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How to Help Your Child Hang On to Friendships when After-School Activities End

They say that all good things must come to an end. Your child’s favorite after school activity is no different. While activities like theater and sports give kids the chance to meet others who share their interests, many of these activities are seasonal, which can make it hard to hang on to new friendships.

Now that we are approaching spring, the activities that kept your child happy and social during the winter may be winding down. That means the friendships may be winding down as well, even if the kids would like to hold on to them. For some kids this won’t be the case, because keeping friends comes naturally to them. However, it won’t be so easy for the children who struggle socially.

As a parent, seeing your child’s friendships slip away as his activities end can make you feel helpless and disheartened. While it may be easy to intervene with young children, that is not socially acceptable for older kids. Even with younger children your direct intervention can be a problem, because you can’t sustain your child’s friendships for him. He’s got to learn how to do that for himself. However, that doesn’t mean that you should leave him hanging. Here are 4 things you can do to help him out:

1. Talk to your child about the friends that stand out. When a child is part of a club, cast, or team, it’s easy to feel connected to his peers. Everyone in the group is working toward a common goal, and bonding over the effort that goes into meeting it. While these relationships can be important and meaningful at the time the activity is taking place, they don’t always last once the excitement of that common goal wears off. That’s why it’s important for your child to be able to identify which of these friendships are the strongest. Which friends does he have things in common with outside the activity? Who shares his sense of humor? Who does he have the most effortless conversations with? Talking to your child about the friends he’s made during the activity, will help him to decide which friendships should get extra time and effort once it’s over.

2. Suggest some ideas for social activities. Now that the usual plans are no longer an option, your child may not know how to bring his friendships into his daily life. Helping him figure out the type of plans he can make with his friends, or giving him ideas for activities they can do together may give him the confidence he needs to reach out. When in doubt, it’s helpful to think of things that relate to the activity that brought them together. If it was a sports team, suggest a few of his friends get together to watch a game on TV. If it was a school play, suggest that they see a show together, or even rent a movie version. There are plenty of possible activities your child can use to bring his friends together again, even if he needs a little help coming up with ideas.

3. Help him improve his social skills. Sometimes, kids are more willing to overlook someone breaking a social rule  for the good of reaching a common goal. But once the activity ends, they may use it as an excuse to avoid a child with habits that make him seem rude or annoying. Teaching a child to break bad habits and develop strong social skills isn’t always easy. Sometimes it takes the help of a professional, or a good social skills group. But it’s absolutely essential in order for your child to build healthy and lasting friendships.

4. Prepare him for a change of pace. Once the activity ends, your child will find himself with a lot more free time on his hands. Even the friends that are making an effort to keep up with him won’t be available all the time. Some of them may have a new scheduled activity filling up their calendar, while others will be devoting their new-found free time to academics, family time, etc. Let your child know that it’s okay for things to slow down for a little while. He shouldn’t get discouraged if his friends aren’t around every time he wants to see them, and he shouldn’t give up on the relationship. Sometimes, part of being a good friend is being patient, and finding ways to make it work in spite of a busy schedule.

There’s no question that after school activities provide a great opportunity for children who struggle socially. It gives them an opportunity to meet potential friends that they may not have known how to connect with on their own. But once the activity ends, it will be up to your child to keep his friendships going strong.

Helping your child maintain friendships isn’t easy, but it can be done. By having the right conversations and helping him develop important social skills, you can teach him to hang on to great friendships all year round.

About the author: Isa Marrs is the Founder and Executive Director of the Where I Can Be Me® social skills program. She is a board-certified speech-language pathologist who specializes in pragmatic language (social skills) disorders in children. She is an expert in the field who is frequently sought after by institutions and therapists to provide training for working with these and other disorders. Isa also served as a guest expert on Nickelodeon’s ParentsConnect.com, and has been quoted by numerous top media such as Disney’s BabyZone.com, LoveToKnow.com, and Univision. She can be reached at 914.488.5282