Making Friends
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Making Friends

Making Friends

Helping children build friendships that last.

by

"Mommy! Daddy! Nobody likes me. I don't have any friends at all."

Although quite common, these are words parents dread hearing from their children. Next to health, close friends are one of the things parents want most for their children. And when children are failing socially, in school, at camp or on the block, their parents are at least as upset and disturbed as the children themselves.

If a child feels unliked and unaccepted by his peers, it can become a crisis of major proportions at home. The child may be moody and cranky. He may become uncooperative, stubborn or disrespectful. He certainly will be very unhappy and dejected.

While you cannot make friends for your child, is there anything you can do to help? If so, what is your proper role in facilitating your child's making friendships that last?

WHY FRIENDS ARE SO IMPORTANT

The first thing you need to do is understand why friends are so important to your child.

While your child is an infant and toddler, friendships are very irrelevant and insignificant to him. His entire focus is on you, your spouse and his siblings. Your family makes up his entire social world.

Once your child enters preschool, however, he enters an alien, competitive and sometimes hostile social universe. In order to survive, he must succeed at making friends.

Without friends, your child lacks partners for games and play, companionship during free time and, most importantly, allies for protection against bullies and other aggressors. Without friends, your child feels alone and is alone. Not having friends undermines your child's self-esteem and erodes his confidence. It heightens his insecurities and fears. And it may make him want to avoid camp, extracurricular activities and even school itself.

THE REASONS FOR FRIENDLESSNESS

The next thing you need to understand is why your child is having so much difficulty making and keeping close friends. The following is a list of some of the main causes of friendlessness among children.

Shyness. Some children are naturally quiet, reserved and socially cautious. As a result, they feel anxious in social settings and have a hard time meeting new people. They hardly ever initiate conversation. And they may even shrink away from others who make efforts to reach out to them.

Aggression. Some children are too rough with their peers. They fight easily, prefer confrontation and intimidation over negotiation and compromise. These children tend to win their battles but lose their friends. And their classmates avoid them.

Immaturity. Some children lack the basic social skills that other children take for granted. These children are clueless about what constitutes appropriate behavior in any given circumstance. They often embarrass themselves, albeit unintentionally, as well as their playmates. They also find humor where their peers do not. And they cannot understand why their jokes are not appreciated by others.

Narcissism. All children are self-centered to some extent. That is normal. Some children, however, tend to be much more self absorbed than the rest of their age group. These children can only tolerate playing their games, going to their favorite pizza shop or listening to their favorite music. They expect to be invited much more than they invite others. This imbalance is not overlooked by their classmates and can lead to their social rejection and isolation.

DEVELOPING A PLAN

Once you have at least a good guess as to why your child is having difficulty making and keeping friends, you can then move on to the next step: developing a plan to solve this problem.

Any strategy to remediate your child's lack of friends will fail miserably unless it is developed together with your child. You cannot expect to simply present your scheme as a finished product to your child. Rather, you must construct the program as you would a model ship or car you were building together with your child. You would not attempt to complete the project all by yourself. Neither would you expect your child to work on it alone. By working together, however, you would achieve the best results along with the most learning and growth on the part of your child.

During the course of your deliberations with your child, you could toss in a few of the following suggestions.

1) Divide your class (bunk, club, etc.) into three groups: those you would love to be friends with but do not realistically expect them to want to be friends with you; those you would not want to be friends with even if you could; and, those you would like to become friends with who might also want to be friends with you. Then concentrate your efforts only on two or three members of the third group.

2) Initiate conversation with a potential friend about a subject that would interest him. For example, "How was your weekend?" "Who is your favorite teacher?" "What is your best sport (game, subject, etc.)?"

3) Invite someone to join you in a game, for a walk, for a bike ride, for supper or for the weekend. Or, just offer to do homework together. Everyone is flattered by an invitation. Even if it is not convenient for him to accept now, he will still remember in the future that you reached out to him.

4) Share something to eat. Offer some of your snack. Or, suggest that you both go out for a soda or pizza together. Sharing food is a great way to further any relationship.

5) Send an e-mail or text message. Or, make an old-fashioned phone call. It does not matter so much what you say that counts. What will be remembered and appreciated is that you took the time and made the effort to contact him.

6) In order to achieve the long-term goal of making friends, try to make the short-term concession of deferring to others and accommodating their wishes. The importance of this suggestion is best illustrated by the following case history.

THE CASE OF ESTHER

Esther's parents were in full crisis mode. They both felt desperate as they described their daughter's problem.

Esther had had a falling-out with her closest friends. For the next four weeks she went out of the house only to attend her 10th grade classes. Every evening, and especially on weekends, Esther moped, cried and angrily complained that she had no friends. Her parents could no longer tolerate Esther's histrionics so they asked me to meet with her.

During the first session, Esther cried bitterly, as she vented her feelings of self-pity and hopelessness. In the second session, she described the composition of her class and explained why it was unrealistic for her to expect to have any friends in school. At the third session, she began to give me some of the history of her relationships with her former friends. At that point, it became clear to me how self-absorbed she had been within her social circle.

Initially, I could only sympathize with Esther because that was all she could tolerate hearing. Gradually, I began to problem-solve with her about how she could repair the rift. At first, Esther insisted that she no longer wanted to be their friend. Eventually, however, Esther consented to making reconciliation a short-term goal of our work together.

We started by looking at some of Esther's comments and actions from her friends' point of view. Esther admitted that "occasionally" she had been selfish and demanding. Finally, Esther agreed to try my "experiment."

