We usually think of kids as uninhibited and bubbly, chatty and sociable. But for kids with anxiety, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), simple shyness, or a hearty independent streak, making friends might be a little bit harder.
Alternatively, sometimes our children seem to be well-equipped for making friends, but still struggle–leaving us at a loss for what to do.
Friend-making is not impossible for any child, and is an important skill to build for adulthood! Read more about how the ways you can help your kid find community.
Few things can hurt your heart more than realizing that your child has no friends.
Maybe you struggled with friendship growing up, and seeing your child follow that pattern upsets you. You might have been bullied or alienated and worry that your child’s trajectory is following suit.
Alternatively, you may have had a lot of friends growing up, and might be stumped as to why your kid isn’t bonding.
Whatever the reason, it may be within your power to help your child learn to make friends more easily. Find some steps to consider, below.
Children who have trouble making friends may benefit from the use of social scripts. A simple example of providing a social script: telling them that if they see someone they’d like to make friends with, they can approach them during recess and say, “Hi, my name is ___. What’s your name?”
You can also help script other connection-building skills like showing what to say when they make a phone call, or telling them what to do if they see other kids engaging in a game or activity they’d like to be involved in.
Don’t worry that this is an unhealthy way of telling your kid what to do, or that they will just be parroting unfelt words. The scripts you build with your child will morph and shift over time, molding to your kid’s individual personality. They simply constitute a template for your kid to express themselves in a way that’s socially acceptable.
For some people, making a phone call or approaching others comes naturally, but for others, it doesn’t. Not everyone is born a social butterfly, and that’s okay, so remember that even if these skills came naturally for you, it might not be that way for your child.
Particularly for younger children who don’t have friends, it might be helpful for you to talk to teachers or other school employees that your child has regular contact with.
These professionals might be able to give you insight as to why your child doesn’t form connections at school. Maybe, they’ll notice that your child is just shy or reserved in class, or maybe they’ll help identify problematic habits or social behaviors. Alternatively, a teacher or other faculty member might notice a bigger issue such as bullying or developmental delays, which require a higher level of action.
In addition to helping you get to the bottom of the issue, your child’s teachers may be able to support your child in making friends. You can brainstorm ideas together for what might help your child. For example, after a conversation with your child’s teacher, they might be able to encourage your child in class during group activities, or pair them with kids they’re likely to get along with.
Bullying is a serious problem, and not something your child is likely to just “get over.” If your child comes to you about getting bullied, let them know that it is not their fault and that the bully is the one with poor behavior in this situation. No one deserves to get bullied, ever.
If school is where your child is getting bullied, get the school involved. If it’s in another setting, like among neighborhood kids, let the other children’s parents know what their child is saying or doing to your child. Alternatively, consider changing your child’s routine in a way that allows them to avoid those specific children.
In more extreme cases, you may consider switching the school that your child goes to, enrolling them in an alternative school, or taking it upon yourself to homeschool them if they are being bullied. However, changing schools is not an option to be taken lightly. The upheaval and loss of other comforting parts of their school environment may cause even more emotional trouble for a child, and may not solve the initial problem.
Bullying can make it harder to make friends in the future, because it can lead to poor self-esteem, anxiety, or self-consciousness. So again, it is very important that your child knows that the bullying isn’t their fault.
Let them know that bullies are expressing their own struggles in an inappropriate way, and that your child is a hard-working person who makes other people happy. That way, when they enter new social situations, you can say, “You make people so happy – why don’t you go introduce yourself to someone new today?” Inspire confidence in them without being forceful.
For older kids and teens who struggle with friendship, your approach should look different than with children. School officials can’t intervene as well, and social scripting can keep older kids from coming into their own. Additionally, you don’t want to arrange “playdates” for your older child or teenager, because they’ve grown out of this phase. It’s now about “hanging out.”
Instead of directly connecting your kid with individual friends, involve them in clubs, groups and classes. If you’re worried about the cost of such things, must local community centers and libraries offer free courses and activities for youth.
If your child expresses that having no friends bothers them, talk to them about signing up for extracurricular activities. These classes don’t have to be involved with the school. Especially for kids who have trouble at school, or get bullied. it’s way better for them to have something outside of school to look forward to after academics.
It could be anything from private music lessons to cooking classes at your local community center to sports affiliated with institutions outside of the school.
There are also organizations that offer scholarships for extracurricular activities. Make sure it’s something that they’re interested in, and if possible, involve your older kid in deciding what activities they’d enjoy trying.
You don’t have to tell them that you’re encouraging activities for the explicit purpose of making friends. You can instead say that it is because of your work schedule, for example–that while you trust them, you feel safer knowing that they’re at school or in a group rather than being home alone for so long.
While your kid may make friends doing activities they enjoy, remember, no extracurricular is worth potential friends if your teen is miserable about it. Friendship needs to come naturally, and it will when it’s meant to be.
The preteen and teenage years are a tumultuous time. If your child is having trouble connecting with others, they may benefit from seeing a therapist. While it’s not the same as having people their own age to talk to, a counselor or therapist can be a lifeline for kids–especially those struggling with social issues.
There are a variety of different support groups or therapeutic groups that teens can enter. Everything from art therapy groups to groups for specific concerns like social anxiety, to topic-specific online support groups are often available. You can search for these options online, ask your local community for suggestions, or join an anonymous support group online, here.
If you’re worried about your child’s social life or anything else, you might also feel better with some extra support. You can talk to other parents whose kids are struggling, 24/7 and in realtime, here.
Sometimes kids who don’t have friends are bothered by it. Then there are also children who don’t necessarily care. If your child doesn’t have friends at all or has few friends, and you are worried about it but they are not, stop and think. Maybe your kid really doesn’t care.
In that vein, try not to make your kid’s friends an issue if it doesn’t have to be. If you are the one to bring it up to them that they have no friends, and they have never expressed that they are bothered by it themselves, they may internalize it as something to be self-conscious of. Despite your best efforts, calling attention to the issue you perceive might hurt them rather than help them.
You might be tempted to schedule play dates or enroll your kids and after school activities if you see that they don’t have a lot of peers that they’re connected to, but if they are miserable in those after school activities or around those people, then those aren’t the people or the activities for your child. Sometimes making friends is just a matter of waiting for the right people to come along.
Helping when your child has no friends is a collaborative effort. Talk to your child about what makes them happy and what they want to do. If you are extroverted for example, but your child is an introvert, you might have a different idea of what happiness looks like.
You might enjoy being surrounded by people and find that you’re energized by that, whereas your child might be quiet and find a lot of happiness and drawing or learning to code on the computer alone. We are all different, and at the end of the day, if your kid is happy and healthy, you can be grateful for that
There are plenty of people who struggle with social issues as kids and still flourish as adults. Have confidence your kid will develop eventually, in their own time, and make certain they don’t feel broken for their lack of friends.
Parenting comes with anxieties and growing pains, and just as much as your kids need someone to talk to, you might, too. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help if this is something that concerns you. You are not alone, and support is out there.