult situations, your kid learns to listen to others share their feelings.
4. Talk About Stoplights
For helping kids get through intense emotions, try using a stoplight metaphor.
A stoplight tells drivers when to slow down, stop, and go. Use this real-life example as a coping strategy your kid can use when they feel upset. During a red light, have your kid stop and take deep breaths until they feel calmer. Once they calm down, the imaginary light turns yellow, which tells them to think about the problem. Is it something to get adult help for or can they handle it on their own? The green light tells your kid to act on their decision made during the yellow phase.
Practicing this stoplight method while still calm gets kids into the habit of using it, so when a conflict arises, they can reach into their patterns and use this method of reacting to the issue without resorting to fighting.
Serve as a Role Model
Kids learn many things by watching and mimicking those around them. In other cultures, where kids play in mixed-age groups, the younger ones learn social skills by copying the actions of the older kids. Today’s age-segregated culture prevents this by isolating kids of the same age together. If you want kids to make friends on the playground, you must serve as a model by showing excellent relationship skills everywhere.
Since you’re an adult, kids will look to you to learn how to treat others appropriately and will mirror what you do. In all your regular interactions, from meeting neighbors to talking to the server at a restaurant, remember that your child will watch how you talk to other people and emulate it on the playground in their relationship building. Act in the way you want your child to behave. If you show proper treatment toward others, your child will, ideally, carry these behaviors into their play.
Look for role models in other kids, too. If you know a responsible child who is older than yours, occasionally ask them to lead playground games. The older child’s behavior may be more comfortable for your child to respond to and emulate. It also serves as proof to your child that treating other people well isn’t only for adults.
As you model positive behavior, don’t forget to reinforce the same actions when you see your child do them. If you see your child sharing a toy or taking turns on playground equipment, praise them. Positive reinforcement can encourage your kid to keep up the good behavior.
Another way to model good behavior and practice introductions is by role-playing with your child. You can act as another child on the playground, and your child says what they’d typically say. Walk through the process of how your child should introduce themselves. This role-playing gives your kid a safe environment to practice, which can make the real initial meeting with another child on the playground easier.
Provide a Thrilling Playground Environment Where Kids Can Make Friends
As important as individual interaction to teach kids to make friends is, providing them with the right environment can also help. Children who have exciting experiences together can build friendships on the fun times they had. The right playground equipment can create such thrills and promote fitness and cooperative play. Encouraging cooperative play through interactive playgrounds is one step you can take as a community member toward helping to foster friendships among kids.
We have playgrounds that bring the thrill back into the outdoors. Kids will want to be on the playground, where they can turn peers into friends. Check out our lineup of high-quality, exciting equipment that we have designed to thrill or contact us online at Miracle Recreation® for more information.