Friendship Troubles: When to Wait and When to Worry

What to do if a child is having trouble making friends.

Friendship is an important part of childhood.

We are a few weeks into school and hopefully children are more settled into their routines, learning new lessons and developing new friendships while enjoying existing ones.

But what if this is not how things are going for your child? What if those friendships are not developing as you hoped they would?  When is there cause for concern and what can you do?

How to spot when a child is having trouble making friends

For most children it is natural to go through friendship ups and downs. It is not at all uncommon for children and teens to have changing friendship groups as they mature and explore new interests and activities.

At the start of a school year a child’s usual friends may not be in the same class, so it may take some time for a child to develop a new friendship group.

It is a completely normal characteristic of typical childhood friendships.  However, if your child continues to express concerns around friendships after the first four to six weeks of school, it is possible that he or she could be experiencing social isolation. There may be a bigger problem which needs to be addressed.

What is social isolation?  What does it look like?

Social isolation occurs when a child is not accepted by, is ignored by or is rejected by peers. A child who is socially isolated may have trouble being invited into a group work situations, may not have friends to play with at recess or sit with at lunch.

A child experiencing social isolation is often not invited to birthdays and may not have play dates outside of school hours.

How to help your child make friends 

  1. Parents can chat with the teacher to try and gain insight into why the child may be socially isolated.  Is there a difference in interests?  Perhaps the child has a strong interest in arts but is in a class where more of the children prefer sports. Is a child having difficulty with the subtle nuances of friendship?  The teacher may be able to let a parent know if a child has a particularly strong approach to others in class or if the child is having difficulty following conversations.
  1. Work with the teacher to see what can be done inside of the classroom or school community.  Perhaps seating arrangements can be altered so that like-minded children can sit together.   Maybe there is an extracurricular activity that takes place at lunch that your child can be coached into joining. This could be a place to meet a kindred spirit from another class or grade.
  1. Look into extracurricular activities outside of school as well.  Some of my students who have been socially isolated at school have found “their people” in activities like rock climbing, pottery-making and church youth groups.
  1. Arrange play dates and hang-outs outside of school.  For many years, my own daughter’s closest group of friends were children she did not attend school with.I put many kilometers on my car, but she had a friendship group and that made it easier to deal with social issues at school.
  1. Follow up with the teacher.  If problems persist you may need to seek additional social skills coaching support from a counselor or psychologist who can help your child learn to build a set of skills to help them make and maintain friendships.

Developing and enjoying friendship is an important and essential part of childhood. Not all children need or want a huge group of friends but every child deserves to have at least a handful of kindred spirits to have fun with, to count out and to enjoy childhood with.

Jennifer Anstiss

Jennifer Anstiss holds a Masters of Education in Literacy from Mount Saint Vincent University, specializing in the Early Intervention and Prevention of Learning Disabilites. She is also an active member of the Ontario College of Teachers. She has been trained in the delivery of Direct Instruction Programs and is a Certified Fast ForWord Practitioner. Jennifer's field experiences include over 15 years of private clinical practice and 10 years of Special Education Teaching for both the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board and Peel District School Board. She specializes in the design and implementation of remedial programs for students with Learning Disabilities and Attentional Issues within both public and private settings. Jennifer gives presentations to parents, professionals and community groups.

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1 Response

  1. Susan Fuerbringer says:

    Good Ideas given.

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