We like to see our children make friends because we know how important friends are in life. We enjoy spending time with our own friends and want to know that our children will too. However, what happens when they come home from school and tell you they have no friends?
Firstly, do you believe them? We have busy lives, many of us work and have more than one child so as children are naturally programmed to need our love and attention they subconsciously work out what will get it. Now I'm not saying that they are lying when they say they have no friends just that they know this is important to you, maybe you've even mentioned it or they've heard you talking about it with your friends or partner. By saying they have no friends they know that this will get your attention. Check it out with the school before making too much of it. Ask them to keep an eye on your child and tell you who they are talking to so you can ask specifically “did you play with x today?” This also gives you the opportunity to invite a few children on play dates where you can be aware of how they are playing and check whether their social skills need attention.
But how do you respond in the moment? You can't simply disagree or suggest they are lying because that is how they feel right now. So instead, check for generalisations, distortions and deletions. A deletion is where they focus only on part of the story. They have selectively just told you about playtime this afternoon when in fact at morning playtime they were in a group of friends very happily but they are focusing on the more recent memory. Distortions are where your child makes a situation mean something that may not be a true representation of what happened. So for example they might walk towards someone they wanted to make friends with and say that friend turned away from them and walked off? Your child assumed they didn't want to be friends but perhaps someone else called them at the same time and your child made a false assumption. Generalisations are when we make one single event or situation be true for everything. So perhaps they do have friends but there is one friend they'd like to play with who seems less keen on being their friend. So when your child says 'I don't have any friends' here are some great responses that show you care and also help you understand a bit better what is actually going on.
- What ? Not one?
- Really, was that all day?
- What happened exactly?
If you find it hard to make friends, and let's face it, some of us do have times in our life perhaps when we are feeling a bit low in self-confidence and wonder why anyone would be interested in talking to us, here's a short ' how to'.
- Decide on an opening remark or question that will work for anyone you meet. It needs to be relevant so perhaps something topical that you are both likely to be affected by such as a new teacher joining the school, a school outing, holidays, that sort of thing.
- Decide whom to approach. Your best target is someone who is on their own, probably thinking the same as you so they'll be really glad you came to talk to them.
- Introduce yourself, “Hello I'm Judy, Paul’s mum from class 2 (or whatever)' and you are…?”
- Then you use your question or remark and then listen.
- Instead of giving your own view, find out more about theirs using words and phrases like ‘really?’, ‘that's so interesting’, ’I agree’, ‘that's so true’ etc.
- While you're talking, match their body posture. If they are using hand gestures, use them too, if they're quite still, stay still. People notice when you behave differently to them but tend not to notice if you look the same so don't worry about them thinking you are copying them.
- Lots of smiling and nodding is good and a questioning curious pose.
- Consolidate by saying how much you enjoyed talking with them and hope to meet again.
Whilst these tips may work for you they won't be relevant for your child, what you would hope to do though is show them the basics, demonstrate being interested, listening and the initial approach. What it also shows them is that you can make friends and the subconscious message to them is that they can too. If they see you as being shy and not talking to people you don't know they will see that as the way to be for them too.
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