How to Make and Keep Friends

Social Skills for Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults

by Sarah Kuriakose, PhD, BCBA-D

Clinical Director, Autism Spectrum Disorder Clinical and Research Program

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 a child from bullying and victimization, and help buffer the impact of stressful life events.

But for some of our children, 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. 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 28. Our clinical faculty and staff use evidence-based interventions, the Children’s Friendship Program for preschool and elementary school children, and the PEERS® program for teenagers and young adults

The children learn skills through in-class rehearsal and homework. Each class comprises eight to ten children of the same age and with the same social issues. 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 or 90 minutes, depending on age.

  • Preschoolers participate on a rolling admission basis, with a focus on early interaction skills with parent coaching.
  • Elementary school children between the ages of seven and eleven attend 60-minute sessions for 12 weeks.
  • Teens from 11 to 17 attend 90- minute PEERS® program classes for 14 weeks.
  • Teens with autism may participate in the general teen PEERS program or the ASD teen PEERS® program.
  • Young adults with autism from 18 to 28 come for 16 weeks of 90-minute classes.

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 646-754-5073 or email Rebecca.Shalev@nyumc.org.

For group offerings at our Long Island campus in Lake Success, please call 516-358-1808 or email Bonnie.Schwartz@nyumc.org.