Written by Dr. Sidney Langston
Many a parent has heard their child complain, "No one wants to play with me." Why do some children have many friends while others have only a few or none at all?
Children who are bossy, aggressive, know-it-all, passive, fearful or who look different are often rejected. These children have to deal with friendlessness and lack of popularity and are subject to many childhood cruelties. Such deep emotional wounds result in poor self esteem and a decreased sense of self confidence and acceptance. Children will respond differently to one another based on their ages and dispositions.
Toddler and preschool friendships spring from shared activities rather than shared interests or similar personalities. Six, seven and eight-year-olds look for friends who have similar styles of play. For example, quiet children form alliances and extroverts stick together, as do the kids who are athletic. However, friendships are still more accidental than deliberate at this age.
By age nine or ten, children's friendships begin to resemble those of adults. Girls tend to have one or two best friends, while boys prefer to hang around in groups and play. They begin to seek out friends who share their interests. They expect these friends to be kind, helpful and sympathetic. But this certainly doesn't mean their friendships will be immune to cruelties and insults.
As A Parent or Caregiver
Please take it seriously if your child suffers from a friendship crisis or finds friends in short supply. If a child is excluded by others, or his emotional pain is taken lightly, he will not feel "heard" nor will he have the chance to develop the social skills needed to make and keep friends. It hurts to be left out, and it is important to acknowledge your child's pain. Ask why they feel left out and determine if they have any ideas for change. It would also be helpful to tell them about a similar experience you may have had as a child.
Help your children understand that they don't have to go through life friendless, but that they will have to work at developing and maintaining friendships. In order to have friends, they must be friends. Help them to see that it isn't the number of friends that is important, but how happy they are with the friends they have. Teach them that each friend is a unique person of great worth.
How well do your children get along with playmates or classmates? Do they know how to share and wait their turn? To learn the answers to these questions, invite your children's friends over and observe their interaction. When quarrels develop, take the opportunity to teach them how to resolve conflicts or how to deal with a bossy, aggressive, know-it-all. It is best to teach these skills on a one-to-one basis.
If your child can develop a friendship with one person in a group, this can foster friendships with the others. As a parent, you need to be sure you approve of the children in the group. While it is not good to become overly involved in your children's friendships, you do need to know who their friends are and offer help when it is appropriate.
To broaden your children's arena of friendship, get them involved in activities such as play groups, T-ball, soccer, camping, scouting, church groups, etc. This will help them discover their areas of competence. As they develop their own particular skills and "bents," their self confidence will carry over into other areas of their lives. Remind your children that it is not healthy to go overboard and overdose on their particular area of competence. Balance is the key.
If your child is school age, enlist the teacher's help. Teachers can do a great deal to help children learn how to get along with each other.
In addition, you can set an example for your friendless child by spending time with your friends. As children see you valuing your friendships, they will learn to do so as well.
If your child likes to spend time alone, it is not necessarily a cause for concern. Many children simply enjoy their solitude. They need time to read or listen to music in order to recharge their batteries.
According to James Youniss, Ph.D., director of Life Cycle Institute at Catholic University, Washington, D.C., "If a child has good social skills, knows how to share and engages in cognitive activities with others, he or she will most likely be sought after." Teaching your children appropriate social skills, how to make and keep friends, and how to resolve conflicts, will greatly enrich your child's life.
Stienberg, Lawrence, Ph.D. (1991). You and your adolescent. Harper Perennial.
Tureche, Stanley, M.D. (1989). The difficult child. Banton-revised ed..
Youniss, James, Ph.D. Director of Life Cycle Institute, Catholic University, Washington, D.C.
©Copyright 1993, El Rophe Center, Inc.