After Back-to-School: Adjusting to Changes in Friends and Friendship

Helping Your Child Make New Friends, Deal With Exclusion, and More

School is back in session, and your child has more than just new routines to adjust to. There are also changes in friendships and social circles that come with a new school year, and adjusting can be difficult and emotionally taxing.

Here’s how you can teach your child about making new friends, coping with social exclusion, and more to ensure a great new school year.


Making new friends and developing healthy friendships

Organizing after-school play dates is easy for younger children, but parents don’t have the same amount of influence over older children. Still, research has long suggested that parents play a crucial role in teaching their children how to socialize and make friends. Here are some evidence-based tips on helping your child make new friends.

You can encourage your child to participate in after school clubs and activities, sports, and other things that interest them. Friendships often follow naturally as a result, just as they do for us adults.

If there aren’t any school-based activities that sound interesting, look outside of what the school offers. As one example, many children have forged lifelong friendships after getting involved with horses or dance classes — the environment encourages participation with other like-minded peers. What are some other options your own child might be interested in?

Friendships are great, but healthy friendships should be the ultimate goal. As the parent, it’s up to you to teach your child about what healthy friendships look like. Children are often so focused on the number of friends they have, basing their social worth solely on how many people like them (both offline and online, where social media “likes” are coveted).


Helping your child cope with social exclusion

Social interactions between kids (from elementary school to high school) are complex, and solid friendships can dissolve seemingly overnight. It’s heartbreaking when your child is on the receiving end of social exclusion, but keep these things in mind:

  • Sometimes, what our children need most is for us to listen, not offer advice.

  • Make time to listen, even when it’s inconvenient.

  • Resist the urge to speak disparagingly about your child’s friends — a fight this week doesn’t mean they won’t reunite the next.

  • Encourage participation in a wide range of activities to cultivate a diverse social circle, along with different passions and interests.

  • Teach your son or daughter about healthy friendships, emphasizing that friendship is about quality, not quantity, and that our friends should make us feel good.

  • Explain that a broken friendship doesn’t mean they are a failure — this is a normal part of life.

  • Help them understand the consequences of gossiping, both online and offline. They can end friendships with dignity, even if they are hurting, which is a difficult but necessary life skill.


Coping with everything back to school

New school years are stressful, but you can help the entire family adapt healthily. For more back to school advice, have a look at these resources:

Back to School Series: Starting at a New School

Back to School Anxiety - Ease the Transition

After Back-to-School: Adjusting to New Routines

Co-Parenting and Back to School

"Back-to-School Fairy" and Unrealistic Expectations for Parents

How to Balance Back-to-School Responsibilities Between Mom and Dad