While some kids seem to never be without friends, others have more trouble making or keeping them. For others still, long-held friendships can be lost when families relocate or change schools, ending relationships that are not easily replaced.
However it occurs, a sense of isolation and alienation can deeply effect a child's life, as well as his or her parents' lives. Watching your children go through their days without friends can be one of the most painful experiences a mom or dad can face, as we wrote about in our piece on coping with crushing moments.
And the pain a mom or dad feels for their child may well ignite a burning desire to somehow jump into their child's life and fix it. Yet a parent who attempts to intervene too much can soon find themselves feeling as helpless and disconnected as their child.
So what can help?
As with all matters in life, it's very important to try to understand why your child may be without friends. The possibilities can include everything from the aforementioned family move or school change, to the more subtle ways a child may be lacking in social skills -- or their lack of confidence in their social skills -- which can cause them to further withdraw from others.
There are other conditions, such as Asperger's syndrome, which can make it difficult for a child to blend harmoniously in social settings, and may require professional support. Within the limits of this discussion, however, we are rather speaking of the more common experience of feeling alone that many of us may have had at times, with the attendant sense of isolation, or an inability to connect with others.
So mom and dad need to listen carefully to the various cues and clues their child might be offering or enacting. Should a child be able to speak about their social difficulties, parents can help best when they can listen with a steady, empathetic equanimity -- not with an eye to instantly fixing it.
A calm, measured approach that embraces the time it can take to build relationships can help bring a sense of perspective to a lonely period.
Should, however, the child fall into silence about their sense of alienation and loneliness, then finding gentle ways to reconnect them with their peers can include play-dates for pre-adolescents; for adolescents, activities that can casually include potential friends to share in activities of common interest. Youth clubs, sports teams, or community involvements can also help put your child around others, easing their sense of isolation while providing opportunities to participate with their peers outside of school, or who don't attend their school, should that feel more comfortable to them.
The key is to find creative ways for them to meet and share activities with others without allowing your own concerns or sadness to make them feel "different" or somehow in need of special "assistance." And when they bring up their feelings, don't seem too ready to sound the alarm.
A calm reassurance, a revisiting of the Golden Rule and a practical approach to providing new opportunities can all help, along with the understanding that friendships take time. Such an approach can ease their concerns, and allow them to see themselves as in a process, rather than as hopelessly damaged goods.
As you seek to understand the reasons for why they do not have friends, a good place to start is to ask their teachers at school what they are seeing. Does your child sit with others at snack or lunch, or are they often alone? Do they play or hang out with others at recess, or do they more often seek asylum in the school library?
Some kids may appear to have normal social lives at school, yet still feel alone or "different" at home, which also may signal how they are feeling about themselves - which can give you your cue and clue as to how to begin to help them.
For more on this and other topics, visit us at our website TheDancingParent.com where you can find many helpful resources for moms and dads. Until next time, keep dancing! (copyrighted materials)
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