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How easy is it to make new friends?

“He’s never met a stranger yet.”

Have you ever heard yourself, or someone you know described this way? Some people are naturally approachable while others are more hesitant. While upbringing can be part of the reason, most people are approachable or shy more based on their temperament.

Approachability is defined as (Merriam-Webster Dictionary) “Capable of being approached: accessible specifically: easy to meet or deal with.”

In temperament approachability occurs along a spectrum with one end having the person who, indeed, has never met a stranger yet. The other end is the person who is terribly slow to warm up and feel comfortable with new people or new locations. If you have a child like this, you may call her shy or reserved. If your child is the first one, you would describe him as a natural salesperson, immediately going up to strangers, introducing himself, and asking their life histories.

Neither type of temperament by itself is a problem. It depends on what is happening with your child’s biology/development and what his environment is like.

The outgoing child may thrive in a community that prefers outgoing people. But he may feel different or rejected if his community is more reserved and conservative in its interactions. He may get upset that others are standoffish or don’t share friendship as quickly as he offers it.

The reserved or shy child will feel comfortable if those around him are also slow and cautious in allowing others into their inner circle. But he will feel isolated in a community that is extremely outgoing. He will be overwhelmed by people trying to engage him too quickly.

To help the very approachable child you need to spend time teaching him how to size people up, based on body language, facial expression, and tone and volume of voice. It is harder to consider other features which may be related to income, since some great children may live in poverty or may be better off than your family, but don’t mean that there is something wrong or right with the other child or adult based on that. Also, have your child note what the other child’s interests are, since there could be clues to issues if the other child is in to risk-taking and may talk your child into actions which you would not approve of.

If your child is shyer or reserved, the same need to teach your child is there but in addition, your child would be more willing to engage with others if he had someone he trusted with him. It may be you or one of his siblings or a friend that he has already had. Many more reserved, or slow to approach, children become more willing to take social chances if they have a “wingman” even into adulthood. With each positive experience, these children will be more likely to take a chance of going alone to an event or talk to a stranger because of the teaching and support they were given when younger.

How quickly or slowly your child feels comfortable with people, places, or situations is never wrong. It is merely who he is. Taking time to get to know him and provide him with teaching and support to know his environment and understand that others may also be either slow or quick to engage is something that you can do. And as he makes friends and enjoys his community, enjoy it with him. After all, you will always be his first teacher and friend.

If you are interested in an in-depth look at 3 factors of children and adolescents that can create positive or negative futures, check out my program, Never Assume: Know Children Before Labeling Them.

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