How To Help Your Lonely Child Make Friends
Everybody Hates Me!
It is heartbreaking when your child comes home from school and tells you, "No-one likes me. I don't have any friends."
Feeling lonely, outcast and alone, particularly over an extended period of time, is very difficult for children. They have not yet developed the skills of resilience that most adults have acquired, and it's not easy for them to remove themselves from the problem.
What can you do, as a parent, to help?
Is There a Problem?
Having only one or two friends is not the same as having no friends.
Even having one friend teaches children how to socialise and understand the dynamics of friendship.
Generally, concerns about friendship issues only arise when the child is constantly a loner, is being ostracised by all other children, or suddenly experiences a prolonged period of rejection even by those who were once friends.
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Often children come home from school saying that they don't have any friends. With a little gentle questioning, you normally discover that this is only their way of expressing another issue - perhaps a small fight with another child, or something that didn't go the way it was expected. This is almost always nothing to worry about. All too frequently, parents become anxious and concerned, and still feel that way even long after the child has returned home the next day happy and carefree as if nothing every happened! It's best to be supportive, but to let your child deal with these day to day issues. That's how they learn the art of friendship, sharing and resilience.
It is the lack of friends over an extended period of time that could be a real problem. If you or other adults at school notice repeated signs of rejection or aggression towards or by your child, then you may need to intervene.
While it's perfectly natural and understandable for a protective parent to want to immediately jump in and defend a child, it's best to first consider possible causes.
- Overtiredness - If your child isn't getting enough sleep, it can cause behaviour problems. When children are tired, they don't think straight and become argumentative and irritated. Try to make sure they sleep for the number of hours recommended for their ages.
- Diet - A hungry child can be quite terrifying. (Mine can quickly go from being little angels to devils!) Look to make ensure that they are eating enough and getting good nutrition.
- Exercise - Both physical and mental exercise are important for good health, and a healthy child will find it easier to learn and maintain social skills. Help your child participate in activities that will keep their bodies and minds fit and active.
- Role Models - Do your children see you socialising with friends? They learn many of their skills from you. If you're not a social person, perhaps consider allowing them to spend time with adults who are socialising with other adults.
- Learning or Focus Difficulties - Having a condition such as ADHD can make a child unpredictable to other children, and can make it hard for a child to form and maintain good friendships. If this is the case, and your child experiencing prolonged unhappiness due to friendship problems, I would recommend seeking professional help from a child psychologist or counsellor.
- External Factors - Is something else stressful happening in the child's life, such as problems with your relationship, or illness in the family? When your child is overly worried, it can affect other aspects of life, such as friendships.
- Anxiety - Does your child suffer from anxiety? You can help by being supportive in social situations. Do not push your child to make friends, but rather quietly observe and gently suggest ways in which your child could behave to enrich relationships.
- Environment - Is your child able to meet new people and form new friendships? Allow your child to socialise outside of school, either at home or in the many sporting or other activities available to kids.
Problems Caused By Other Children
Quite often, the issue doesn't lie with your child alone or even at all, but with another child or children at school.
Children have all sorts of problems (real and imagined), and are not yet skilled in social behaviour.
When grouped together, often they turn their own insecurities into cruelty, ganging up and bullying. It's not necessarily that they are bad kids. Most likely they just don't know how to cope.
The best thing you can do is to teach your children empathy, compassion and resilience skills. Some of the lessons they will need to learn for themselves. It's hard, but if you are there for them, then you are being a great parent.
What You Can Do
Once you've looked at all the possible causes, and have identified that your child really is having a problem with friendships, there are positive steps you can take to help your child.
- Actively listen to your children - Kids feel safe and nurtured when their parents listen and take their problems seriously. Don't overreact (no matter how angry you might feel inside towards a child who you see to be hurting yours). Just calmly encourage your child to tell you what is happening and how he or she feels about it. Gently sympathise, ask simple questions, and try to understand what is happening - both from your child's point of view and as a whole from an adult perspective.
If appropriate, you can suggest alternative ways your child could react or behave in certain situations. For example, if you child tells you that someone was mean so he threw something, you could ask him if he could think of another way to cope, and maybe suggest that next time he could walk away and talk to someone else for a while. Every situation is different. Listen, and use your parental wisdom.
- Speak to teachers and carers - Ask those who look after your children in social situations such as school to keep an eye on your child, and to report to you if any problems are apparent. Many schools have a school counsellor available if you are very concerned. If you suspect that bullying may be involved, it is best to make the school aware, and then let them deal with it. You don't necessarily know the personal background or issues affecting other children, and if you accuse or approach them or their parents, you could cause more problems rather than resolve them. Definitely follow up with the school, though, about how they are responding to your concerns.
- Allow your child to take part in social activities outside of school - If, for whatever reason, your child is being ostracised or bullied at school, it can spill over into other social groups. If you child is experiencing problems, allow him or her to join a sport, youth group or other social activity away from your school's area. That way, even if friendships at school are affected, the friendships in the social group will remain untouched and will be an avenue of support.
- Keep things in perspective - Childhood is about learning. Difficult situations teach children to be stronger and let them develop methods of coping with life as an adult. Don't allow your child to suffer alone, but also give him or her space to work out the problems and come up with solutions. Being angry and revengeful in front of a child is not helpful, no matter how angry and revengeful you might feel!
Helpful Advice at Your Fingertips
A great resource for parents who want to help their kids develop social skills for life. My son and I still often read together from this book at night, as it has really helped him to identify where he might be accidentally upsetting potential friends. This book would especially help parents of children with diagnosed social difficulties due to Asberger's, Autism and similar challenges. Recommended.
If you feel that you are not coping or that things are out of your control, never be afraid to ask for help. All parents are learning - very few are experts.
Talking about your concerns does not mean you have to gossip. You can discuss issues and problems with your peers without naming names, or for more professional advice, you can go to an experience counsellor.
Openly discussing these things with those you trust will help you keep a sense of perspective, and make you realise that these kind of problems are not only common, but are often easily resolved.
If you have any more ideas about how to help children cope with the dilemma of having no friends, please feel free to share your thoughts below. All advice and shared wisdom is appreciated.
© 2014 Suzie Armstrong
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