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When we are young the friendships we make are important, some will last a lifetime and others will last for a short while.

All of our relationships; the ones that go well, and the ones that are tricky, help us learn about ourselves and others. Friendships teach us how to cooperate with different people, and how to deal with disagreements, and different opinions. Friendships teach us kindness and to care for others.

The way children make and behave in friendships will depend on their age, experience and personality. Parents can support children by helping them think about how they can have good friends and be a good friend.

  • Children don’t really start playing ‘together’ until they are about two and a half. Until then they play near each other rather than with each other. So in pre-school and reception they are still ‘beginners’ at building friendships.

    Some children may find it easier than others; they may be used to loud, busy families. Some may have been used to being around other children at nursery for a long time. Others may not have spent much time away from their parents.

    In addition all of us have different personalities and levels of confidence. Some children will want to take friendship making more slowly than others. This is fine.

    Try not to worry they have plenty of time to learn how to be friends. There are some ways you can help your child gain confidence to make, and be, a good friend.

    • Give them chances to be around other children (If Covid-19 rules allow)
    • Practice turn taking in games, take turns in choosing what to do next.
    • Help them understand how they make other people feel good and how they might make people feel sad –this is an important part of being a good friend.
    • Encourage them know how to start a game ‘Do you think Bobby would like to play shops with you – you could ask him’. If Bobby doesn’t want to play shops your child could ask him what he would like to play.
    • Let them try and work out any disagreements themselves, but be ready to step in and referee if it is getting out of hand.

    All children have some days when they might feel a bit left out and lonely. Comfort and reassure them and help them think what they could try tomorrow.

    Even young children sometimes say unkind things to each other. Some children are more bothered by this than others. They are often back to playing with each other again soon after.  Encourage your child to say ‘you are hurting my feelings’ and then walk away from children that are not being kind. Reassure them that it is normal to have some tough days with friends and they don’t need to get along with everyone.

    If your child seems to be struggling with friendships talk to their pre-school / school. They will be able to give you a picture of what they see happening. They will be able to help your child develop their social skills.

  • Throughout their childhood your child will continue to be learning how to get along with others.

    You can help your child to make friends and also be a good friend. Talk to them about what they think makes a healthy friendship.

    • Friends find things they have in common.
    • Respect each other’s space, personality, differences, ideas and belongings.
    • Include your friends by supporting them and being together.
    • Empathy – show you care.                                         
    • Need you to be there for them, to care / Never hurt each other on purpose.
    • Deserve you and accept you for who you are.
    • Say sorry if they are wrong - everyone makes mistakes sometimes.

    During these years children will start to have friendship groups that are important to them.

    If your child is a bit slower at making friends they can feel left out and a bit lonely. Even if your child has made friends this is still often a time when friendships are tricky and cause upset. They are still developing socially and emotionally and will sometimes need your help to think things through.

    • Set aside time each day to talk with your child about what has happened. This gives them time to discuss friendships and feelings.
    • Encourage them to think about the other person’s point of view and make plans for how they might manage any difficulties that crop up. ‘Guess’ how the other person might feel; jealous, frustrated, sad.
    • Give your child the chance to work things out with other children – it can be hard not to step in straight away but managing disagreements is an important friendship skill.
    • If your child is often unhappy and struggling with friend issues ask school for help. They will also be alert to any bullying behaviour. *Click here* to look at our anti-bullying page.

    If your child does not make friends easily;

    • Let them know it is ok to not enjoy being part of a big group – some people prefer to stick with a couple of good friendships.
    • Help them develop some ‘conversation starters’ it can help with awkward moments if they have some things ready to say.
    • Sometimes children can get quite down about friendship issues. Help them build up self confidence and self esteem. *Click here* to look at our page about this.
    • Your child may find making friends through groups and shared interests helps too.
  • As your child gets ready to start high school, they may worry about making new friends and meeting new people.

    Friendships and building relationships are an important  part of life. As they get older friends have more and more importance for them.

    Making friends may be a worry for your child. They may have found making friends hard before, or had difficult experiences with friends in the past. Reassure your child that most people will feel worried about this when they are facing a new set of people.

    Share any worries you had at that age and how you coped. Take care not to pass on anxieties left over from any bad experiences – this is a clean slate for your child.

    Speak to the school they are moving to. They are used to supporting young people to make friends. They will be able to explain how they can help to you and your child.

    Is there an existing friend that is starting the new school too? Talking with a friend in the same situation can show them it is ‘normal’ to have some nerves.

    Joining groups and clubs is a good way to meet new friends with common interests. Check what is available through school or you could look on ‘Active Norfolk’ *here*.

    You can help your child build their confidence by talking about friendships and thinking what could help them feel more confident to meet new people and make friends. Help your child keep in touch with friends on the phone or online apps so they can support each other.

    • Practise some opening lines to help them get the conversation started. ‘I like your scarf’ or ‘what do you like doing after school.’
    • Encourage them to be a good friend. When you see them being kind and caring praise them and tell them how the other person might have felt. ‘I bet Tom felt really included when you asked him to join in football at the park.’
    • Talk to them about red flags if someone is not being a good friend back. Friends should not be unkind and make you feel bad.

