Lack of Friends
Hello Dr. Vicki:
I am concerned about my son, who is 8. He does not have any friends that he plays with on a daily basis. Where we live there are only 2 boys his age (but) they are never home and do not attend the same school. He tells me that there aren’t any kids that he plays with at school. (But) I know he is well liked because when I pick him up, there are a lot of kids saying, “Hi”. He is shy but can make friends once you get to know him. Should I be overly concerned; I just don’t want him to be a “loner.”
Signed: Thanks in advance
Dr. Vicki’s response:
Watching a child be without friends can be painful for any parent. We all want our children to be socially well-adjusted, and have friends at home and school. The first thing to be sure, however, is whether this is something that your son considers a problem. Sometimes children are content being a ‘loner.’ Other times, it is very distressing to them.
For the purpose of this question, let’s assume that your son would like the situation to be different. When there are no neighborhood children around your child’s age, it becomes particularly important to make an effort to find ways for your child to be around others.
Sometimes, children can be overwhelmed by the number of peers at school, particularly if they are a bit shy. There are so many children, it may be hard to make an individual friend. Perhaps you can ask him, or even the teacher, to identify one or two children that would be good choices to choose as lunch buddies.
Teachers can help friendships develop by assigning students to work in pairs (or groups) on projects. Teachers can also give you feedback about the children who seem most friendly toward your child, or who actually play, or try to play, with him.
Creating relationships outside of school is also very important. Try having your son pick one boy he would like to know better, and then try to arrange a play date either at home, at the park, or even for a quick trip to the ice cream parlor. This can give children a chance to form a friendship on a one-on-one basis that can follow them back to the classroom.
Another way to help your son become more socially engaging would be to have him participate in extra-curricular activities. These include team sports, religious youth groups, scouts, etc. There may be activities that some of his classmates participate in; this would give him a fine opportunity to develop friendships in an outside setting.
© MMVI Vicki Panaccione, Ph.D.