If your child has difficulty making friends, summer may be the time to start to do something about it. Some children, while not rejected by their peers, are merely neglected by them. There are other children who are afraid of new adventures. They find it difficult to take the risk to seek out a friend. Both groups of children often become solitary and look to TV, nintendo and computer games as substitutes for real friends. This can become a problem for parents and their children since most of the TV programs are not helpful to the developing child. Some children do not have friends because they do not recognize cues from other children that they are doing something that is unacceptable. One of these cues is facial expressions. If your child seems to have this problem, try showing him pictures of different facial expressions and what they mean. Then help your child not only to recognize them but to develop more appropriate ways of responding to different expressions. Parents can also supervise and encourage their child when he attempts to use this new skill. Some children do not know how to reciprocate when an overture to friendship is made. There are other children who are so fearful of being rejected that they do not recognize an overture when it occurs. When you see this happening to your child, give him the words he could use or show him how he could offer to share some of his toys with the other child to make the child feel accepted as a friend. You might want to role-play an actual situation you observed involving your child so that he learns the skills needed to recognize a potential friend. Very young children who are involved in antisocial behavior like hitting, biting and whining should be helped before they go to school.
Children who are cautious and have difficulty forming friendships can be helped by joining established groups like the boy or girl scouts, theater or sport groups like soccer.
This behavior will inhibit their ability to make friends and might make them hate school. Parents can help these children be being very concrete in their suggestions and by taking them through a series of steps to practice other ways to deal with their frustrations. Parents can help by modeling behavior necessary to make and keep a friend. Talk about how much you enjoy your friends and the effort you make to keep them. Encourage your children to work at their friendships. If they have a fallout with a friend, help them to resolve the problem and to reconcile with their friend. Children who are cautious and have difficulty forming friendships can be helped by joining established groups like the boy or girl scouts, theater or sport groups like soccer.
It helps if they can develop a skill that will be admired by their peers.
Having your child join a biking group formed by your local bike store might be a good beginning. Not only is the child making friends, he is exercising his body and learning to use his time in active ways rather than being passive by watching TV. Children in today's world need a least one friend who gives them emotional support. Some children have computer friends and feel that is a satisfactory substitute. It is not the same. They can cut off computer friends by the flick of a switch. That is not emotional support. It is passive friendship.
True friendship requires commitment and give and take. Children who have acquired this skill live happier lives and seem to thrive. I encourage you to help your child to find and to keep a friend. It may take some effort on your part, but it is worth it and cannot be left to chance.
First published in 1993