For your child, nothing beats family time. But we all need a bit of social interaction outside of our safe family unit. This is where friends come in.
Building friendships is tricky at any age, especially for kids (and adults) that tend to be more on the reserved side. But hopefully these tips will help your kids (and you) find a tribe to encourage social interaction, build confidence and discover the joy that a solid friendship can bring.
Finding A Tribe for Your Tot
Let’s start with your little one. Most kids under the age of five are more interested in being with you. After all, you are their tribe. But all kids will benefit from a bit of outside stimulation with children their own age. It can teach them how to get along, to share their toys and space and to communicate with each other.
Plus it will prepare them for the day care/kindy/school environment to come. Children at this age aren’t able to make their own play dates so it’s up to us to do it for them. It can also take kids a bit of time to open up to other children. Often kids under the age of five play side by side rather than together. This is completely normal and their ability to play together will grow as they do. Here’s a few tips on finding a tribe for your tot:
• Go where the kids are – Parks, playgrounds, libraries, swimming pools, waterparks – Cairns is bustling with great places to take the kids. You may find that your child connects with one of the children at the park. If so, strike up a conversation with the parent and make a plan to meet again. Yes, it can be a little confronting to do this, but most parents are more than happy for a chat. And they are probably just as sleep deprived as you.
• Enrol in a program – Attend a regular or drop-in class every week. This adds a bit of social stimulation to the weekly routine and can be great for parents too! One of the great things about these programs is that they tend to go through a full term so you have 10 – 12 weeks to become comfortable with the others in the class. What programs are available? So many! Check out our Under 5’s Activity Guide on page 61 for a list of ideas.
• Keep in the loop with what’s on – Be sure to have a look at the Pakmag What’s On Guide and Regular Events Guide for a list of events happening every month – there’s lots of events suitable for all ages.
Building Friendships with Primary School Kids
When school starts you may find your kids wanting to play with kids their own age. “Mum, can so-and-so come over?” becomes a regular request as do birthday invitations and sleepover desires. Here’s some tips on nurturing friendships in kids:
• Say yes – It’s up to you to decide what invitations to accept based on how comfortable you are with the other family. If you don’t feel comfortable dropping your child off for a play or party, then stay for a bit and see how it goes.
• Be the host – Another way to encourage friendships is to invite people to your house which might work best if your child is new to playdates.
• Join a team – Primary school kids will benefit from the social stimulation of regular activities. Ask your kids if they would like to join a club or a sports team. February is the time for sports sign on so now’s the perfect time to sign them up! Check out our January Sports Sign On Guide at to see a complete list.
Tween/teen tribe tips
When our kids reach that tricky tween/teen stage, friends often trump family. Sometimes these friendships flourish without a hitch. Sometimes they can cause serious complications and concerns. Check out these tips on ensuring positive friendships for your tween or teen:
• Always communicate – Talk to your children about how things are going at school and with their circle of friends. Ask questions, take an interest in their circle and offer them opportunities to get together with their friends. Gently remind them that friends can come and go… but you are ALWAYS there if they need someone to talk to.
• Be aware of sour friendships – Your tween’s tribe may change on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.
This is fine, as long as it hasn’t turned toxic and
led to bullying. Be aware of the signs of bullying including changes in mood, eating habits and behaviour.
• Don’t let friends become their everything – Encourage plenty of family/screen-free time with your tween or teen. Yes, friendships are important, but family will always be number one, even if your tricky teenager thinks otherwise.
Finding your Own Tribe
When we have kids, we put them first. Often this means our social life suffers. We simply don’t have the time or the energy for late night dinners, long, leisurely ladies-only brunches or wild weekends away.
But it’s so important for our mental health to stray away from the family every once in a while and soak up the support that can come from friendships. Here’s some idea’s on how to maintain or build friendships as an adult:
• Make it a monthly thing – Schedule one afternoon every month for a catch-up with your crew,
with or without the kids. Meet for lunch or drinks,
go for a walk or simply head out for a quick coffee.
• Join a club – Looking to make new mates? Push yourself outside of your comfort zone and the constraints of child-related activities by joining something that’s just for you – a weekly pilates class, a fitness class, a netball team, a painting class. Have a look at our Get Out! Get Active Feature for more ideas.
• Speak up – Regardless of where you are going, the easiest way to make new friends is to be friendly and initiate conversation. If you do seem to click with someone, whether at a park, a gym or in the nappy aisle at Woollies, make the next move, offer your phone number and ask if they would like to meet up.