Research has shown what is important is not the number of friends children have, but rather the quality of the friendships they share. Simply counting your child’s friends is not an indicator of how well or maladjusted your child is. Take a look at your child’s stage of development, the nature of his friendships, any long-term pattern of getting along with other children.
If you see your child is spending a lot of time alone, this might be a sign they just need a few moments to calm down and recharge emotionally after a long day at school. Seeking out time alone is not always a signal that your child doesn’t have friends or lacks the skills to make them. One way to tell if a child is having difficulty in this area is to watch him as he tries to become part of group, either in a playground or in shul. Children who are having trouble making friends will call attention to themselves and be disruptive to the group, whereas children who easily make friends will be more subtle and sensitive to other children’s needs.
Of course, there are many different levels of maturity among children and therefore it is hard to determine what is problematic. To that end, here is a list of warning signs of poor social development for middle school children:
· A lack of consistency in friendships · No friends · Unable to set limits with friendships and therefore cannot identify his own likes and dislikes · Unable to coordinate his own play dates; parents still required to set them up · Poor eye contact · Poor hygiene · Disinterest in extracurricular activities that had once been appealing · Severe unhappiness when returning home from school
Here are some suggestions for helping your school age child acclimate to the social environment:
Provide a variety of social activities. There are so many social opportunities that are available to children – shul groups, baseball leagues, art classes, play dates, park outings and many more. Giving your child the opportunity to explore his social behavior in these different contexts will help him expand his social repertoire.
Initiate and practice pro-social behavior at home. Even if you are not a social skills coach, you have the ability to help your child understand proper social behavior. Talk about the ways that you greet people, how you can guess what they are feeling based on their facial expressions, and ways to initiate conversations. The more aware your child is of social behavior, the more likely he will be to practice it.
Social skills group. There are social skills groups run by professionals who can help teenagers master appropriate behavior and interactions. While at first, these groups might be intimidating to children who are socially awkward, with time they provide a community of people who help each other learn and grow.
Reward proper personal hygiene. Hygiene is an easy “social skill” to help your child master because it is concrete rather than abstract. Create a chart with your child with all of different elements of personal hygiene (teeth-brushing, showering, nail clipping, deodorant, hair-combing). Then, set goals and assign rewards. While he might not be aware of his lack of grooming, his peers will certainly notice the change.
Help her find children with similar interests. If your daughter loves art or music, consider signing her up for an after school activity where she can meet other children who share her interests. This will create a common ground and help your daughter bond with her peers.
Do not “go back to school” yourself.As painful as it is to watch your child struggle, if you step in to smooth over socially awkward moments, your son will not learn how to do this himself. Therefore, unless the situation is painful or dangerous, keep out of it. Feel free to talk about it with your son before and after, but getting involved at the moment will only stunt his social progress.
6:30pm: Dinner Time
“Please pass the string beans, Chaim.”
“The string beans, Mommy?”
“Yes, the string beans.”
“Okay, and give me the chicken.”
“Chaim, remember to say ‘please’ before you ask for something.”