Friendship is protective—having just one or two friends can make all the difference to a child’s development. Friends increase self-esteem, confidence, and independence. Having friends can also protect children and teens from bullying and victimization, and help buffer the impact of stressful life events.
But for some children and teens, making and keeping friends isn’t easy. Whether due to anxiety, ADHD, autism, or developmental disabilities, some lack the confidence and social skills needed to make a phone call, join a conversation, or play team sports. They may not pick up on verbal and nonverbal cues or empathize with others’ perspectives. And the consequences can be considerable: loneliness, depression, anxiety and isolation. This inevitably spills over into life transitions, including college, dating, and finding and keeping a job.
Fortunately, these skills can be taught. One place to start is building conversation skills including trading information with the goal of finding common interests, sharing conversations, and building awareness of nonverbal communication skills such as making eye contact and having good body boundaries. Another starting place is helping children and teens to choose appropriate friends by identifying a peer group and identifying extracurricular activities to find sources of friends who share common interests as a basis for building friendships.
The Child Study Center at NYU Langone Medical Center conducts social skills classes for children as young as three through young adults up to age 30 to help teach these skills. Our clinical faculty and staff use evidence-based interventions, the Children’s Friendship Program for elementary school children, and the PEERS® program for teenagers and young adults. The children, teens and young adults learn skills through in-class rehearsal and homework. It is a class; it is not a place to make friends, but a strategy on how to make friends in their real, outside lives.
The classes are developmentally appropriate for each age group. The youngest children learn how to play in groups. Elementary school children practice face-to-face conversations, make phone calls, and learn how to handle rejection. Older teens learn dating skills—how to ask someone out, how to behave, and what behavior is acceptable. All groups have homework, which involves practicing their new skills. This homework helps children gain confidence and solidify their new skills.
Parent participation is integral to the program’s success. In separate, concurrent classes, parents learn the language and skills being taught to their children—a requirement that not only enables them to help their children with homework, but also gives them the tools to be social coaches long after the program is over.
Each group meets weekly, for 60, 75 or 90 minutes, depending on age.
•Preschoolers attend 60-minute sessions for 15 weeks.
•Elementary school children between the ages of 5 and 8 attend 75-minute sessions for 12 weeks.
•Elementary school children between the ages of 9 and 10 attend 75-minute sessions for 14 weeks.
•Teens from 11 to 17 attend 90- minute PEERS® program classes for 14 weeks.
•Young adults with autism from 18 to 30 attend 90-minute PEERS® program classes for 16 weeks.
We perform an initial screening of all applicants and then meet with each child and parent to see if the child is appropriate for the group. Minimum requirements include approximately average cognitive and verbal functioning; a parent willing to participate; English language knowledge; and the child’s expressed interest in making and keeping friends.
Manhattan groups are conducted at One Park Avenue, 7th floor, New York, New York 10016. For more information, please call 646-754-5284 or email email@example.com.
For group offerings at our Long Island campus in Lake Success, please call 516-358-1808 or email Bonnie.Schwartz@nyumc.org.
Sarah Kuriakose, PhD, is a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the clinical director of the Autism Spectrum Disorder Clinical and Research Program at the Child Study Center at NYU Langone Medical Center.
Sarah Kern, LCSW, is a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Child Study Center at NYU Langone Medical Center.