Nobody wants their child to be the one who comes home crying because they don’t have any friends. It’s heartbreaking for any parent when their child is quiet and shy and ends up being a “loner.” As a parent, you wonder what you can do to help; can you do anything? While you cannot march your child into school and force other children to like them, there are ways that you can help your child to open up and make friends. The idea is not to change your child’s personality or change them as a person; just help them to gain the necessary social skills to make friends and come home smiling.
In order to help your child, you first need to try and understand them. Why is he shy? How does he feel? What is it that he needs? The only way to really understand your child is to talk to him; ask him about his feelings. Also observe him in social situations and see how he behaves. Are there certain things that set him off? Is it only certain people he is shy around? Really pay attention because often, the cause of the problem is right in front of you and is something that can easily be fixed.
It’s also important to understand that “introverted” and “antisocial” are not the same thing. It’s crucial that you determine whether your child is truly shy or just prefers to be alone. Some children prefer reading a book, having tea parties with stuffed animals, or watching a movie alone than playing with other children. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this so long as they are capable of coming out of their shell and making friends when they want to.
The Power of Small Talk
If your child is truly struggling to make friends, the trick is to get them to take baby steps. Just like with anything else, making friends does not happen in an instant; your child will need to make small efforts a little bit at a time if they are going to succeed. Teach them how to make small talk as a first step. Even just smiling and waving or saying “hi” is an excellent start. You could start by giving them little challenges; today they might wave to a classmate and tomorrow they can say hello. Start very small; even the tiniest accomplishments will have a major effect on your child’s self-esteem and social abilities.
To help ease your little one into being comfortable talking to and interacting with other children, try some role playing. You can pretend to be a teacher or another child; or even use some of their dolls or stuffed animals and have them “talk.” You can then remind them as they go off to school to just remember what they practiced with you or their toys. You could also send them with a little treat for the teacher; just to give them more of a reason to make the effort to talk.
Encourage your child to invite a friend over (or you could invite friends or family over who have children) and work out some role-playing beforehand. Give them some ideas of what to say and do, what games to play, and how they are going to interact. Allow them to tell you what they are worried about, how they feel, and gently encourage them; never force.
Your child will have a very difficult time learning to be social if other than time spent at school he is at home with you. Interacting with parents is certainly not the same as interacting with other children and if he’s not given the opportunity to do so, making friends will be that much more difficult. Start by organizing play groups or activities with other children; either at home or out at a fun place. At first, make sure that you are there with your child; do not interfere in the play, simply be there so that he can see you and take comfort in the fact that you are available if he needs you.
As he begins to be more comfortable, try play dates with other moms present and not you. Start with short visits and gradually get longer. A lot of times, starting play dates at an early age will help your child learn how to socialize and you may be able to avoid shyness. The more time your child spends with other children, they better social skills he will develop.
A Few General Rules
As you help your child to come out his shell a little bit and make some friends, there are some very important things to keep in mind:
• Do not force your child to be social. The more pressure that you put on them and the more uncomfortable they are made to feel, the worse off they will be. Allow them to ease into things and keep in mind that not all children are social.
• Numbers do not matter. You do not need to be concerned that your child doesn’t have enough friends. As long as he is able to socialize with other children, having only a couple of close friends is perfectly fine.
• You have to give them some distance. If you are constantly hovering over your child and being present at all times, he will never learn how to function without you. You need to give your child some space and allow him to do things on his own and make his own friends. It’s often difficult for parents to leave their child alone, but since you cannot accompany them to school and make friends for them, you have to give them the space and opportunity to do things on their own.