Child Has No Friends

To Claudia Confidentially:

My kid child doesn’t have friends at school – she’s ten. She’s very sad about it. What should I do?

Medfield Parent

Dear Parent in Medfield,

While I don’t know the age of your child or have many details, this is an important question. Most parents, even if they don’t have to struggle with this particular problem, likes to know what they can do when their child is…well, suffering. So thanks for the question.

re generally speaking, how can you help your child when your child is suffering?

I know how hard this must be for you. Many parents suffer so much when their child is sufferingsad. Sometimes, this is because their  a child’s suffering brings back their own a parent’s own suffering. Sometimes, parents get anxious. All these feelings, whatever they may be, and maybe there are more than one or even two, need to be reckoned with. So that’s the first thing you can do to help your child: a child’s suffering arouses anxiety. Sometimes, parents get sad – which is certainly understandable. So the first thing to do is gauge your own feeling states.

Why is its so important to gauge your own feeling states? Because you want to make sure that all the negative feelings that get aroused by your child’s painful situation don’t interfere with the work you now have to do, which is help build her resiliency in the face of adversity. Something she can use for the rest of her life, and I’m sure you know that there is no life free of adversity.

The way to build resiliency in any child is help to feel comfortable with whatever they feel. When children don’t think they should feel sad, or even devastated, it can be hard for them to manage those feelings. In fact, resilient children are not children who FEEL less sadness, anxiety or fear. They are simply children who have a higher tolerance for those feelings. So whatever your child is feeling, you want to help her feel OK about it, which is why it is so important that YOU be ok with whatever she is feeling. 

While it is important to tell your child that she is wonderful and terrific, some children interpret those loving feelings to mean they are not having the right feeling about their situation, so be careful about the timing of your cheering up, and make sure your child really needs it; she may know she’s beautiful and terrific – her problem may be different.

When a parent is aware of their own anxiety, suffering or sadness, and they don’t try to cheer their children up simply because they can’t tolerate those feelings, they are in a very strong position to find out what they can really do to help. You have to do some research on your child and find out: What does this kid really need? 

Once you do some research on your child, you may find out a number of things. She may want to make friends outside of school if she doesn’t like the kids at school, for example. Or, she may want to make friends at school and need you to bake a batch of cookies or throw her a party so they will like her better. She may need to know that social climates change like the wind, and tomorrow is a better day. Find out what your child needs by asking a lot of questions about what she thinks is the problem, whether this is just a problem she had yesterday or if it’s more constant, what she wants you to do to help, and what you should do if you can’t give her what she needs (like moving to another country!)

The time to consult a professional is easy to assess. When your own lack of confidence is at a low-ebb about being able to help your child, and you feel that your own sadness or anxiety or suffering is being communicated because your child doesn’t seem cheered up, get some help! Sometimes, children don’t make friends in school because they can’t tell their parents in any other way that they are not happy. It’s OK to be unhappy; but it’s not OK to stay that way. This is a hard step for many parents to take, and I don’t know why. We don’t mind getting cleaning ladies and gardeners and fitness coaches to help us, so why not try to get help with our emotional education? After all, we never went to school to learn about all these things!

Trying not to personalize your child’s problems, to stay optimistic, find out what your child wants from you and from the world, and to get the help you need if there is a deeper problem at play, is a lifelong process. Don’t be afraid to open your heart to your own feelings about this situation, and help your child get comfortable with his or hers. If those feelings seem too challenging to your both, learn more about them, so you can start now building the resiliency that can make you stronger for all the difficult times ahead.

 there is only one thing you have to work on when your child is suffering, and that is RESILIENCY. It is much easier to work on resiliency when your own suffering is acknowledged, so it doesn’t interfere. Parents who don’t deal with their own feelings first risk the danger of communicating additional negative feelings to the child. For example, a mother who gets anxious may go overboard trying to think of strageties for their child to make friends before finding out what their child really needs.

Thinking your child doesn’t have friends in school is extremely painful. However, a little-known secret is that it is much more painful for the parent than the child. While children often accept social dynamics as part of life, adults feel the double pain of their child’s hurt as well as their own, past hurt. Parents also have the added pressure of wanting to do something. .

The best course of action for you to take is twofold. First, try to stay away from lecturing your child about what they could be doing to make more friends. If they are having trouble, they are probably grumpy and in need of a friend, so listening to them and saying only nice things to them is particularly important.

The second thing you can do is find out from your child what, if anything, they want to do about the situation. If they want to invite someone over, get the phone number. If they want cookies to buy a friendship, buy the cookies. If they want to do nothing, agree that it is sometimes best to do nothing. Whatever their plan, encourage them in it, provide them with the information or resources they may need, but try not to improve upon it. This strategy will instill confidence, which, ultimately, is the best thing you can offer your child when is comes to experiencing rejection.

What will make it easier for you to be a friend to your child, as well as encourage them to solve their own problems, is also thinking about your own relationship to belonging. Does your child’s problem bring back painful times for you? Are the painful feelings part of who you are today? Using this opportunity to explore your own relationships to belonging, will not only help your child to grow, but help you accept and manage this common aspect of life as well.

Without knowing your child, you have two tactics to use. The first, if your child has no friends, is to try to get a very deep understanding of what the child is feeling and thinking. Working solely on their behavior will do little to address the underlying foundation of the problem, which is undoubtedly about what the child is feeing.

If your child has some friends, and is not struggling with this problem with everyone,  come up with solutions and strategies for how to make friends. This can include making eye contact and listening, to bribing with cookies and candy! You local Family Services agencies often provide therapy groups and training, which most kids enjoy.

Talking with your child by avoiding the pitfalls of lecturing, will go a long way. Often, adjustment problems are more difficult for the parent than the child.

The best thing we can do is be available but actually but out of our kids lives. They just want us to respect and love them. Director was a cast-out – his mother enjoyed him staying home and bought him a camera! She just enjoyed him, and that’s all you have to do. Think of things like “march to beat of diff. drummer” etc. 

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