Our four-year-old son doesn't have friends yet. He is content to play with children in his nursery school and once in a great while will play with one of them in the afternoon, but he hasn't formed friendships. Should I be worried? Is there anything I should be doing?
Q: My five-year-old occasionally complains that nobody likes her and nobody wants to play with her. As far as I can tell, this is not really the case. It seems to me that she has plenty of friends. I don't see her as maladjusted enough to require therapy, but there's a gap between her feelings and reality. What does it mean when she says this and how should I respond?
Do you sometimes wish you could be a magical fly on the wall in your child's school, whispering little tips about appropriate social behavior, helping your kids avoid the pain of being left out of a game or being picked last for the team? We can't provide you with that magic but we can offer some excellent advice from Martin Seligman, PhD, author of The Optimistic Child (Harper Perennial, 1996.) The book addresses the ways in which parents can encourage their children to develop positive outlooks, how they can help a depressed child, how they can teach their children to more accurately understand and interpret the social events around them.
In part I of this three-part series, we wrote about psychologist Martin Seligman's suggestions for improving your child's social skills by teaching her how to slow down her thinking by replacing "hot thoughts" with "cool thoughts." In his book, The Optimistic Child, Seligman also offers suggestions for showing your child how to walk in someone else's shoes -- a valuable skill that can serve her throughout life -- and that can help her in school-yard conflicts now. Explain to your child that before we can decide how to handle a problem we're having with someone else, we need to understand what that person was thinking and why she acted the way she did.
Amanda, 13 1/2, is not one of the "in" kids whom everyone wants to sit next to. "What's wrong with me," she's wondering, "and how will I deal with the anxiety of the first day?" I always hate the first day of school. Not the shopping part - that I like. It's fun to get new clothes and shoes. And I love wrapping all my books so everything looks perfect, and getting all the new notebooks and pens, and cool erasers. But I hate thinking about who I'm gonna sit near. I know that all the "in kids" are gonna stick together, and I never fit with them. I wish I could be part of that crowd and that everyone would fight to sit near me. But I'm just a loser and always have to go over to someone and ask, "Do you wanna sit next to me?" It makes me so nervous.
If you're worried about a teenaged son or daughter who doesn't seem to fit in....take heart - and read on: What I didn't know at the time was that if you think there's something wrong with you, others will too. When I was already a mom with kids of my own, I re-met Anne, a girl who had been in my fifth grade class and every class after that but who had been so quiet that I barely knew she existed. She came over for dinner one night with her kids and my husband asked her how she had liked the kids at the schools we had gone to. Her answer was simple-- but to me it was stunning. "I didn't have anything in common with them," she said.
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