Chapter 1 - Relationships Subchapter: Changing friends

Making new friends

Split-frame, left panel shows a toddler making another toddler upset by taking a toy away from them; on the right panel an illustrated character gives a flower to another character and makes them smile.

 

We are not born with social skills; we have to learn them. Every new experience and interaction deepens our knowledge of how to respond in different social situations.

You probably know people that seem comfortable regardless of the circumstance and will confidently make the first move to talk to someone they don’t know. But not everyone is like that.

For some of us, the thought of unfamiliar situations with unfamiliar people can make us anxious. What will they think of me? Will they accept me? Will I need to change for them to like me?

 

When might you need to make new friends?

Regardless of your age or situation, there will be times when you need to make new friends.

It might be because you’ve changed schools, or you’ve moved away from your old friends. Maybe you’ve ended a friendship and need to connect with a different social circle.

If you feel anxious about taking the first steps it might help to think about what’s worked for you before. How did your existing friendships begin? What was it that brought you together?

TIP: think about any positive social experiences you have had in the past. What felt comfortable, safe and natural?

In previous friendships, what did you most value in your friends? What do you think your friends valued about you?

Look for common interests. Join a group! Look for others that you know you have at least one thing in common with.

 

Making the first connection

Split-frame, on the left an illustrated character is holding a baby; on the right an illustrated character is standing with other smiling characters in a classroom.

 

A baby’s first social smile is their way of showing that they feel good. They feel positively about the other person—you smile at me and I’ll smile right back at you.

A smile is the simplest gesture of friendship and easily recognised by others as a positive and welcoming sign.

Finding a way to develop a connection is essential to an emerging friendship. But if you are shy or anxious, how can you step up and connect with others?

 

TRY: ask the other person to tell you something about themselves.

 

Ask about their interests or their family. The point is to make the other person feel you're taking a genuine interest in them.

The ability to really listen to what someone else has to say is an important skill to develop. Being a good listener is something that people will notice and appreciate. Plus, it’s always surprising the things you can learn. People are interesting!

It’s likely that if there is a connection, the other person will also take an interest in you.

 

Combating loneliness

Split-frame, on the left an illustrated character is happy with a group of friends; on the right the character stands apart from the others and is sad.

 

We all experience feelings of loneliness from time to time. Regardless of your age or background, there will be times when you feel apart from others. This is particularly common when making the transition from one friendship group to another. Regular and positive contact with others is essential for our well-being.

It can be difficult to admit when we are feeling lonely:

  • I couldn’t have gone even if they’d asked me
  • I’d rather watch TV than go to a party anyway
  • I enjoy my own company
  • My old friends are better.

 

Feelings of loneliness usually occur when you have little contact with people. It can also be when you feel you have little importance or value in other people's lives, or when the people you are with see things differently from you.

Some people really do find it difficult to make new friends. Lack of confidence and anxiety can lead to problems meeting people, and it may take longer to feel a sense of acceptance and belonging in a new environment.

Loneliness is nothing to feel ashamed about. Often, it’s a result of circumstances out of your control. For example, your family has moved to a new area, or you’ve started a new school. It’s important to remember that this sort of change happens to everyone.

 

Try these strategies to make you feel more comfortable when meeting new people. You might turn new acquaintances into friends!

  • Be yourself: an acquaintance will want to be friends if they like who you really are, not a person you are pretending to be in order to impress them.
  • Start conversations: pick a topic you’re interested in and fire up a conversation. If you draw a blank you can always talk about the weather, a movie or tv show, a sports team, or the latest internet trend.
  • Listen: once you start a conversation, pause, take a breath and enjoy listening to the other person’s response.
  • Share: be willing to share your interest, likes and dislikes. This will help the other person get to know you and if they share back, you’ll get a better picture of the person they are.

 

Whatever your age or situation, you can learn to overcome shyness or social awkwardness and develop strong, fulfilling friendships. You don't have to change your personality, but by learning new skills and adopting a different outlook you can overcome your fears and build rewarding friendships.