What’s the secret to health and happiness? Your relationships. In fact, strong bonds with others have been found to be a better predictor of a long, happy life than money, IQ, genetics, or any other factor. But what if your kid struggles to make friends? Okay, you can’t make friends for them. But you can help your child learn to get better at it themselves.

 

Don’t freak out.

First of all, if your kid isn’t lonely, don’t worry. As long as they have at least one friend, they’re probably fine.

 

Listen to your kid.

What if your child tells you they’re lonely? Take a deep breath. You don’t want to let your kid know you’re anxious about it — that only puts more pressure on them. More than anything, they need someone to just hear them and acknowledge their feelings.

 

Ask questions.

If your kid complains about not having friends, start by asking if they want your help. If so, ask them what it means to be a good friend or what to do when you meet someone new. Instead of preaching, encourage some back-and-forth, like, “Can you think of ways to join in on whatever other kids are already doing? For example, if they’re building a sandcastle, could you offer to dig a moat?”

 

Talk to their teacher.

Ask your child’s teacher if your child plays with other kids at school. They may be able to suggest other kids for play dates. And if you suspect there could be an underlying issue, their teacher is a good place to start.

 

Give your kid opportunities to meet other kids.

Go to the playground. Take them to community or religious events. Sign them up for preschool or activities like sports or a music class. Encourage activities they’re good at to build their confidence and give them exposure to kids they’ll have something in common with.

 

Play with your child yourself.

Show them what being friendly looks like. Don’t boss them or criticize; instead, be open to their ideas, share, show interest in what they’re doing, and smile and laugh often.

 

Plan family play dates.

Invite over other parents with kids your child’s age or a bit younger (younger kids may be more developmentally on par with your child and feel less intimidating). You may also want to focus on families who live in your neighborhood — it’s easier to hang out and build a bond with the kid down the street than with a kid across town.

 

Set up play dates for success.

Support whatever friendships your kid does have by helping a play date go well: Host it at your house, where they’ll probably feel more comfortable, and make it one on one, since having even two pals over can feel intimidating. Limit it to one or two hours so it’s more likely to end on a positive note, and set out noncompetitive, nonaggressive games and toys (in other words, skip the video games and pretend weapons) you know your child likes and feels comfortable sharing. Once the other child arrives, step back and try not to interfere. Afterward, praise your child for what you noticed they did well, and let natural consequences take care of the rest.

 

Practice positive social skills with your kids (without them even realizing it!) by singing along to the playlist for Q Wunder!