How can you help your child if she's struggling with friendships?
At some time or another many parents realize and begin to worry that their child has no friends. We suddenly notice that they seem to be home a lot, their phone isn't ringing, or the kids we used to see at our home aren't coming over anymore. Maybe your child has never really had any friends, and as they head into adolescence you are worried that they never will. How can parents help their children through this heartbreaking experience?
1. Do not panic
I watch so many parents go into pure freak-out mode and this only makes the situation worse for your children. You probably don't know the whole story and panicking isn't going to help you figure it out. So parents, take a lesson from your own book and take a time out. Calm down and get your head clear prior to approaching your child. If you try to talk to them from a place of terror, they will either run or completely shut down. Neither of these actions will help them find friends.
2. Ask your children limited questions, and only questions that are open-ended and curious
In other words? Do not interrogate them! Here are some examples of what you could ask your children sans the terror tone: "I haven't seen Charlie around lately. What has he been up to?" or "What would you like to do today? Would you rather be with your family or do you want to see if a friend is available?"
If your child tells you that they have no friends, it is crucial that you don't start criticizing or blaming them. Instead go back to the open-ended questions: "Why do you think that is?", "What do you want to do about that?", "How can I support you or help you in this situation?", and/or
"Would you like to discuss this with me or anyone else?"
3. Listen carefully to what your child is telling you regarding their feelings
Don't assume that they are miserable or unhappy. It's possible that they ended the relationship for some reason and that they are comfortable waiting to meet new friends. If your child is sad about the situation, then acknowledge his feelings and do not try to fix it for him. Say, "This is really hard for you and your feelings are hurt. I don't blame you for feeling that way. My feelings would be hurt in that situation as well." Don't say things like, "But she was a bad friend anyway" or "You can do better." Allow your child their feelings and be available to them for guidance if they ask.
4. Finally, don't play friend matchmaker for any child older than 4th or 5th grade
Children typically will learn to make friends on their own and at a pace that makes sense to them. Make sure they have plenty of boring down time at home to help motivate them to seek friends. You can also help sign them up for some extra curricular activities where they may meet a friend or two.
Not all children need nor want a large group of friends and some may choose to not have any intimately close friends until they are older. If your child seems to be trying to make friends but isn't successful, then talk to teachers and coaches to see if you can get some insight into why that might be. Don't scold your child but instead have an open discussion about making and keeping friends.
Watching your child struggle with their relationships is challenging. Yet trying to fix it for them is doomed to failure. Think back on your own childhood and how you learned to establish and maintain friendships. Most likely, it was based on trial and error and each failed friendship led to positive changes for you and your next friend. If you still believe that there is something wrong with your child due to their inability to foster friendships, by all means seek the aid of a professional.
Lisa Kaplin is a psychologist, life coach and mother of three at www.smartwomeninspiredlives.com. You can reach her at Lisa@smartwomeninspiredlives.com.
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