When a Child Doesn't Have Friends
Why don’t some children have friends?
The following are some of the factors that might be contributing to your child’s difficulty in making and keeping friends:
- Temperament (aggressive, shy)
- Attention deficit problems/hyperactivity
- Learning disabilities
- Social skills problems
- Poor communication skills
- Delayed physical , emotional or intellectual development
- Chronic illness, frequent hospitalizations, school absenteeism
- Poor gross motor skills which can limit participation in group activities
- Emotional difficulties(depression, anxiety, low self-esteem)
- Poor personal hygiene
- Child chooses or prefers to be alone
- Child gets social satisfaction and friendship mainly from family members
- Cultural values do not fit those of peers
What can parents do when their child seems to be lacking friends?
- Maintain open communication at home: Encourage your child to talk about his concerns and difficulties regarding friendships. He is much more aware of his social scene than you are, so be a good listener.
- Find balance between helping your child and letting your child help himself: In many cases your child may be able to solve his social problems without your direct intervention. For instance, if he is excluded from the Saturday afternoon basketball games on the playground, nothing could be worse for his reputation among his peers than for you to show up and insist that he should be allowed to play.
- Ask some key questions: Parents should ask some direct questions of their child, but there is a fine line between being interested and being intrusive and interrogating. Cautiously try to get a sense of how your child views the situation he finds himself in. Pose questions such as:
- Who do you think you fit in with?
- Are their different groups of kids at school?
- What do you and your friends play at recess?
- Are there any children you can really talk to and trust?
- Observe your child: In a natural setting and without embarrassing your child, observe your child when he is with some of his peers. This could be at the pool, library, park, pizza restaurant, an athletic event, or a movie. See how he comes across, what his mood is like, and what actions may create conflict or isolation.
- Get information from school: Ask your child’s teacher or the playground supervisor at school how he interacts with other peers. Inquire about his social interactions, not only in the classroom but also during recess, lunch, or gym. The bus driver may provide some useful information about his interactions on the bus.
- Initiate a plan: With this information in hand, you might be able to focus on specific problems and guide your child in appropriate directions, perhaps developing a strategy for entering into a group activity and practicing how to start and maintain conversations and deal effectively with minor and major conflicts. Spend a few minutes talking with him about the perspective of other children, what they might think of him and what they consider important. By encouraging him to talk with you about his struggles with friendships, you will have the opportunity to guide and teach him how to get along. Help your child feel good about himself at home with his family. He will build confidence that he will carry to school and the playground.
- Direct your child: A child in this position needs help and guidance to find social events or initiate activities. Guide him into situations where he is likely to meet other peers and develop friendships. Encourage him to join a club, team, or participate in community activities. Encourage him to invite someone he meets at those activities or school to come to your home or to an outing (restaurant, mall, pool, etc).
- Identify your child’s strengths: Encourage your child to use his strengths and interest to make friends. If he has a good sense of humor, for example, he might be able to take advantage of it in a class play. If your child likes soccer, encourage him to call friends and organize a game at the park. If he likes animals, he might meet others with the same interest. He can go to the zoo with them, watch nature/wildlife videos together, or do a group project.
- Carefully select social activities: Encourage your child to avoid situations that are likely to lead to embarrassment. For instance, if your child is poorly coordinated, organized sports may be a poor choice. Instead, help him take advantage of his strengths, selecting activities where he can excel or involve him in individual noncompetitive sports activities.
- Tutor a skill: If your child has some skill but not enough to satisfy his own need to succeed or to be admitted into the circle of children with better skills, individual lessons may be helpful. Depending on the skill, a relative, a local coach, a teacher, or an older student may help your child develop his skills to the point where they may build his self-esteem and enhance his popularity. These skills might include sports, music, or writing. He might attend a specialized camp or weekend workshop.
- Seek professional help: When your child has serious difficulties making friends, and when your own initial efforts at helping him are unsuccessful, seek the help of your own pediatrician, a child psychologist, or another professional with expertise in behavioral problems. These professionals might suggest programs to help your child develop his social skills.
- Temperament (aggressive, shy)