Q. My second-grader is a loner. She'd always rather play by herself rather than with her older and younger siblings, and she's completely uninterested in playing after school with her classmates. I wonder sometimes if I'm being neglectful by not encouraging her to play with her brother and sister, the neighborhood kids, and her classmates. Is it okay for a 7-year-old to act so...solitary?
A. It is in your child's best interest to do what you can to help her develop friendships or at least acquire one good friend. It's natural and necessary for children to socialize. While some children are simply born more social than others, all children need to learn how to get along with other children, play cooperatively, and learn the skills of being a friend.
Ways to Help Her Socialize
There's no way to force your daughter to be more socially outgoing, but there's much you can do behind the scenes to give her the opportunity to develop social skills and to realize the benefits of friendships.
Start by talking to your daughter's teacher. Find out if she has at least one friend at school. If the teacher sees her interacting socially with the other children and that she has one or two good friends, then your worries are over: Your daughter may simply need alone time after school. If the teacher reports that your daughter is a loner in the classroom and on the playground, ask if she would pair your daughter up with another friendless child for projects and activities.
Once your child finds a friend, have your child invite her friend over after school or on the weekend for a two-hour play date. Plan an activity such as baking cookies or making a craft where you're overseeing the project and making sure their time together goes well.
Another approach is to talk to your child about signing up for Brownies or Camp Fire Girls. In such a group there's always an activity or purpose for the girls to get together with the opportunity for friendships to develop.
Demonstrate Socialized Behavior
It's also important for you to be friendly to your daughter. Go out of your way to:
- Be friendly and affectionate toward her. By doing so, she will learn to be behave similarly with peers.
- Make sure that you consider your child's feelings, desires, and needs. By your example, your daughter will learn to respond similarly, which will only serve her well in friendship circles.
- Show interest in your daughter's daily activities. Why? Because that's what friends do for one another. Since you're interested in her, she'll be interested in others.
- Respect your child's point of view. If your daughter feels respected by you, she'll naturally learn to respect others, which is an important key to any friendship.
Jan Faull, MEd, is a veteran parent educator and the author of two parenting books, Mommy, I Have to Go Potty and Unplugging Power Struggles. She writes a biweekly parenting advice column for HealthyKids.com and a weekly parenting advice column in the Seattle Times. Jan Faull is the mother of three grown children and lives in the Seattle area.
Originally published on HealthyKids.com, September 2005.