One of the most heartbreaking phrases ever uttered must be “I have no friends.”
It is especially heartbreaking when those words come from a child. They’re hard for both the kid to admit and for any loving parent to hear.
You know how special your child is. You know how much he or she has to offer others. So you wonder, why can’t her peers see this? Is it possible she is a different person out there in the world than she is at home? Is she even bringing her isolation on herself, somehow?
‘Categories of Kids’
“There are several categories of kids when it comes to making friends,” said Eileen Kennedy-Moore, a psychologist and co-author of “The Unwritten Rules of Friendship – Simple Strategies to Help Your Child Make Friends.”
“There are the popular kids; they are not necessarily well-liked, but they are socially powerful. Then, there are the pretty average kids, with a solid group of friends and no real trouble relating to others.
“Then we see a sort of ‘neglected’ group. They are more on the fringes of developed peer groups. They usually end up just fine, eventually meeting like-minded kids who share their interests. Then, we have the ‘rejected’ group – these kids are actively disliked by their peers and routinely shunned by others. This is the group we really worry about.”
Charles Sophy, a Beverly Hills, California, psychiatrist, agreed.
“If you are hearing from teachers, caregivers or coaches that your child is a loner on the playground, doesn’t share well, gets rejected when he or she tries to join a group and/or is aggressive, it may be something to look into,” he told WebMD.
One mom shared her experience on social media platform Reddit, seeking advice from other Reddit users. She wrote of her 14-year-old: “My son told me last night he’s upset because he feels he has no friends. I’ve been worried about him for a while because when school is out he spends most of his time at home, playing Minecraft.”
Another Reddit user responded, saying, “Your son was me twenty years ago. It is an experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone.” He added that he ended up a very happy person, with loving family and many friends. He also said, “For me, my lack of friends was because of arrogance, and a lack of social skills. I was unlikable.”
Although hard to accept, it may be worth considering. Is your child exhibiting behaviors that are shutting doors on friendships?
“Is your child somehow inviting rejection?” asked Kennedy-Moore. “Are there behaviors such as extreme temper or crying fits that are chasing other kids away? This is something it would be very helpful to know — these are the kids who need some help.”
Smart Tips for Parents
Kennedy-Moore offered some steps to getting to the bottom of your child’s social isolation.
“First, use empathy. This is not easy for your child. Be gentle, and always be on your kid’s side,” she said.
“Get the facts. Talk to those who come into contact with your child regularly. Other caregivers and parents, coaches, and teachers can be extremely helpful. Get their input.”
Then, act it out.
“With younger kids, practice behaviors that help with making friends,” said Kennedy-Moore. “Role-playing can be very effective in showing kids what actions draw other kids closer.”
Sophy suggested looking at your own social constructs.
“You also have to look at yourself as a parent. Do you model good behavior? Do you have friends? Do you enjoy friends and go out?” she told WebMD.
Kennedy-Moore offered a few broad grade-specific tips:
“For an elementary school-aged child, be careful not to ask, ‘Was anybody mean to you today?’ every day,” she told LifeZette. “This only emphasizes problems. While staying tuned in, allow them the space to figure out who around them is open to friendships, and how they themselves show they are open to making a new friend. Importantly, they also learn to manage disagreements.”
For middle school kids, tempering your own involvement is again key.
“Be careful not to be sucked into the drama,” she advised. “All kids are different, and you don’t want to ignore really significant problems, but many times they need someone to really listen, not to stir things up further.”
In high school, it’s all about being the best guide through the intense social maze that you can be.
“Acknowledge your teen’s feelings,” Kennedy-Moore said. “This is very powerful. Suggest compromises, or reflect with your son or daughter on whether an apology is warranted.”
“Try to get a good handle yourself on when to let them work it out — step back,” she added. “They are learning really important life skills here.”
Self-empowerment is important, too.
“There is nothing wrong with encouraging your child to choose kinder friends,” said Kennedy-Moore. “And a rush to label something as bullying isn’t helpful — one-on-one conflicts are not cases of bullying.”
When it comes to seeking professional help, parents must rely on their gut feelings.
“When parents say, ‘Well, it isn’t really that bad,’ I counter with, ‘Then it probably won’t take that much to fix it,’” said Kennedy-Moore.
“It’s healthy to receive help for social problems. Friendships matter to kids. They influence not only your child’s happiness but how they feel about themselves.
“Friendships make the hard times easier, and the good times more fun,” she said.
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