Collect a variety of friends

Although it's really important to have a bunch of friends your own age, it's also good to have other friends. They can be your age, older or younger. You can make them at school, at sporting activities outside school, in your neighbourhood, at dance, drama or martial-arts classes, in religious organisations, Scouts or at holiday camps. Just like your parents, you can make friends in a variety of places who will extend your social life, make you more interesting and support you when your schoolmates are being difficult.

I like reading holiday brochures, but I would prefer to go there. Similarly, be wary of friends you 'meet' inside a computer. They may be nice, but they aren't real friends until you make a real, live connection.

The list of tips in the following box has helped many children have a better social life.

Developing your child's social skills

• Encourage your child to play with other children at school, home and locally.

• Practise chatting at home at meal times, without any electronic 'blah blah'.

• Limit electronic time, which interferes with socialising time.

• Arrange 'get-togethers' with extended family and friends.

• Organise outings where she can socialise with others her own age. This helps create friendships anywhere and builds social confidence.

• She may need help in picking up the phone and making social arrangements. You could say, 'I'll give you until Thursday and then I will ring myself.'

• Invite children over and show your child how to make guests feel welcome.

• Give your child a game or activity to attract other children at lunchtime.

• Point out when she relates positively to others e.g. 'You can smile, show interest and have fun with your cousins - just do the same at school.'

• Enrol your child in a social skills, assertiveness training or communications skills workshop.

Types of relationship

There are three types of relationship:

1. passive - the child has little power and tags along

2. aggressive - the child becomes bossy and bullies, and

3. assertive - power is shared equally by negotiation.

• Encourage your child to have assertive friends, who protect her. This will enhance your child's self-esteem so she will be less likely to be bullied.

• Some adults believe they are helping a child by allowing some friends and eliminating others. Children play with kids who reflect the way they see themselves. If she chooses an 'unusual' child, this reveals her self-image. Be careful with eliminating unusual children: there may be nobody else for that child to play with. As long as these kids don't cause trouble, it's a start. Your child will become more selective once her social skills improve.

• Suggest some spring-cleaning. Show your child how to get rid of friends who are bullying her, even if these children are popular.

How does your child score socially?

Children's social needs vary and grow as they mature. You can fill out this social score sheet. Then ask your child's teacher to compare it to the peer group. The teacher may know if your child is socially competent or requires improvement. Some teachers may use a sociogram (or friendship chart) to illustrate your child's social standing in class. Then help your child improve her social score.

Social score sheet

Social involvement

Never

Occasionally

Weekly

Regularly

Uses the phone/Internet for a chat (with real friends)

Uses the phone to make arrangements

Uses the phone/Internet to do homework with friends

Socialises with the same friends at lunchtime

Mentions the same names regularly at the dinner table

Expresses concern about classmates who are stressed

Organises social arrangements (weekends, holidays)

Invites friends her own age for activities, e.g. sleepovers

Participates in sporting or other activities with peer group

Receives birthday invitations

Shows pleasure and interest in meeting friends

Buys or takes gifts to other children

Relates with ease to strangers

Your Perfect Right

Your Perfect Right

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