As a parent you think your kid is the most amazing person on the planet — and they are!! But what happens when other people don’t see what you do; what happens when making friends isn’t easy for your child?
Growing up I wasn’t the most popular kid in school, but I always had friends. Of course I dealt with cliques and “mean girls,” but I always had a core group that I could trust to have my back no matter what. While I would never want to relive those days, school wasn’t a terrible experience.
My oldest daughter is in second grade, but hasn’t yet found her “best friend forever.” She is the most empathetic, caring person (young or old!) that I know, but her enthusiasm can be misunderstood by those who don’t know her well. She’s almost too wise for her age and connects better with adults. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I want her to have friends her own age as well. Friends who truly enjoy playing princess!
It has taken extra effort on my part, but we have found ways to make those connections with other elementary-aged kids, even though making friends isn’t easy for her at school.
Here are ways to help when making friends at school isn’t easy for your child:
Listen — As I tell my girls, they can always count on mom and dad to be in their corner. So when things are tough at school, I offer open arms and a listening ear. Sometimes just talking about what is troubling them can help kids feel better. This is also how you can find out what is really going on when you see that something is bothering your child.
I’ll often start the conversation with “I can tell that something is on your mind today; will you tell me what happened at school that upset you?” Kids are often surprised that you noticed (of course we do!); this lets them know that you’re paying attention and you care. When needed, I’ll follow up with questions that require more than a “yes or no” answer, but I try to let my daughter do most of the talking. Conversations like this give me a better idea of what I should do, whether it is simply letting a playground tiff blow over or making a plan of action.
Get involved in extracurricular activities — If your child hasn’t made a lot of friends at school, try expanding your search! You never know where a friend might be found, whether it’s swim class, the soccer field, or a scouting group. Working together in a team situation can help foster cooperation and meaningful connections.
Schedule playdates — It doesn’t matter if the time is scheduled (hey, we’re all busy so sometimes that’s the only way to make it happen!) Your own friend or colleague’s kids may be looking for a playmate too. Setting the time and place yourself allows you to create an environment where kids feel safe meeting new people and making new friends. Plus, since you and your friends likely have common interests, your kids might too!
Be proactive, intervene when necessary — In the very worst cases, like a bullying situation, you might need to step in as a parent to protect your child. Don’t assume their teacher is aware of what your child is going through — a teacher has many other kids to watch and won’t be able to catch everything. Plus, a bully will likely be careful to do their dirty work when the teacher isn’t looking.
If your child is really struggling in the classroom, consider requesting an appointment with the school counselor. In some cases, kids might be embarrassed to tell their parents everything, but may open up to a trusted “outsider.” A school counselor can also recommend a professional outside of school for follow-up meetings.
It’s definitely a last-case scenario, but take the time to research other school options in your area. Some kids are overwhelmed by public schools (they are massive here in Texas, with thousands of pupils!), however, that same child might flourish in a small private or charter school environment.
The most important thing to emphasize to your child is that they can always count on their family. Knowing they have an ally in you, no matter what, can keep kids going during tough times at school.