Whether you like it or not,
Alone will be something
you’ll be quite a lot.
And when you’re alone, there’s a very good chance
you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants.
There are some, down the road between hither and yon,
that can scare you so much you won’t want to go on.
-Oh, The Places You’ll Go, Dr. Seuss
It’s difficult to be alone and lonely, but it’s even more heart wrenching when it’s your daughter who is experiencing pain, especially when it comes to social interactions. While a parent may wish to protect his or her child from these painful experiences, no one can make friends for someone else.
Take into account that some children need help developing social skills such as empathy, problem-solving, negotiating, cooperation, and communication skills before they are ready to make true friends. If your child is struggling with these skills, it might be helpful to seek social skills training. There are, however, some ways that you yourself can help your daughter gain confidence and have an easier time making friends:
Create many opportunities for socializing. Like anything else, the more a person does it, the better he or she becomes at it. Host friends for playdates or lunch. Consider putting together a carpool so that your child can have a chance to talk to other children even on the way to school. If finances allow, sign her up for a group activity such as dance, drama or art. Even just heading to the park with a few friends on a Sunday is great opportunity for socializing. Giving children a lot of unstructured time to play is important because they learn the social skills they need in order to keep playing and having fun.
Model good socialization. When you go to the store, greet the cashier. Strike up a friendly conversation with your neighbor. Talk to the other mothers on the playground. When you show your daughter the power of a few small words, she will be less intimidated to conduct conversations with new people. Plus, you will be giving her tips on how to make friends by doing the same yourself!
Stay balanced. As painful as it is to watch your child feel isolated, you must maintain a calm countenance. You have to keep this moment in perspective – every person has her ups and downs socially – and this is just a bump in the road for your daughter. Empathize with her and show her that you care about her pain, but don’t go overboard. That will only cause her to wallow in her grief.
Praise the positive. When you see your daughter acting in a positive way, let her know. If you see her introduce herself to a new person or walk up to a group of her peers in the park, tell her when you get home, “I’m so proud of the way you were comfortable enough to play with those girls.” Noticing and pointing out her positive interactions will help her understand how things can go right in a social context.
Help her open up. Listen carefully to your daughter’s concerns and try not to minimize her anxieties. When you discuss the specific things that make her anxious, you may be able to correct some of the misunderstandings or misconceptions on her part. You will also be able to guide her towards a better interaction in the future.
Embrace new fads. Grade-school children can be enthralled with commercial fads such as Hello Kitty or superheroes. As much as these fads might not delight you, they offer wonderful bonding material for your child – a common ground for forming new relationships.
Okay, you say. But, what happens when friendships go wrong? You’ve helped your child to feel comfortable with herself and to enter social situations. However, now you notice that one friend is hurtful or degrading to your daughter. Here are some tips to help your child work through difficult relationships while still maintaining her openness:
Teach your child to express her feelings to her peer. Children as young as three can learn to tell their friends when their feelings are hurt or when they are upset. Even if the other child does not apologize, you are teaching your child the importance of expressing emotion.
Help her walk away. As much work as your child has put into a friendship, it is essential to teach her how to walk away from unhealthy relationships. Friendships should be about support and camaraderie, and if this friendship is not a positive force in your child’s life, she has to learn to step away from it. As a life lesson, making a graceful exit from abusive relationships is invaluable.
Create distance. Help your child strengthen her relationship with other children. Set up playdates with other classmates and request (privately and discretely) that your daughter’s seat be moved if she is currently sitting next to this “friend.” You will ultimately be protecting your daughter.
While you can’t make friends for your daughter, you can provide social opportunities and instill skills that will assist her on the road to friendship. The best thing you can do – be her friend! Listen, empathize, and give her confidence to brave a new day. And, in the words of Dr. Seuss, don’t forget: “Step with care and great tact and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act… And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)”