"Mummy, I am not invited to Saira's party." "Mummy, nobody wants to play with me." "Daddy, nobody wants me on their basketball team." When parents hear such statements from their children, it is heart-rending and all their protective instincts rush to the fore. But most often, parents are at a loss as to how they can help.
No matter how strongly parents feel the need to play Mr. or Mrs. Fixit, this is one area where playing the heavy could backfire. Friendships are not something that you can go out and buy your children like their favourite toy so there's no point trying to bribe your children's peers with expensive gifts and outings to fancy places. The best that you can do in situations like this is to be supportive, boost their confidence, be a good listener and help your children develop a sense of humour so that they can ride out difficult situations like this without going under.
Do not assume that your child is lonely. She may be a kind of person that needs more space and does not have a very strong need for companionship. There are many children who are quite happy curled up in a corner reading a book or engaged in other solitary activities. You should diagnose loneliness based on your observations of her interaction with her peers and listening to what she says. You should also keep an eye out for changes in behaviour like fitful sleep, moodiness or loss of appetite. If you are worried about your child's inability to make friends, speak to her teacher or even to a counsellor if you feel the need. You should also keep in mind that some children have a greater need for social approval than others and their idea of no friends may just be that not everyone likes her.
How you can help
- Invite children over to play especially younger children as playing with younger children can boost your child's confidence. The older child tends to feel more in control and is less likely to be intimidated by a younger child.
- Give your child advice about how she should go about making friends. Not all children are born with this ability so you may need to teach your child some social skills. Tell her to find friends with common interests and to show interest in other children's hobbies.
- If your child is upset about her lack of friends, do not try to gloss over the situation. Be sympathetic and vocalize the way she must be feeling. Try to help her think of ideas to overcome her problem, but don't spoonfeed her.
- When your child invites other children over, you can help break the ice by organizing a few games or activities initially before leaving them to their own devices. However, do not play the fussy mother hen all the time. Your child will never learn to make friends on her own steam.
- Observe her interactions with her peers and point out later where she might be going wrong. Maybe she's too bossy or not willing to share or too quick to take offence. Explain this to her in a way that doesn't get her back up so that she feels that you too are against her.
- Encourage her to be persistent and take the effort. If another child has turned an invitation down, tell your child that there's no harm inviting her over again instead of taking the rebuff to heart and retiring hurt.
- Do not encourage competition with her peers or engage in constant comparisons. This will foster feelings of insecurity and rivalry rather than friendship.
- Do fun things with your child so that she gets the message that she is a good fun companion and not a bore as she may secretly think.
- Enrol your child in hobby classes that will teach her a skill or highlight a talent or encourage her to participate in activities like team sport that will widen her social circle and boost her confidence.
You may also be interested in:
- The Indiaparenting Team