3 Strategies For Helping Adopted Children Make And Keep Friends

April 14, 2022 | 6 min read

As a parent, it can be difficult to watch your child struggle in social situations, especially when it comes to making friends. Unfortunately, it is a common issue that many families encounter with adopted children or children who spent time in foster care.

Maybe your child is struggling with forming relationships with children in their classes at school or finding friends to play with outside of school time. Perhaps you’ve noticed that your child feels more comfortable spending time with adults than with people their age.

We’ve encountered these situations when speaking with families who have experienced the adoption or foster care process. Luckily, there are numerous ways you can help to encourage your child to expand their social skills and create meaningful relationships with children their age.

Discover 3 strategies to help you develop your #AdoptedChild’s social skills when it comes to making and keeping friends:Click To Tweet

Why Are Social Interactions Harder For Some Children?

Peer relationships can be challenging for an array of reasons from personality traits to lack of shared interest or underdeveloped social skills.  Your child’s experiences early in life may impact their ability to cultivate meaningful peer connections in a number of ways.

They haven’t learned how to form relationships — the relationships we form with our parents or guardians tend to become the template for all our future relationships. When a child does not have a positive or strong relationship to base their future interactions on, it can be challenging to create a meaningful relationship down the road. If your child’s earliest relationships were characterized by instability, they may consciously or unconsciously avoid forming strong attachments.

They haven’t learned how to pick up on social cues — part of our social development as children stems from watching others interact and being taught various social cues. As a parent, you might understand that when a child turns their back or crosses their arms, they are upset or do not want to speak, but does your child understand what this cue means? Frequently misreading cues can lead to unpleasant peer interactions and make a child who already struggles to form relationships feel rejected.

They haven’t been taught how to play — it might seem strange to think that you need to teach your teenage child how to play as you would your 5-year-old, but social skills are learned behaviors and take practice to perfect. Understanding skills like sharing, winning and losing, and compromising are typically taught in early childhood and develop in complexity as a child matures.  Without proper attention to the fundamentals, a child may enter adolescence and adulthood with an underdeveloped capacity for successful interaction.

The above three reasons are not all-encompassing reasons why an adopted child might struggle with forming friendships and relationships with children their age, but they can be a common source of relationship struggles. The good news is that there are many things you can do to help your child develop socially and emotionally so they are more adept at creating and maintaining friendships.

Strategies To Expand Your Adopted Child’s Social Skills

Simply forcing your child to interact with children or placing them into social situations in which they are not comfortable isn’t beneficial to anybody. When you notice these issues arise, the best thing you can do is stay present and clear-minded about the situation.

Blaming your child’s peer group, neglecting to discuss the topic, and assuming things will get better on their own isn’t a helpful approach to solving this issue. Neither is becoming over-controlling, anxious on behalf of your child or hovering over them in social interactions.

The right strategy, as with most scenarios, involves a blended approach.

By focusing on modeling positive #Social behavior, you can help your #Adopted child to make and keep friends:Click To Tweet

Teach your children the basics of social interactions

There are many benefits to teaching your child the appropriate way to interact with people around them. You may need to start with the absolute basics, like teaching them common greetings as well as appropriate responses to questions. Demonstrate what level of physical contact is expected and appropriate in social situations, and also be sure to teach them the importance of respecting people's personal space. Spend time with them, and teach them how to share a conversation so that they don’t monopolize the conversation when they spend time with friends and classmates. Remember that your child is looking to you for cues and model things like conflict resolution and cooperation in your own interactions.  Positive reinforcement will help solidify the desired skills so be sure to praise your child when they do things like take turns or problem-solve with a sibling.

Help children have frequent, successful play dates

The best way to help your child learn how to interact with and play with children their age is to set up playdates, so they can get first-hand experience. Start small by having shorter, more structured playdates so your child feels less pressured in these situations. By dipping their toes in the water and structuring these interactions, you can help them to slowly become more comfortable spending quality time with friends and children their age. 

Before a playdate, practice what it looks like to be a good host to friends (i.e., sharing toys, positive communication phrases, allowing the guest to choose what they would like to do) and brainstorm some potential activities your child and their playdate might enjoy. Having this conversation beforehand can alleviate much of the social anxieties and stressors your child experiences. As the parent, try to give your child and their friend the space they need to play and interact with one another comfortably, but stay aware of how the situation is going so that you can intervene if needed and offer specific praise and feedback.

Support your child in making and keeping friends

Positive reinforcement and support go a long way in helping your child make and keep friends. One of the best ways you can help your child make friends is by getting to know the children they interact with and their parents. You should strive to make your child’s friends feel welcome in your home.

You can do this by greeting them warmly, talking to them directly and respectfully, complimenting them on accomplishments, and interacting directly with the parents of the children when they come to pick them up. This creates a positive foundation for the relationship and shows your child that you care about their friends. Outside of school friends, encourage your child to meet and spend time with neighboring children so that your child can expand their friend group.

Finally, take time to introduce your child to social interactions across generations and settings. Whether this is accomplished by spending time with your extended family, hanging out with another family together, or interacting with older adults in another way, it can be highly beneficial for your child to witness models of interactions across age groups and different social settings. Understand that children may have varying comfort levels in different groups of people and support your child in these interactions. Be encouraging but not forceful, allowing your child to take their time and respecting them when they need to step back. 

It can take time, concentrated effort, and practice to help your adopted child develop the social skills and strategies needed to form meaningful relationships with friends and family. While you might not see results overnight, know that your consistent efforts are helping your child to expand their skillset and reinforce to them how much you care about their wellbeing. Whatever your child experienced before becoming a part of your family, the parent-child relationship you have today is essential to building social competency.  Help your child be a good friend by showing them the respect, trust, and empathy they should bring to peer interactions.

Looking for more resources or advice when it comes to your adoptive family? NCHS has all the tips, strategies, connections, and tools you need to support you and your family on your journey. To find out more, connect with our team today.