When You Don’t Approve of Your Child’s Romantic Partner

We were young once; we know how young love works. We also know intuitively, that if we interfere in something as private as a romantic relationship, we risk the possibility of alienating our child — pushing him or her more toward the person we don’t like in the first place!

So what is a parent to do? Consider the following tips:

Ask Yourself: Is this One Worth a Fight?
There are many reasons why a parent would not approve of a child’s romantic partner. The reasons can range from serious, to more superficial. Differences in values usually tops the “serious” list. For instance, maybe your child’s partner has a different belief system or seems irresponsible or untrustworthy. Sometimes you can’t point out a specific problem and you can’t explain your reaction rationally – it’s simply gut instinct. You have a sense from having seen the young man or woman that the partner is right for your child! You want the relationship to end.

Keep in mind that your gut instinct is a source of important information but it is not infallible. It is possible that the partner’s positive qualities have not yet  been fully revealed. Maybe you need more time before passing judgment. Or, maybe the person you are judging is so young that maturity alone will help bring things around. Before you nix the relationship, slow down and try to think it through. What are the chances that your child is going to end up marrying this person? If your child is fifteen years-old, you probably have time for him or her to learn (the hard way) that not all partners are suitable. On the other hand, if your child is having his or her first serious relationship at age twenty-eight, you may have truly valid concerns. However, the older the child the more risks you may be taking with your own parent-child relationship. Even if you choose to share your thoughts and feelings, you will have to be very careful to leave conclusions up to the child. Coming down hard with dire warnings is likely to backfire and leave you out of the loop altogether.

The more positive your parent-child relationship is, the easier it will be to speak honestly about your concerns. The more negative you tend to be – the more critical, anxious or disapproving you are – the less likely it is the your child will trust your judgment about his or her partner. Therefore, try to maintain your parental power of influence by being careful to reduce criticism and complaints in general. Save negativity for the really big things. Your child will then give your words more weight.

An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure
Relationship education can often help a child make better choices in partners. Hopefully you are modelling a healthy romantic relationship for your kids (that is, between you and your spouse!). If you and your spouse fight a lot, your child may find an abusive partner to be “normal.” Or, if you or your spouse use abusive parenting strategies  like yelling, swearing, insulting and criticizing, then your child may find such communication to be normal in a romantic partner. Therefore, do your best to demonstrate what healthy relationships look and feel like. In addition, talk to your teenagers about relationships and marriage – what should people look for in a partner, what should they be careful to avoid? There are some excellent relationship books out there – bring them home and discuss them at the dinner table or just leave them lying around the house for your kids to pick up and study on their own.

Talk to Your Child
If you do feel that you need to warn your child, then go ahead and do so. If you feel that the other person is a threat to your child’s physical and/or emotional well-being, then it’s indeed a matter worthy of an intervention. Possible reasons can include drug addiction, aggression, a history of questionable behavior, or even extreme age gaps. If this is the case, then talk to your child about your concerns — but don’t give a direct order to break up with the partner. If you deem your child as old enough to date, then you consider him or her as mature enough to make important decisions. Present your arguments in a respectful, calm and rational manner, and let your child be the one to make the conclusions. It’s fine to share your personal thoughts and feelings but don’t issue ultimatums: “It’s up to you what you do, but if I were the one with the decision, I would move on.”  Ordering your child to break up can simply lead to “Romeo and Juliet style” rebellion. The kids may continue to meet behind your back or even run away together. Avoid extreme reactions by acknowledging that the decision is truly up to your child.  Be prepared that your child may not agree with your assessment. Part of parenting is being respectful of individual boundaries.

When to Get Involved in Your Child’s Social Life

Everyone has social challenges – even adults! It’s not surprising then, that kids have plenty of social issues. Sometimes they fight with others, sometimes others fight with them. Sometimes they are bullied. Sometimes they are rejected. Often, they experience some kind of shyness, insecurity or even social anxiety. Kids form cliques; there’s the in-crowd and the out-crowd. There’s peer pressure to contend with. The challenges are endless! Parents often worry about their kids, naturally wishing to save them from the pain that can be caused by social problems. When should parents step in? When should they stay back?

