How to Help Build Friendships in Children

Zomg. Do you remember these?? Like most important thing to have. EVAH. Image Source

Following last week’s vomit of sadness at watching my biggest little lady wander around a party trying to find some acceptance, I put on my big girl pants (AKA ate my body weight in ice cream and chocolate and cuddled her to within an inch of her life) and looked at what we could actually do to turn things around for me her.

While we need to let our cherubs sort this stuff out for themselves sometimes, we’ve also got to be able to skill them up to handle it. Create a little bag of friendship tricks if you will. And given the main trick in my bag is wine as a social lubricant, I’m thinking I might need to go and revisit some ideas to help her out a bit better.

I think sometimes we feel like this stuff should just organically ‘happen’. Like a flower that just blooms all by itself in the sun. Or a rainbow unicorn that flies through the air. No? You don’t see them in the air? Shit. Could be just me sorry.

children friendship unicorn bike
EXACTLY. What a dude….

Thing is, that flower doesn’t bloom by itself. It takes the right soil, regular water and nourishment, shelter from the harsh elements, and a little bit of sunshine and nurturing, and THEN it blooms.  Our cherubs are the same. Hence why we need to work hard on teaching them wellbeing and relationship stuff, and it should be a priority in our schools too *getting off my soap box now*.

So what do we do?

  • Get those emotions out– on both sides! Talk about the feelings that come up with negotiating friendship crap. There’s no such thing as a bad emotion. When we say stuff like “Oh you’re just being silly” or “you just need to cool off” we kind of in a way say “those feelings aren’t good ones to have”. And it’s ok to feel like crap. Really. It’s part of life. So we need to teach our kids to understand what those emotions are, why we have them and sometimes we have to sit with them and really feel them in order to move on.
  • Be firm. While we’re acknowledging all those feels, we also have to be firm with our cherubs. Wallowing in it ain’t going to help anyone. Going around in circles about the issue ain’t going to help anyone. We’ve got to be clear about what the issue is, and really focus on the solution, not the problem. There’s always a way around a problem.
  • Friendship checklist– Get to the nitty gritty. What is it that they want in a friend? What is absolutely necessary to have? It’s a neat way of turning it around to get them to see that they don’t need to twist themselves in knots to make friends, it’s about others meeting their And I’ll have a nifty little printable here ready to go for your cherub very soon! It’s also a good talking point about what makes a friend, and what friends do. Gets them thinking about how they threat others as an added bonus.
  • Come up with some key lines- practice together- role play it. What are some lines they can use if others are mean to them? What can they say if they’d like to go and ask someone to play? With kids it’s important to role play these things. They’re normally great at chatting to you about what should be said and done, but when it comes to crunch time? The seize up. Actually come to think of it, I do that myself.
  • Look at the non-verbals too. Practice with characters on TV, or in books. Ask your child to name the emotions, name what they think the character is saying to themselves, and how that influences how they act around others. Look at body clues- eye contact, posture, tone of voice etc. They can all help kids read a friendship sitcho and determine the best course of action for them. Get them to draw you pictures of a ‘friendship builder’ and a ‘friendship blocker’.
  • Practice the art of compromise and sharing. Sometimes friendships get a bit manky because little ones just don’t get that sometimes they can’t get their own way on everything. Or on the opposite end of the spectrum, they just lay down and never end up doing what they’d like to do. Playing games at home can help them understand about compromise. Getting them to see how it feels to share with others and highlighting the benefits can be good too.
  • Arrange playdates where you can with cherubs who align with yours.
  • Read about friendship. Some great books on friendship include:
    • Should I Share My Ice Cream?-  Mo Willems.
    • The Best Friends Book-  Todd Parr.
    • How Full Is Your Bucket? for Kids- Tom Rath, Maurie J. Manning and Mary Reckmeyer.
    • Pink Tiara Cookies for Three- Maria Dismondy
    • Duck Duck Goose- Tad Hills
    • The Giving Tree- Shel Silverstien
    • And a whole bunch of others can be found here
  • Talk to your kids about being assertive/passive/aggressive– this is a handy way for kids to see how their behaviour can either draw friends in, or turn them away. With little ones, linking it to an animal is handy. You could make up a little poster for them to review if something comes up, or you could talk and role play the different kinds of animals we can ALL be like. You could play a game- which animal am I most like? Am I:
    • A Lion- I can hurt with my sharp teeth. I often want things my way and will snap if I don’t get it.
    • An Eagle- I can rise above the silly stuff. I float calmly above, being clear about what I want but in a way others will listen to
    • A Mouse- I am scared of everything! I’d rather just sit back and let others do what they want, even if it makes me feel sad.
Negotiating this stuff is freaking hard. I’m with you kiddies. Image source.

And you know what? After all this prep, they’re still going to struggle sometimes. And so are well. That’s ok. We’ll all get there. With cuddles, ice cream, chocolate and moving forward from crap moments.

Want more info? This article here is awesome. As is this one.


  • Those are some great tactics there. We’re firm believers in open communication in our household and the kids are actually quite open to talking through their feelings. You have some brilliant ideas above. #teamIBOT

  • Hugzilla

    OK, I totally love that animal game. Touch wood so far my eldest is freakishly good at making friends, but my youngest is nowhere near as socially confident so it will be interesting to see how we go. He has other physical and hearing issues as well because of a genetic condition so I do worry about how well he will fit in. The good thing is that he is possibly the most adorable and lovable human being ever, so that helps!