Then comes Middle Childhood (seven to ten years). Children begin to choose their friends based on compatibility and shared interests. Friendships at this stage are based heavily on loyalty.
The last stage of childhood friendship, I will call the Transitional years (ten to twelve). In their pre-teen years, children start to recognize changes in their bodies and thoughts. They have a strong sense of self and look for friends who will complement their strengths.
Regardless of their age, one great way to help your child make friends is to build your child’s self-esteem. In their book Self Esteem, Matthew McKay and Patrick Fanning explain that when you reject certain parts of yourself, you are damaging psychological structures essential to healthy living. For example, in the same way that you protect a physical wound, when you are critical of a part of yourself you will find yourself avoiding anything that might aggravate the pain of self-rejection. Therefore, you will take fewer social, academic, or career risks.
To that end, your child might erect barriers of defense in order to protect himself. Those barriers can include blaming others, bragging about things they don’t truly like about themselves, getting angry, or making excuses. You can imagine how damaging this kind of behavior can be to friendships.
Point out your child’s strengths and encourage him to use them in many different situations. This will help him feel better about himself.
Another way to encourage friendship is to pass a smile. Before your children leave to enter a stressful situation, give them a great big smile. Then, let them know that their job is simply to “pass” that smile to one person who they see that day. Smiling can make children feel happy and also send out positive messages to those around them.
Getting involved in community service or chesed can be a wonderful way to make friends. Being in a group of like-minded people who are looking to help others can provide great opportunities for quality friendship.
Like community service, joining an after-school activity can provide relaxed opportunities that support friendship. Sports and games encourage teamwork and companionship. Your children might also learn skills that will help them in school.
Perhaps, the most important lesson you can teach your child about making friends is found in Vayikra, “v’ahavta le’reacha kamocha – love your neighbor like yourself.” In other words, treat others as you would wish to be treated. If you teach your child to treat his friends with the regard that he wants from others, his friends will be more likely to treat him with respect. Rabbi Akiva said that this statement is one of the greatest principles in the Torah. This pasuk, of course, applies to our lives and our children’s lives – the best way to create lasting relationships is to create balanced friendships based on mutual and reciprocated respect.