Help Your Child Make Friends

You can help a lonely child learn to socialize.

The older children get, the more their self-esteem depends on success with friends. Between the fourth and eighth grades, particularly, a child's self-image may be defined by having friends. If your child doesn't have friends, you know what it's like. I'm talking about the child who rarely receives a phone call, never gets invited to parties, and doesn't go out to play because "the other kids don't like me."

You feel helpless. You also feel frustrated and angry -- angry at the other children, their parents, and perhaps even at your own child for not being able to get along. You may also feel guilty, suspecting that your child's social problems are your fault.

Solving this problem means walking a fine line. You have to support and help the youngster, but you don't want to meddle. In the end, it's very important that your child solve the problem.

What can you do?

Let your child take responsibility. It may be hard to stand back and let a child work things out alone, but the best solution will be your child's.

Billy was nearly 12 years old when the family moved to a new neighborhood. As the new kid on the block, he got picked on by the others. He complained to his parents, who listened, but gave little advice. There were even times when, from their living room window, his parents could see what Billy was going through. But they did not run outside and break things up or call the other children's parents.

It took three months, but Billy finally made a friend, then two. Eventually, he had many new friends. His parents later said that letting Billy handle the problem alone was the hardest thing they had ever done.

Know the difference between sympathy and empathy. Empathy means offering understanding and support. Sympathy, on the other hand, involves the "Oh, my poor child!" response. If your child's own behavior is at the heart of the problem, he or she needs to hear it.

Ten-year-old Jane, a strong-willed girl who wanted everything her way, wasn't making friends. Jane's parents realized that other children were fed up with their daughter and were probably going to continue to exclude her until she learned to give and take.

Jane needed their honesty more than she needed their sympathy, even if it hurt. Her parents began talking to her in a straightforward, but constructive manner. Soon the advice sank in, and Jane learned to bite her tongue and get along.

Encourage your child to take on one friendship at a time. Some children are better at one-on-one relationships. Help your child bond with one friend. Teach that to have a friend, you must be one.

Share your own experiences. Social difficulties often make a child feel all alone in the world. It helps to know that others, particularly adults, have had similar problems and lived to tell about them.

Be ready to apply gentle pressure. If your child seems to have "given up" or is wallowing in self-pity, encourage him or her to take action. But don't push a certain friendship your child doesn't want to pursue; you wouldn't like someone telling you whom to be friends with either.