My child has no friends. What can I do?

Article at a Glance

  • Assess whether your child is shy or introverted, or possibly has learning/attention challenges.
  • Give your child opportunities to make new friends in practical ways.
  • Provide emotional support and teach problem-solving skills.

Childhood is when we first learn how to build friendships. If we’re lucky, some of those relationships can last a lifetime. Learning how to get along with peers is an important skill. Developmentally speaking, social skills are just as important for a balanced life as good nutrition and exercise. So what do you do if your child is struggling to make friends, shying away, or being rejected by other children?

Assess the situation

In most cases, children who are having trouble making friends are going through a normal developmental stage. It’s natural for kids to feel anxious or awkward at times while finding where they fit in. We have all felt the sting of rejection at least once, and most of us will worry at some point about our child’s friendships (or lack thereof).

In some cases, we become concerned about something that is actually a personality difference between parent and child. For example, some children are introverts. Parenting an introverted child can be confusing, especially if you are an extrovert. For introverts, too much social interaction can be exhausting. Introverts need time alone to recharge and typically prefer one-on-one interactions. This is not the same as being shy. Shyness is an inhibition against reaching out to others, even though the desire is there. This inhibition is often based on a fear of social judgment, while introversion is simply a preference for calm environments that aren’t overly stimulating. It is also possible to be both introverted and shy.

Parents concerned about their child having disagreements with friends. Keep in mind, healthy relationships do include some conflict. When children argue, it’s an opportunity for them to practice their social skills like sharing, compromising, and dealing with misunderstandings.

Some children may have a harder time getting along due to learning disabilities or attention disorders. Hyperactivity or impulse control problems can make it hard for some children to take turns, stay on task, or resolve conflicts. Parents can use role-playing to help children practice important skills like paying attention to social cues and recognizing when to follow and when to lead. Consider talking to your child’s pediatrician about additional resources for children with learning or attention challenges.

Practical tips

  • For younger children, organize casual playdates with other parents. Your child may feel less socially anxious with you nearby. Consider arranging regular playdates so that it doesn’t get overlooked and so each event doesn’t take your child by surprise.
  • A carpool can allow shy kids to have regular interaction with other children, with less pressure to perform. Making eye contact or deciding what game to play isn’t as much of an issue when riding in a car. Spending time together on a regular basis doesn’t guarantee your child will make friends with the other children in the carpool, but it can help him or her feel less isolated.
  • Identify an area where your child feels particularly competent—such as creating art, playing sports, or making music—then get them involved. Besides boosting confidence, these activities are often taught in a group setting, allowing your child to mix with children who share common interests.
  • Watch what you say. Without meaning to, we can add pressure with continual reminders to be more outgoing. On the way to an activity, try to keep the conversation about the activity itself and not the social moves you hope your child will make.
  • Tweens and teens are unlikely to appreciate play-date fix-ups and other adult interference. For this age group, it may be more effective to encourage activities like volunteering, working a part-time job, taking extra classes, or involvement in band, sports, or drama. These activities provide an opportunity to mix socially while keeping the focus on an activity.

Emotional support

Invite children to talk about their feelings. Your sympathy and understanding can help them feel less alone. Listen attentively rather than rushing to give advice.

Once they have expressed their feelings, encourage children to find their own solutions rather than fixing the problem for them. You can ask children what steps they think would help the situation and let them brainstorm. Support their good ideas and invite children to put those steps into action. Fostering children’s ability to problem solve will help them to develop healthy relationships throughout their lives.

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