Making Friends - Back 2 School

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The new routines, people and surroundings of going back to school can be stressful for children with special needs. One of the biggest challenges is making friends in a new school or classroom. Children who lack interaction skills or social skills have more obstacles to overcome.

But making friends is more than having someone to hang out with. It’s a lifelong skill that deserves attention and proactive measures on the part of parents. Friendships may not come naturally to your child, but there are many ways to foster opportunities and help your child be a more successful friend.

Find a potential Friend - Observe your child interacting with a group, talk to teachers and converse with other parents. Are there kids who are already friendly with your child? Are there kids who share their interests? Talk to your child about who they like in their class or group. Where these lists overlap is where you’ll find possible play dates.

Practice the Play - Teach social skills with the same enthusiasm and encouragement that you apply to math homework or piano lessons. Rehearse interactions, talk about social cues, and enforce rules such as “no interrupting” in your everyday life. Practice stepping in to join a group or inviting someone to join an activity. Don't get discouraged, it’s a tough subject for all children - and many adults!

Plan the Play - Choose toys and activities kids can do together. But rather than games that require strict rules and a winner/loser, set up legos, a game of catch, art projects, or even watching a favorite movie. For the first few play dates, it’s fine to encourage side-by-side play that allows kids to get to know each other without too much demanding interaction.

Take it on the Road - Does your kid have a favorite restaurant, museum or park? Try a few hour - long play dates in a space outside a home environment where there is plenty for kids to see, do and share. An event such as a movie, play or other presentation allows kids to have a shared experience without the stress of one-on-one interaction.

Clubs and Camps - Does your child have an area of interest and expertise or a talent they love to share? Look for clubs, day camps or events with those topics as a narrow focus. You can find organizations that celebrate just about any interest or hobby! Your child can be immersed in something they love and will have a common interest with everyone in the room.

Dont limit Ages - Spending time with a younger child can give your child a sense of responsibility and authority while they are still having fun. Older children may be more understanding of your child’s disabilities and atypical social skills.

Supervise the Fun - Stay within earshot so you can step in if conflict or unkindness arises during a play date.

Bring a Friend Home to Stay - Having a pet teaches children responsibility, but also how to care for another being that has its own ideas and agenda. Learning to be patient with a pet and to compromise on activities or routines is good practice for growing friendships with other people. Plus, it’s a nonjudgemental buddy they can count on every day!

Don’t get discourage by efforts that don’t pan out. Not every match will become a friendship. But stay positive and stay active, for yourself and your child, and you will find that special friend who appreciates your child for the unique person they are.

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