Q: My ten year old son is in fifth grade and is having difficulty finding friends to play with at recess. He is having a lot of stress and sadness due to this. Any suggestions?
A: We sometimes forget how hard it is to be a kid.
For many children, making friends is a difficult endeavor. Fortunately, there are things that a parent can do to help out when a child has difficulties in this area.
Enlist the help of the teacher Teachers can do things to increase a child’s social success. For example, when she assigns partners for projects or assigns seats, she can pair him up with a child who is a good candidate to be a friend. A parent can also talk to the teacher or the counselor and try to find out which kids would possibly be a good match for her child, so the parent can know which friendships to try to encourage. The teacher can also address problems in the classroom or playground (for example, bullying or rumors or other kids’ not allowing certain children to join into activities that should be open to all).
Address any problems with social skills A parent can observe her child in social interactions, and also ask the teacher to do so, to determine if the child is doing anything that “turns off” other children (e.g., talking too loud, poor hygiene, interrupting), as well as what social skills a child may lack (e.g., doesn’t share well, doesn’t know how to ask to join into a game, doesn’t make eye contact or smile or say nice things about others). The parent can then work with a child to remedy these situations. Remember, teaching new skills requires a lot of practice, and a parent can start by role playing with the child, and then the child and the teacher can give him reminders right before he is going to be in a social situation (and give him a signal in the middle of a situation if he needs another reminder), so that the child will use the new skill when needed.
Enroll him in an activity with kids in his grade Find something that the child likes to do (for example, a sport) that would allow him to meet other children and form a bond in the context of doing something that they all like.
Help your child set successful play dates outside of school Plan them around activities that are fun for all involved, and make them short enough in time that they can get along and not get tired of or aggravate each other. Some kids do better with one on one interactions, as opposed to a bigger group.
Work on any problems with your child’s expectations and self concept Make sure that he has reasons to feel good about himself, including successes in other areas of life (sports, art, and so on) and that there are people in his life who make him feel special and let him know he is wonderful. Also, give him coping statements to practice (“It’s o.k if some people don’t like me” and “If someone doesn’t want to be my friend, I’ll just keep looking for someone who does”) to deal with any social difficulties.