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My Child Has No Friends

Some children are natural social butterflies. Self-confident and outgoing from a young age, they make friends with other children easily. Other children are quiet, shy or even a little socially awkward. Most kids fall somewhere in between, but it's no wonder why many parents worry about their children's friendships and ability to make new friends. No one wants their child to feel lonely or like an outcast.

Once children make their first friends, they soon learn other social skills, like how to handle disagreements and how to interpret the facial expressions and body language of others. As children get older, they face new dynamics of friendships. For example, a friend or group of friends your child was once close with may take up new interests that your child doesn't share (or vice versa). Your child may be starting a new school where they don't know anyone. Or someone your child was friends with may start hanging out with a new group of friends, leaving your child feeling alone. While such situations are normal, how can you tell whether your child is having trouble making friends or feeling alone, and what can you do to help?

How to Identify Whether Your Child Has Trouble Making Friends

If your child has had access to many social situations, including school, and still hasn't made any friends, it might be time to talk to teachers or school administrators to find out whether they're noticing any red flags, such as the following:

  • Your child is isolating and not engaging with peers.
  • Your child is being bullied.
  • Your child has negative social skills, such as inability to mind boundaries, pestering other children or other social skills that are detrimental to social development.

If your child is indeed having a difficulty making friends, then it might be tempting to become overinvolved with their social life. However, it's important to not jump in too soon, which sends the message that you are questioning your child's competency, and that could undermine your intention.

Instead, talk and work with your child:

  • Sit down with your child and discuss what friendship means and what makes a good friend.
  • Ask your child how they choose friends.
  • Ask your child what their interests are and who else shares those interests.
  • Ask your child how a friend makes them feel.
  • Practice social skills with your child.
  • Friends are supposed to make us feel big in life. Does a particular friend make you feel big in life or small in life?
  • Tell your child that you believe in them and they can do this.

Prepare Your Child to Make and Keep Friends

Here are three steps to helping your child learn how to make and keep friendships:

1. Teach Social Skills Sooner Rather Than Later

It's important for children to have social engagement and interaction with peers starting at a young age. Toddlerhood is the perfect time to start. Begin by teaching your child specific social skills, such as meeting new people, showing an interest in others and controlling their emotions. These are social skills that will also help them make friends and maintain healthy friendships.

In fact, Boys Town has tools to help you teach your children these and other important soc​ial skills. Practice these skills with your child, and have them practice with other family members until they have them down pat.

2. Explain that Friends Change — and that's Okay

Whether it's your child or their friends whose interests change, this can be a tough yet common situation for children and parents to experience. If your child takes up a new activity, they may be surrounded by others who share that interest but whom they don't know well. Conversely, if your child's best friend starts a new activity, they may spend less time with your child. In either situation, your child may feel lonely or abandoned.

When this happens, sit with your child and explain that people change, their interests change, and that's perfectly normal. They might not spend as much time with a particular friend, but that just means they have the chance to make new friends. It's important for your child to know that a change in interests is no one's fault. It's okay to miss that friend, but that shouldn't stop your child from making new friends.

The most important thing is to keep communication flowing between you and your child without taking an authoritarian approach.

3. Get Them Involved

Encourage children to become involved in a school sport or other activity. They'll meet other kids with similar interests, and that's how friendships start. If your child is shy or uninterested in sports, help them find something else that brings them together with their peers. Maybe they'd like to try Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts. Maybe it's a crafting club, or a children's book club at school or the local library. The goal is not only to encourage your child to get out there and socialize, but also to help them discover their interests rather than forcing them to participate in activities they don't want to do.

With any practice you do or activity your child participates in, make sure to take every opportunity to praise your child when you see them using friendship skills effectively. This gives kids the confidence to use these skills on the playground or at school and to develop strong relationships with peers.