For the sake of reconciliation, Esther would apologize for a hurtful comment she had made. Furthermore, she would consent to join her former circle of friends wherever they went and without any complaints for a one-week trial period.

At the beginning of our next session, Esther's broad smile and cheerful greeting told me all I needed to know. Yes, Esther had succeeded beyond her wildest dreams. She had become reinstated with her former circle of friends and was now so busy with them that she was pressed for time.

Surely, not every lonely child can succeed as quickly as Esther did. And repairing damaged friendships is sometimes easier than building new ones. But every friendless child can make some progress, with proper parental support and encouragement, toward making solid friendships that last.

Excerpted from "Partners With Hashem 2," by Dr Meir Wikler, Artscroll Publications.








Published: March 3, 2007


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Visitor Comments: 5

(5) Anonymous, April 1, 2010 2:49 AM

Kids can be cruel

I've noticed for a while now, my youngest daughter is rather standoffish unless she's truly comfortable with a friend, she recently had a falling out with her 'best' friend, who no longer wants to play with her at school, she asked the friend why, to which the friend answered 'your just bugging me' but didn't tell her why, she's baffled as to what she did wrong, she's a very good hearted kid and never mean or domineering to her friends, she's feeling extremely tender and i know that this will probably pass and they will make up, but it's very hard as a parent to watch your child express their pain and know that while you can try and guide them, you can't make another kid value their friendship, kids can be cruel. Where my daughter is a little shy, she's really taken this rift to heart and doesn't feel confident to branch out as in her class they all seem to have 'cliques', with her bff giving her the cold shoulder school is becoming something she dreads..instead of enjoying. I suggested to her when we talked that she try to branch out her friendships with a couple girls in class she does like and knows in her 'circle' and if her friend comes back to her, great if not, she'll be making other friends with whom to socialize at school..........it's hard for a kid that can be a bit shy or socially unsure of themselves, really hoping her and her friend make up, as my children's dad passed away this year, it's a really crappy time for her to deal with the loss of a friendship she values alot as well. I can't help but find myself a tad angry knowing that this kid has no idea just how much she's hurting my daughter, even though I know this is part of the ups and downs of friendship, it sucks.

(4) Anonymous, September 24, 2009 7:38 PM

Expose your children to many types of activites/people/ideas

Growing up I was the "baby" of the family. When I was born my siblings were all in high school or on their way to graduating, so I was basically taken care of very well and even spoiled, because they always freted over me. However, it was nice then, but now I find I am socially inadequate. I am very reserved and not willing to share my opinion, I don't really want the spotlight on me and I hide behind books, music, and computers. Another contributing factor to this was that I never really attended any social events and didn't know people outside my class. But now I am slowly opening up. I surely think that if a child is having trouble with friends then intervine and help to fix it.

(3) Shauna, October 9, 2008 10:44 PM

Desperate for my 6 yr old to make friends

I have a 6 yr old son who started kindergarten 2 mths ago. He has always been a pretty shy little boy, but I thought after 2 yrs of preschool he would come out of his shell for kindergarten. He does love school, but is not making any friends. He actually tells me that on the playground he just paces back & forth by himself and has a sad look on his face. He is a very sweet, cute, and lovable kid! I do daycare in the home & when he is around those kids he is funny & in charge. But I know it is probably due to being in his own domain. I have tried several tactics to encourage him to talk or play with a kid, but when I discuss it with him he gets frustrated & teary-eyed. It truly breaks my heart. I desperately want him to make at least one buddy at school.

(2) Anonymous, March 7, 2007 1:32 PM

definitely scars!!!

I am unable to play any type of sports.When I started to work and was finished school I was out of my mind with boredom. I had no outlets for my free time and reading was no longer enough. I was paralyzed when time came for me to get married. Over and over again I picked the wrong person. Why? I had never had friends as a child. I was told by my parents "it's not my job to be your social director". I was extremely shy and dissolved in tears and the slightest teasing. This of course made children do it all the more and I isolated myself in self defense. If I cried about it at home I was teased more. Books became my escape and the substitute for the life I didn't have. Fortunately so far, my daughter doesn't have my hangups but if she has trouble making friends, I will definitely try to intervene. When she has told me about problems we try to solve them without making a big deal. Friendships are practice for life. Without friends certainly one won't have the skills to pick a good marriage partner. What is a partner other than a friend. I think this can't be emphasized enough to parents who feel they shouldn't get involved.

(1) Anonymous, March 5, 2007 6:34 AM

The impact of not learning "friendship" skills early on leaves scars in adulthood!

I have come to believe there is something in the hurdles that seem higher built for some children than others having to do with the particular journey of a particular soul.

A capacity and fortune for and in friendship surely as great a test as any that so often makes all the difference in the various situations that come up in life!

I imagine if a child has two parents instead of one who is away much of the time working very hard to earn a living. Or does not have siblings from which to learn alternate ways of behavior and response styles, or lacks for whatever reason support and encouragement in the myriad of ways needed, or is not overly dependent wanting approval. Learning reciprocity and friendship may be less a challenge for children without such challenges!

Also, interestingly enough, friendships are vulnerable to particular time frames that differ in one generation from another due to shifts in family arrangements, values and role models!

Making friends, keeping friends, developing friendships is either a talent, gift or learned - perhaps all three. Its surely a subject that takes a life time to learn. At least in the case for some!

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