Making friends

Dr. Jessica Dalley, psychologist in supervised practice, McMaster Children’s Hospital

Hi, I’m Dr. Jessica Dalley, a psychologist in supervised practice with the Child and Youth Mental Health Program at McMaster Children’s Hospital. Over the past year, we’ve all faced challenges with making and keeping friendships. We might be a bit out of practice with talking to other people in person or talking to people in bigger groups. It’s completely normal to feel a bit strange or worried about reconnecting with friends or making new friends as you head back to school in September. This video might provide some helpful reminders of things to consider when you are talking or playing with classmates and friends in September.

Everyone is feeling a little nervous

Like you, everyone is feeling at least a little nervous about making friends at the start of a new school year. Great news is that means everyone is probably more open to conversations with new people or people they haven’t spoken with in a while. Kids and adults mostly make friends with people they are physically near, so the beginning of the school year is a perfect opportunity to build some new friendships. Before school starts, you might consider reaching out to some friends you already know, planning a time to see these friends or practicing some questions on your own that you might ask classmates when you see them for the first time in September.

Join a group

When you get to school, I’d encourage you to try joining a group of people already interacting with each other. For younger kids, you can join a group by asking what someone is playing and joining in with the game that’s already happening. Try and wait at least a few minutes before you suggest a new game or new rules. Parents, maybe you can practice this with your kiddo. Have them come up to you in practice asking to join the play, going along with the game that’s already being played and sharing materials with others.

For older kids where people are more likely to be just sitting around and chatting, take a look at the group of people that you want to join. It’s okay if members of the group are standing somewhat apart rather than their heads super close together, maybe glancing around the room occasionally, if there seems to be pauses in the conversation, if the conversation seems casual, this is probably an open group to join. You can go stand beside the friendliest looking member of the group and ask a question like “Mind if I join you?” Or simply start some small talk like, “how was your summer?”

Tips for making a connection

When you’ve joined a group, try to mindfully focus on the person talking and the others in the group, not focusing on what they’re thinking about you or what you’re going to say next. Pay attention with curiosity and interest to what other group members are saying and what their body language is like. Try to make eye contact rather than staring at your phone or the floor. You’ve probably experienced this yourself. Friendships feel so much better when we feel we have someone’s full attention.

Try to respond to questions with a full answer rather than just a yes or no and ask a follow-up question to keep the conversation going. Give the other person a chance to talk a little bit more about themselves without interrupting. If you learn that you and a classmate have some common interests, you might use that to start a conversation later in the day or invite them to do an activity with you another time that might interest both of you.

Take your time

Remember, it’s totally normal for friendships to take some time from going to strangers to acquaintances to friends then to close friends. Take your time. Take a deep breath and try to be present and enjoy the social interactions while they’re happening.

I hope these tips give you some things to consider when making friends this September. Creating and keeping friends takes a bit of effort and some courage but I think you’ll be so glad you gave it a go.