    Talk to your child about body language. We can give off signals to make us seem like a person it would be good to talk to. Our own and other people’s body language say a lot about us.

    • Smile
    • Speak clearly and confidently
    • Make eye contact
    • Try and concentrate on what the person says ask a question to show you are listening. ‘I like football too -where do you usually play?’

    It can be hard when you are feeling worried to give off the body language that says you want to talk. Your child can try taking a few slow deep breaths as they smile to help them feel ready to meet people.

  • It is common for friendship groups to change over time. Interests and points of view change as they grow. It can be hard to watch your child work out which friendships are working and which have ‘run their course’.

    Children sometimes make friends and then fall out again for a short time. Many different groupings and re-groupings happen, especially in the early days of starting a new school.

    If your child is having a hard time with a friend you can help them by:

    Keeping calm and listening to what they say will give them the space to think through what has happened. Don’t feel you have to ‘fix’ the problem letting them talk is helpful in itself.

    • Don’t get cross or talk badly about the other child as young friendships can be up and down and it may well settle down.
    • Ask your child what they think they could have done differently – sometimes it will be your child that has made the mistake. When this happens help them work out how to put things right. Reassure them it will be ok.
    • If the fallouts are getting very frequent and your child is struggling speak to school to see if they can help.
    • If you are worried about bullying we have more information on this *here*.

    As your child gets older and into their teens friends have more and more influence over them.

    Your child will probably want to more spend time with them. It is important to keep in the loop of who your child spends time with and what they do together.

    Keep boundaries and rules in place. Even if they tell you ‘none of my friends have to do that’. You know your child best and what level of independence they can cope with. Make sure you know where they are and who they are with.

    Finding out what you can about who your teenager hangs out with can be reassuring;

    • Let your child’s friends visit at your house – keep mostly out of their way but be around enough to get to know about them (serving up food and drinks often helps with this).
    • Talk to your child – find out the things they like about their friends and give them space to talk about any doubts or worries they might have.
    • Talk to your child about social media and how to use it safely. There is good information about this *here*.

    All friendships have ups and downs. Young people are learning this through the relationships they are building. Friendships are good for our confidence and self esteem.

    Even when it doesn’t work out learning to get along with people you don’t like much, to manage disagreements and compromise, and understanding when a friendship is not ‘good for us’ are important skills for life.


  • The  Covid-19 outbreak has brought a lot of changes to how children are able to keep in touch with their friends. 

    They don’t get to see their friends at school or meet them at weekends and holidays. They have to follow the government guidelines on when we can see people who we do not live with.

    This is hard for children and young people. It gets in the way of them being able to build and maintain friendships in the same way.

    Support your child to be in touch with other children.

    • This might be online. They might be able to use social media or video calling. There is good information about this *here*.
    • Online gaming can help them have fun with friends – be careful that they are only playing with people they know in the ‘real world’. Be sure they know how to be safe online. The NSPCC has advice on this *here*.
    • They could write to their friends – send postcards, letters or emails – hopefully their friends will reply too.
    • Help them to meet up within the rules. Talk to them about social distancing so they understand why they need to do this.
    • Your child’s hobbies and out of school activities may be finding ways to stay in touch or even carry on during the restrictions. Check websites or make a call to find out.

    Some children may be keen to keep friendships going others may find it more difficult and become withdrawn and reluctant to be in touch with friends. As they see friends less and less they might become anxious about meeting up again.

    • Be a good example – let them see you making the effort to stay in touch with others.
    • They might feel better if they have something specific to talk about / do – maybe they could host an online quiz. They might enjoy starting or joining a ‘film club’ or a book club’.
    • Talk to their school they may have ideas to help your child join in with school activities with other pupils.

    Some children and young people may feel quite low and down because of the change to life that the virus has brought.

    *Click here* to look at our page on low mood for more information on this.

     If you are worried that your child has lost all interest in things they used to enjoy and are struggling to cope you can give Just One Number a call to talk it through with a health professional.

  • Often parents will have their own memories of times when friendships were hard and they felt left out or lonely. Parents understandably want to protect their children from this. It is important that we try not to pass on our own anxieties to our children.

    You may have always found friendships easy and struggle to understand why it is harder for your child to do the same. Your experiences good or bad will not be the same as your childs.

    When your child talks about any friendship worries try not to let your own memories get in the way. Let your child talk about what they are feeling, think together about what they can do to make it feel better. 

    Remember not everyone wants to be part of a big group and the centre of attention. Many people prefer a small group. It is good to be able to enjoy your own company too.

Who Can Help?

You can contact the Healthy Child Programme by calling Just One Number on 0300 300 0123 or texting Parentline on 07520 631590. Our opening hours are 8am-6pm Monday-Friday (excluding bank holidays) and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.

If you are 11-19 you can text Chathealth on 07480635060 for confidential advice from one of our team.

For 11–25 year olds Kooth is a free, confidential and safe way to receive online counselling, advice and emotional well-being support. 

Childline - Children and young people under 19 can call 0800 1111 for free support.

Young Minds Parents Helpline - Call 0808 802 5544 for free Mon-Fri from 9.30am to 4pm.

To speak to other Norfolk parents and carers, you can join our online community forum below.


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