School can be hard, and it can be even harder when your child has a hard time making friends. Helping your child through this struggle means taking some time to get to the root of the problem.
Most often, parents see their children at home and don’t have the opportunity to see how they interact at school, at someone else’s home, or when a parent isn’t around. So, first talk to friends, family members and school staff to seek their opinion. They may be able to provide valuable insight into what is going on with your child when a parent isn’t around.
Depending on what is causing the issue, here are some strategies for you to use to help your child over this social hurdle.
Put down the phone
Is your child glued to a computer or other device? Sometimes, when kids spend a lot of time with electronics, they miss out on developing skills to initiate and maintain friendships. Set time limits on electronics and encourage play with age-mate peers. In the beginning, you may have to structure playdates with an activity like making cookies, an outside game of tag or a board game.
Show what you know
Some children struggle to use the skills they already have. One way to encourage your child to use his good skills is to model the skills yourself. Make sure you are showing good friendship skills like active listening, good eye contact, empathy and turn-taking while talking. Also, when kids struggle to use their skills, you may want to talk to the school psychologist or other support staff. These professionals often have suggestions or maybe even groups to encourage and use good social skills.
Some children are introverted, shy or anxious about social interactions. In this scenario, encourage your child to reach out to others through structured activities. Sometimes, the demands of a social situation can just be too much for a child. So, invite some friends along for an activity such as seeing a movie, going to a play or to a museum, or to a fun class. Encourage your child to be flexible with her thinking. For example, it’s okay to be introverted, but everyone has to have a balance between time alone and time with others. Teach the skills that your child needs to be well-rounded.
Sometimes, not having friends at school is situational. Perhaps your child doesn’t live near his classmates or maybe the school is very small and there are no children with common interests. In this case, you might consider signing your child up for extracurricular activities so he can meet friends with common interests or perhaps develop some common interests with others. Ask your child’s teacher if there might be a classmate who already has the beginnings of a friendship with your child. Invite that child over for a playdate or meet for a playdate somewhere in the middle.
Sometimes making friends will take a combination of these skills. Use your intuition as a parent and the insight of others to decide what strategy will work best for your child.
Tracy Christman is a psychologist with Milwaukee Public Schools and the mom of two boys.