Making friends seems like something everyone should know how to do. Yet for many kids it doesn't happen naturally.
Most friendship problems begin in the mid-elementary years, according to Robert Hughes, Jr., of the Department of Human Development and Family Science at Ohio State University. Before second grade, children choose friends out of convenience. In third grade, the concept of popularity develops, and cliques begin to form.
By middle school, friendships become more intense and are based on personality or ability levels. With early teens, friendships deepen as teenagers begin to understand the importance of intimacy and loyalty.
Elaine McEwan, author of Nobody Likes Me (Shaw), identified three reasons why a child isn't accepted: the characteristics of the school and community; your child's characteristics; and/or your child's behavior.
The culture of your child's school might be the problem. If the majority of students don't share your family's values or moral standards, your child will find it difficult to develop positive relationships. It's possible to survive in this environment, McEwan says, but it takes a thick skin and a lot of support from home. If this is the cause of your child's lack of friends, you might consider home schooling or enrolling him in another school.
Is there anything about your child's appearance that could expose her to needless teasing? Kids can be cruel toward one another. Be realistic about the social impact of your child's appearance and consider how orthodontists, dermatologists or orthopedists might help.
McEwan says a child's behavior is the primary source of social problems. If your child is the class bully, is overly sensitive or too competitive, or does things that offend others, he will be shunned or ridiculed. If your child doesn't know how to respond appropriately or hasn't had enough practice with social skills, you can help.
Teach self-control by effectively controlling, but not stifling, your own emotions. Kids who learn to express anger without hurting others have better friendships.
You can also take the lead in teaching basic social graces. Practice small talk and proper table manners at home. Model good social skills by being polite and listening to each other. Use praise whenever you can and avoid criticsm.
Encourage your child as she learns to build strong friendships.
And don't overlook the power of prayer. The Lord knows how important good friendships are to your child's well-being.
?Suzanne Woods Fisher
Freelance writer and mother of four
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