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Help Your Child Make Friends

Carlos recalled his troubled boyhood, only a few years before. A child of migrant family, he had been thrust into the Asian culture at the tender age 7. “It was terrible.” He sighed. “No one would even sit with me at lunch. I had no one to talk to most of the time.” His face looked pained as he remembered. Carlos continued: “It still makes me hurt inside just to think about it.” He wept heavy, hot tears.

When my daughter got into the car after spending the day with friends, I asked how her day was. Frowning, she told me how Meghan had gotten angry and said she would never be her friend again. She further reported that she had seen the other children laughing and talking about her later. A lump welled up in my throat as she relayed the story. The pain of exclusion, of being betrayed by your peers, is pain one does not easily forget.

“When I think about how I was ridiculed for being poor, it is still painful,” my friend Lauren confided. She had been shut out of the “in crowd” when she attended her first school. Although that experience happened more than 20 years ago, the feelings of hurt were still fresh when she recounted them.

Most of us have difficult memories: that party invitation that never came, the crude remark, the banquet to which we had no date, the lost school election. Some of these ordeals hurt deeply.

What can you do if your child is being ostracized from the group? What can you do if your child is not making friends? What if your child is experiencing social problems? Such situations may fill parents with a sense of helplessness and panic; we react strongly because we care so much.

A Chip Off the Old Block

Our feeling of anguish is intensified by tendency to remember the pain of our own childhood. We also worry about the child’s future. “If he gets a chip on his shoulder now, he may get into the habit of feeling sorry for himself. This could affect him for a long time, “What did I do to make that kind of kid?” taking the rap as a parent for the social problem. And some people think good parents shouldn’t have unpopular children.

Popularity – A Blessing?

There is a natural tendency to measure our children’s social success in terms of their popularity with their peers. Traditionally, we have thought that children who were sought after with invitations to ball games and parties would be happy kids. Psychologists offer us a caution. A passion for popularity can undermine much that is of value in children’s lives, including individual skills, tastes, ideals, and commitments. A child with a great need to be popular may go against his conscience when peer pressure mounts. In-crowd values may violate the standards of the Christian.

Experts agree that having good friends and a strong sense of self are two of the best defenses a child have against stress and the inevitable hurts of life. But when children perceive themselves as unloved and friendless, this certainly will make an impact on how they present themselves in any given situation.

What Can Parents Do?

A child may say he’s miserable because he’s not popular. If he sees himself that way, it certainly will not help for a parent to ally himself on the foe’s side. We must love and support our children for who and what they are. We must allow them to experience and express their emotions. Our acceptance can help keep a child’s self-esteem intact.

As parents we must also accept our child’s individuality. Although we might like to see our children have large circle of friends, some children are not comfortable in such situations. Some will prefer intimate two-somes, while other barrel into places where there are many new faces. Not everyone is a born leader; some are comfortable followers. A child will have a better chance of developing his or her natural social skills if we as parents are not rigid in our expectations.

Parents of preschoolers are often concerned about their child’s social status, while the children themselves are mostly concerned with having fun. For preschoolers, having something in common with a playmate is having barrettes of the same color. Friendships form and dissolve as fast as children disappear from their playmate’s sight. Many times children are included in play, and many times they are excluded. The preschool industry business is built on socialization. Parents feel the earlier the child is “in” with other children, the better off he will be. And some experts say that children who get off on the right foot socially tend to stay on the right foot. Just as children learn to read, so too they must acquire social skills and rules to relating to other people. But be patient with preschoolers. Don’t panic if it takes longer for some to acquire these basic skills than others.

Simple Guidelines

It may seem unfair, but not all children will be leaders, courted and admired by their peers. Here are some simple guidelines for parents who want to give their children every chance to get along in an unfair world.

  • Whenever possible, make sure your child’s clothing is clean and neat. Help your child observe good hygiene, with brushed teeth, combed hair, etc.
  • Don’t insist that your child wear frilly dresses or comb her hair different from other children. Making your children standout because of your preferences may not be the way to make them comfortable with their appearance. If there is some characteristic that provokes negative notice from other children, try to change it, if possible. If your child’s hair sticks up, perhaps finding a different hairstyle is important. If your child is teased about wearing unmatched clothing, do what you can to coordinate the colors better.
  • Encourage but don’t pressure your child to spend time with potential friends. Invite children to your home from time to time.
  • Encourage your children to solve their own social problems. If you always solve them, they will never learn to resolve conflicts. Children may even resent your interference in their problems.
  • Bring your child to gatherings, programs, and church on time. A late arrival makes it harder to break into a group that has already begun an activity.
  • Don’t criticize your children’s social skills. Listen to their complaints. Sympathize. When appropriate, suggest ways to change things in an unthreatening manner.
  • Make your child’s environment as pleasant as possible. If major changes are taking place in the family, explain what is going on so the child will understand that he or she is not to blame. If there is marital or family discord, seek counseling.
  • Encourage your child to befriend children who are not always the most popular at church or school.
  • Encourage your children to develop a talent or take up a hobby. Teach them how to be good sports when they fail.
  • Note your child’s strengths and remind him of them.
  • Talk with your child’s teacher about what is going on in the classroom and about how you can help your child cope if there are difficulties.
  • If your child is having emotional problems – such as frequent tearful outbursts, suicidal feelings, a very sad appearance, or a sudden change of behavior – get help from your family physician.
  • Don’t label your child with such names as “pushy”, “slow” or “dumb”. Kids often become what they are labeled.
  • Don’t embarrass your child by talking about him in front of others. The child may not only feel ashamed but may also think that you are really against him or her.
  • Don’t belittle friendships your child makes with younger children. Your child needs all kinds of friends.
  • Pray for your children. Give them unconditional love and affection. Support their progress in relating better with others. Remind them of their great worth to our heavenly Father, and that God has a marvelous plan for their lives.

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