If you’re not sure whether or not to get involved in your child’s social life, consider the following tips:

Consider Whether or Your Child Does or Does Not NEED Your Help
Saving your child from pain is not the only consideration you should have. Keep in mind that a little pain is tolerable for children and it might even be a useful source of learning and positive development. Instead of rushing to rescue your child from a difficult social situation, ask yourself whether or not your child is able to rescue him or herself. How old is your youngster? Two year olds usually have limited resources. If a bigger child is teasing them or – worse – hurting them, they are sure to need adult intervention. On the other hand, if another two year old is not being nice to them, it is possible that they can find ways to defend themselves or solve the problem on their own (i.e. move away or frighten the offender). Similarly, older kids can usually learn to handle everyday difficulties perpetrated by their same-age peers. Being bullied, however, is a different story. When there is a serious emotional or physical threat, adults usually do need to step in.

If you feel that your child lacks the skills to solve a social problem, it’s preferable to provide the skills rather than to solve the problem for her. For instance, suppose your 10 year-old daughter is the only girl in the class who has not been invited to a classmate’s sleepover party. Your child is devastated. You might be tempted to call the classmate’s mother and let her know how your daughter feels. However, why not help your daughter to tackle the problem herself? She can either speak to the girl directly or write a brief note. For instance, “Dear Sue, I know that you are having a sleepover party and have invited everyone in the class except me. I know that you and I are not really friends, but I don’t think we are enemies either. If I had a party, I would invite you if I was inviting everyone else. I know you are a good person and you would never purposely hurt anybody. I’m sure you did not realize how much this would embarrass me and hurt my feelings. I haven’t spoken to anyone about it. I am wondering if you could change your mind and invite me to the party. I would be happy to bring some snacks along for all the girls and I would really be so grateful to you for including me. Sincerely, Tanya.” If “Sue” doesn’t change her mind, then you would help your child come to terms with the fact that there are mean people in the world. You would help her to learn from this how important it is to include everyone.

Helping your child find a way to deal with a social challenge is appropriate when your child has the necessary communication skills (like the ability to write a short letter). A younger child will need more of your help and often, more parent-to-parent intervention. A teenager can almost always be taught what to do and do it by him or herself.

Choosing Your Child’s Friends
Children choose their own friends. However, parents can make introductions. Parents often move into a specific neighborhood or choose a specific school in order to provide certain kinds of friends for their kids. Parents may also make play-dates for toddlers, preschoolers and other very young children. However, children decide who they like and don’t like. This poses a challenge for parents as the kids get older. Some children choose friends that their parents don’t approve of. Sometimes, parents feel that a particular child is having a bad influence on their own child. In such cases, parents often attempt to discourage the friendships in one way or another – sometimes even forbidding associations out of school. The problem with this approach is that forbidden relationships are all the more tempting. Moreover, it’s not the child’s fault that he or she is drawn to the wrong crowd. Preferences for people are made at the subconscious level; something draws a child to another person or group of people. If you think that your child is making poor choices, try to help your child’s inner world. The healthier a child is psychologically, the healthier choices he or she will make in friends. To bolster your child’s psychological health, make sure you follow the 80-20 Rule (See Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe) – or the 90-10 Rule for teens. This ratio ensures that you have a positive, warm, loving relationship with your child and this is very conducive for your child’s emotional health. Reduce anger and criticism to nearly zero! The more your child likes you and identifies with you, the more he or she will choose friends that YOU would approve of.  If you feel that you must forbid a particular social connection, then make sure you explain exactly why to your child. Make sure that your child experiences your love, rather than your controlling side. For instance, instead of “I absolutely forbid you to see Terry again.” try, “I know how much you enjoy being with Terry. However, I have to ask you not to spend any more time with Terry because you are learning things that can get you into serious trouble. I feel that I have to help you stay away from this person and if I find that you are spending time with Terry, you and I will have to talk about negative consequences. I hope that you know how much I love you and I hope that by now, you trust my judgment.” When you have a good relationship with your child (which is why the 80-20 Rule is vital), you have much more power to influence your child’s choices.

If Your Child Mismanages Friendships
Sometimes you may feel that your child is mishandling a social relationship. You want him or her to strengthen a friendship but your child seems to be careless, not bothering to treat the friend properly. You worry that the child will lose the friend; perhaps you even lose sleep over it. It’s fine for parents to offer their child information. For instance, go ahead and talk to your child about how friendships are built and maintained. Explain your concerns about his or her current behavior. However, be mindful not to repeat yourself. Assume that your child heard you the first time! If your child does not choose to heed you advice and, as a consequence, loses the friendship, he or she will know better for next time. No matter who this friend is, he or she is NOT the only human left on the planet. Your child can make other friends. Even if this particular person was an excellent kid, the best you could hope for in a child’s friend, keep in mind that there are other good kids out there. You simply cannot control your child to the extent that you run his or her social life. Instead of trying to do so, give your “normal” child credit where credit is due: he or she can learn to build relationships in his or her own good time.

Sometimes, parents find themselves worrying far into the night about their child’s friends and relationships. In this case, professional consultation might help to determine whether there really is something to worry about and if so what sort of interventions and strategies might be helpful.

Child Doesn’t Want to Include Siblings with Friends

Understandably, siblings don’t always want to share the same set of friends. This is particularly true when siblings have a big age difference between them. However, there are practical issues to contend with. What happens when an 8 year-old child invites a friend to play and the child’s 6 year-old sister wants to join in the game? What happens when twins have friends over – do they get to have individual relationships or must they share all their social contacts? When one child in the family is happily occupied with a friend, what is the parent’s obligation to the child who is left out? Must Mom provide personal entertainment?

The following are some tips in handling the situation when your child doesn’t want siblings to join his or her social arrangements:

Respect Your Children’s Right to Make Social Arrangements
From the very beginning, it’s important that parents give their children privacy and autonomy in arranging their social life. Having friends is important to anyone, and social skills are something that will serve a child throughout his or her life. Ideally, each child in the family should learn how to invite friends over and how to be a good host or hostess, instead of relying on their siblings to provide them with social stimulation. Often it is possible to have each child invite a friend on a given afternoon. For instance, you might set aside Sunday afternoons for playtime in which you expect your kids to find a friend to invite and/or allow them to go out to their friends’ houses (or, when older, out with their friends). Children who are not in the mood to put in the effort to make this happen must arrange their own schedule of activities rather than impose on their sibling’s social engagement. For instance, another child can work on puzzles, play on the computer, read or whatever. It is NOT necessary for the parent to provide entertainment. However, if the lonely child has tried to make social plans that just didn’t work out, there is nothing wrong with the parent pitching in to help liven up the afternoon (i.e. set up a special video, engage the child in a baking activity in the kitchen, or even take the child on an outing). When the left-out sibling in question is too young to make his or her own social arrangements, the parent should try to make such arrangements or provide activities for that child to participate in while siblings are busy with their friends.

But Also Encourage Generosity and Kindness
That being said, encourage your children to recognize and affirm a sibling’s request to be part of their social life. On occasion, it may be possible, as an act of kindness, for a sibling to allow other kids in the family to join in his or her social activity. In fact, sometimes it’s a case of “the more, the merrier.” Certain games are more fun with more people in them. While a child is certainly entitled to private time with his or her friend, he or she can also invite a sib or two to play along for at least a small part of the visit. Encouraging kids to think of each other’s needs and to be kind to each other is important. You probably don’t want to raise selfish children who only think of their own needs. You can show your kids that they can meet their own needs AND also make others happy – it’s not a contradiction.

Encourage your Children to Make Time for One Another
If it’s not really possible to include a sibling in a social arrangement, then perhaps a separate arrangement can be made that would accommodate the said sibling. After all, while we have a right to choose our friends, it’s also great to spend time with our family. So encourage your children to make time for each other. A family day is a good idea; kids can spend time with the friends of their choosing on some days, while they can spend time with their siblings for another.

Helping Children Deal with Rejection

All people get rejected. A newborn can be rejected by her siblings or, see in some cases, sick even by a parent. A toddler can be rejected by older children who don’t want to play with him or by the kids at playgroup. Children and teenagers face rejection by peers, cousins, teachers and temporarily angry parents. Adults routinely experience rejection including the experience of job rejection, social rejection (unfriendly faces on the street, at a meeting or at the “tea”) and personal rejection (as when oneself or one’s child is not invited to a gathering or one’s help is not wanted on a particular committee).

Although rejection is a normal, common experience, it still hurts. Getting a paper cut is also a normal, common experience, but this does nothing to soften the individual sting. The hurt of rejection is far from imaginary. The brain actually responds to rejection in the exact same way it responds to pain from physical injury or assault: social rejection causes increased activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, which is linked to the pain response. Brain researchers conclude that the brain considers social rejection to be an injury. Human experience verifies that rejection does indeed hurt.

The Costs of Rejection
Rejection is so painful, in fact, that it can dramatically affect life decisions and choices. When children experience constant rejection at school from teachers or peers, they make decisions that will help them prevent that kind of pain in the future. They can grow up and consciously avoid the type of people who are similar to the teachers or principals who hurt them in their youth. A rejecting peer group acts naively and innocently in selecting out like-minded companions for pleasant socializing; students generally have no idea that they can negatively affect their peers for a lifetime just because they were—in their immature youth—socially unkind. Sometimes children and teens select “bad” friends because these are the only people who will show them warmth and acceptance. When “good” kids reject others, they can inadvertently be the stimulus for a child’s emotional and spiritual decline.

Adults, too, experience the cost of rejection. They, too, will adjust their life courses according to the level of social acceptance or rejection that they experience. People will move out neighborhoods where they feel they have been snubbed, ignored or otherwise rejected. Rejection can aggravate other pre-existing vulnerabilities. For example, people may become depressed, anxious or physically ill as a result of the rejection they feel.

Living with Rejection
The destructive consequences of rejection should not be minimized. Rather, they should be acknowledged and addressed at home and at school. Parents and teachers are the ones to instruct youngsters on correct social behavior and to discipline rejecting behaviors in the same way they would discipline a child who physically attacks another. After all, the consequences of a “social attack” are just as serious, and sometimes more serious than those of a physical assault.

At the same time, we must all remind ourselves that we impact on everyone we deal with. This is hard because we are all wrapped up in our own lives, our own circle of friends and our own worries. However, heightening our awareness that we are strongly connected to the life journey of others may help us to work on developing and maintaining warm social skills (i.e a welcoming smile, a pleasant greeting to strangers and so on).

When we experience rejection ourselves, we can help clear the feeling most rapidly by accepting it without judgment. This is something we can do to help our children’s feelings of rejection as well. Instead of trying to talk ourselves or them out of feelings, we acknowledge to ourselves (or to our children) that indeed, rejection hurts. Just as we need to rest a sore ankle after we have twisted it, we need to rest an aching heart before we go on with our day. Treating OURSELVES with kindness, warmth and loving care (and showing our children how to do the same) helps to rapidly heal the wounds of rejection.

Teen Peer Pressure

As kids grow up and reach their teen years their peer relationships are one of the most important aspects of their lives. The social groups that teens attach themselves to are signals to other peers of who they are and what their values are. Others judge them based on their social group. Teens form their own little worlds – small groups of like-minded friends. They have a specific dialect, distinct way of dressing and do similar activities. They think that adults, particularly parents, don’t know what’s going on and “don’t get them.” There is a lot of pressure for teens to fit in and be cool. Many times teens will do something that they know is wrong just to appear cool and be accepted by others. Teens who have low self esteem or lack confidence and those who lack real friendships and are therefore lonely and depressed, are more likely to give into peer pressure.

Peer pressure can sometimes be good. For example, a friend might be able to convince another friend not to get into a car when the person has been drinking. However, negative peer pressure is very common amongst teens because of the need to be part of a group and also because of their natural curiosity to try out new things.

What’s Your Teen Being Pressured Into?
Peers can pressure each other into all sorts of dangerous, unhealthy, immoral and/or illegal activities. Here are some of the more common pressure points:

  • Smoking can be tried as early as 13 years old
  • Having too much alcohol
  • Trying drugs
  • Having sex before they are ready
  • Shoplifting
  • Pushing off school work to have fun or to party
  • Giving up extracurricular activities
  • Allowing friends to cheat off them
  • Bullying others

How Parents can Help

  • Talk to your teen. Tell them that you respect their friends and understand that they can make mistakes just like you do. If you identify problems with the friends, explain your concerns clearly.
  • Talk to other parents and exchange ideas and work together to help keep your teens safe
  • Help your teen come up with strategies on how to say no and fight peer pressure using techniques such as blaming it on parents, say no and leaving, suggesting other “cool” ideas and so on. Brainstorm with your teen. Ask them if they’ve seen other kids resisting social pressure. How did they do it?
  • Teach your teen to be accountable for what he did wrong. Even though friends can sometimes be wrong also your teen must know that he is always responsible for his actions
  • Invite your teen’s friends over and get to know them. Your teen might not admit it but he/she feels good when parents show that they approve of their friends and that they can relate to them

Keep Calm
It is normal for teens to feel like they are being judged so when you speak to them make sure your tone is non-threatening but rather understanding and calm. If they see you getting upset then they will also. Try to relate to them by telling them issues you faced as a teen. An open line of communication is one of the most valuable things you can offer your teen. Do not force them to talk but let them know that you are always there when they need you. As teens grow up and explore who they are, this time period will be a positive experience for them. Your teen will probably be involved in some form of negative peer pressure at some point but with the help of your expert parenting skills, they’ll be just fine!

Anxious and Stressed Teens

Anxiety is an unsettled, restless, uncomfortable state of mind that can affect people of all ages. Anxious teens may feel worried, stressed or panicky and can experience anxious feelings occasionally or frequently, mildly or intensely. Teenagers who have a lot of anxiety – the kind that interrupts their sleep, interferes with their functioning or causes them intense stress – should be seen by a mental health professional for assessment. Anxious feelings range all the way from normal levels of stress and worry that most people experience, all the way to symptoms of bona fida anxiety disorders – it takes a professional to determine what is going on when anxious feelings are anything more than minor and occasional.

What Triggers Teen Anxiety?
The teenage years are times of high stress, hard decisions and strong emotions. Teen anxiety can be triggered by many events in the teen’s life such as a broken relationship, a parental divorce or academic pressure in school. In addition, teenagers are living in a fast-paced, constantly changing world which creates its own pressure – there is no time to be still and settle in. Social pressures are particularly intense for this age group: kids worry about fitting in, feeling accepted, developing relationships, handling peer pressure and more.

What Parents can Do to Help?
Parents can be part of the problem or part of the solution. For instance, parents can put excessive pressure on teenagers by being too disapproving, too critical or too punitive. On the other hand, they can help relieve stress by being both accepting and gently guiding. They can offer encouragement, praise and validation, keeping the parent-child relationship primarily positive in the ideal 90-10 ratio that is healthiest for this age group (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe for details about building a positive relationship with teenagers). Empathetic listening, ready humor and general acceptance go a long way to helping teens feel confident and emotionally secure.

Moreover, parents can guide teens toward activities that provide stress relief such as sports, drama clubs, volunteer work, and even part-time jobs. Parents can also encourage downtime, family fun (board games, outings, hobbies) and even cooking! A short vacation or even a few hours out of the house for some one-on-one quality time can often work wonders with an adolescent. Parents can even play some relaxing music in the house to help set a calm mood. Of course, reducing family stress (no yelling, fighting, marital battles, etc.) will also help reduce teen anxiety. If parents are experiencing stress of their own, they shouldn’t share it with their teens but rather with other supportive adults.

Warning Signs
There is a difference, however, between normal levels of worry and stress and levels that would be best treated with professional help. If a parent notices the following symptoms of anxiety, he or she should discuss them with a doctor and/or ask for a referral for to a  mental health professional (preferably and adolescent specialist) for assessment:

  • Inability to follow through with usual routines  (like getting to class on time, doing homework, doing one’s household chores, keeping one’s room cleaned, grooming oneself properly and so on)
  • Compulsive thoughts (inability to stop thinking about/worrying out loud about certain topics)
  • inability to make a decision without excessive input from others
  • Peculiar habits (i.e. arranging things, checking things, excessive washing, lengthy praying, repeating words or phrases, needing excessive rituals, refusing to touch certain things, wearing gloves inappropriately, and any other strange behavior
  • Agitated behavior (shaking, inability to settle down, stay still, sleep)
  • Disturbed sleep patterns (insomnia, early waking, nightmares)
  • Strange or excessive fears or worries
  • Refusal to go certain places (like malls or parties) or be with certain people or engage in age-appropriate social activities due to anxious feelings
  • Chronic unhappy or irritable mood
  • Addictive behavior (may stem from anxiety)
  • Self-harm such as cutting oneself, picking at one’s skin (may stem from anxiety)
Anxiety Disorders
There are several different types of anxiety disorders, all of which are thought to have biological roots. GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) is a state of chronic worry about everything and anything. Panic Disorder is a focused type of anxiety that may involve panic attacks with or without fear of leaving home unattended. Simple Phobia can involve any intense fear of any one thing like fear of needles or heights or flying. Social Phobia is a type of anxiety that involves fear of being judged negatively by others. PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is an anxiety disorder that is triggered by experiencing or witnessed a life-threatening event. OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) can occur spontaneously or after a strep infection and involves anxious thoughts and compulsive rituals. Often teens with anxiety have other disorders as well – depression, ADHD, eating disorders and addictive disorders among others. Fortunately, all anxiety disorders respond well to treatment. Today there are many treatments besides medication that are quite effective – therapies, stress-management training, meditation-based interventions, alternative treatments and more. The sooner you get help for your anxious teen, the sooner your teen will enjoy peace of mind.

Child Doesn’t Have Friends

Millions of children complain that they have no friends. Some of them are reporting an accurate state of affairs while some are reporting a feeling rather than a fact. Those that have a few friends may wish they had more and so complain about their “lack of friends.” However, some children really do not have a single good friend. They see their classmates daily, but there are no social invitations, no one to call, no one to get together with on weekends.

Why Some Children Have No Friends
Some kids lack social skills due to developmental deficits. Some kids with ADD/ADHD have social perception deficits – meaning that they do not read social cues properly and do not respond to them properly. They may enter a perfectly quiet room and start shouting boisterously without knowing why others find them annoying. Other disorders such as autism and Asperger’s are characterized by socialization difficulties like not being able to relate to the feelings of others empathetically. Some kids don’t have any specific disorder but they may be socially awkward. They may be “negativistic” – always whining or complaining. Or they may be rigid and inflexible, unable to follow other leaders or let others have their way. Or they may be poor listeners, always trying to make their own voice heard and disregarding the needs of others. Sometimes they are painfully shy or extremely passive. Sometimes they have learned these poor skills from parents who are the same way and sometimes they have just been born that way.

What Skills are Missing?
Kids need to learn how to be on the same page as the members of their peer group. They need to learn, at least to a certain extent, to dress, think and act like their peers.  Being good at the activities their peers think are important is very helpful. This can mean being good at sports (especially for boys) or being a sharp dresser (especially for girls). Kids are who brighter than the rest can still fit in as long as they find a common denominator to express. Failure to do so will get them labelled as “nerds.” If everyone in the class is collecting a particular toy, stamp or card – the child who wants to fit in should definitely have a great collection of her own!

Socially accepted kids usually have confidence, humor, generosity and some good listening skills. No one likes downcast, sullen, morbid types. Socially successful kids also LIKE other kids – they tend to be accepting rather than judgmental and critical.

Helping Kids with Poor Social Skills
Parents can help by trying to avoid doing things that destroys a child’s confidence – like being excessively critical or punitive. Parents can definitely model good social skills by speaking well of others, going out with friends, calling friends, supporting friends, reaching out to friends and so on.

Parents can help young children gain social experience by arranging play dates and supervising those get-togethers well enough to see what might be going wrong. Is a youngster too aggressive, scaring potential friends away? Teach him how to use his words. Is she too passive, preferring to play alone rather than interacting with her friend? Show her how to involve another child in the game. Some kids need to learn how to share. Others need help in being less bossy. A watchful parent and/or teacher may spot the difficulty in young children and be able to guide them into more pro-social behaviors.

School age children can be encouraged to participate in skill-building and confidence-building activities. These can help make the child a more interesting and attractive proposition in the eyes of other children. A child who is an expert gymnast, great pianist, super karkate kid and so forth is admired by others and also has the edge of a special confidence in a special talent or skill. Moreover, the busier and more productive a child is with interesting activities, the less time the child has to sit around being lonely and empty. Sometimes a parent or teacher may recognize a skill deficit. Perhaps the child has never asked anyone to come over to play. Parents can encourage risk taking and show the child how it is done. Perhaps the child doesn’t know how to be a good host or hostess when the guest finally arrives. Again, parents can explain to their child how to make others feel comfortable (offer them food, ask them what they want to do and do it, have suggestions ready for activities, be a good loser, change activities, recognize boredom and make adjustments, and so on).

For a child who really can’t make any friends, parents should consult a professional in the mental health field and/or enroll the child in a social skills training program. Everyone can learn to improve social skills. Even adults take classes in how to improve small talk, eye contact, empathy skills, listening skills and other behaviors that will make them more likeable (often for business purposes!). