Nov 17

ABA TIPS for Expats, by Aspire- ABA Center Europe (ACE)

This elaborate topic is split into a three-part series: How to Initiate a Conversation, How to Sustain a Conversation, and now: How to Sustain a Friendship.

While making friends and continuing to build friendships is a natural part of people’s lives, starting from childhood, some individuals struggle with understanding how to develop and maintain these skills. If your family has recently moved to a new country or is still adjusting to life as an expat, sustaining a meaningful friendship can be a difficult task.

Try out our tips to help encourage growth in your child’s or your own social life.

Tips on How to Sustain a Friendship:

– First, determine where you or your child needs the most assistance. Is it with choosing a topic to discuss, understanding body language during a conversation, or how to respond appropriately to a peer’s comments? Our previous tips will provide some help with these specific skills.

– Now that you have successfully engaged in a few conversations with a peer, take the topics previously discussed to build on this budding friendship. If you first initiated conversation relating to a particular activity, continue to follow up with questions and comments related to this topic. For example, “Hey, have you beat that next level of MarioKart yet?”
For practice to stay on topic, try to use this “Topic Maintenance Railroad” activity. Show your child the train pictured below and explain that each of the cars represents saying something about a chosen topic. If he says something off topic, a train falls off the track (for visualization, actually cut off a train car from the paper, or try writing the topic and comments on the paper).



– For most people, friendships are mostly built on how closely a person’s likes and dislikes match the other persons. This includes an awareness of the thoughts and feelings of the other person. Remember to keep this awareness mutual rather than one-way receiving.


Specific Skills to Target:

Ask Questions: To continue practicing the ‘give and take’ of a successful conversation, use a pretend play game of ‘interview and reporter’ with your child. Let your child be the interviewer and you can pretend to be a famous person or a fictional character or interest to them. This will allow your child to have practice asking multiple questions during one conversation.

Compliments: Provide compliments at appropriate times and on appropriate topics. Also, know how to respond to a friend’s compliment. For example, “I like your Cars coloring book!” “Thanks! Do you want to color a page from it?”

Criticism: Sometimes criticism is part of a friendship, especially as it becomes a deeper relationship. Individuals can learn how to give and accept criticism. For example, “I don’t like it that you didn’t come over when you said you would.” “You’re right, I should have called you.” This skill can be taught through role play at home so your child can practice accepting the critique then saying related and appropriate responses to criticism.

Accept Suggestions: Individuals can incorporate the ideas of the other person in the joint activity. To practice this skill, join in on an activity that encourages teamwork or social interaction. Some activities great for working together are: cooking, craft activities, and building something together (e.g. a fort, tree house, Legos castle).

Reciprocity and Sharing: A good friendship can involve an equal distribution of conversation and items used in the current activity. If your child has difficulties with sharing, try first teaching the importance of sharing through a social story, then try videotaping your child playing with you. Have your child count the number of items you are playing with and the number of items he is playing with. Use this video as a visual lesson as to how the distribution should look like versus what is happening.

Play Skills: A good friendship involves equal expressing and engaging in play ideas. To practice this skill with your child, allow them to choose an activity and set a timer for 5 minutes. Then you choose an activity and set the timer for 5 minutes, then switch. Praise your child for smooth transitions, expressing ideas of new activities, and engagement in the activity that was your idea.

Monitor Non-verbal Cues: Regularly observe the other person and motor their body language to determine if they are still interested in the conversation. Read non-verbal cues of what another individual does not like (i.e. looking away, walking away, appearing upset, saying unfriendly words, becoming frustrated). Practice recognizing other’s emotions with Emotion Cards (see below for resource).

Active Listening: Actively think about what they have said and make a related comment. Practice this skill at home or on a car ride by first verbally telling a story, then ask basic comprehension questions to test for attending skills. Your child can earn points for how many questions he earns correctly. 10 points equals a reward!



Model Me Friendship offers videos modeled by children that are used to target the skills needed to develop and maintain friendships. Individuals can watch a scene that may demonstrate appropriate social skills at school, playing on a sports team, or being out in the community.

Making and Keeping Friends Card Game provides various social situations that may be tough to understand. Families or friends can play this game together and work through the through-provoking questions that relate to common social situations.

Emotion Cards are useful to help identify and discuss emotions of other people.

Do you have the experience that impairments in social skills lead to bullying or teasing? Read this article for tips on How to Respond to Teasing, including a podcast version of the tips.

Need help teaching or understanding perspective taking? Watch this video to learn the 5 steps that can be used to improve perspective taking which will help with navigating daily interactions.


Interested in receiving workshops, or professional, customized ABA services for your family in the home, after-school program or at the (International) school in Europe? Our BCBA and staff will help with behavior challenges, developmental delays, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Sensory Disorders, ADHD or related disorders. Contact Aspire- ABA Center Europe (ACE) at info@ab

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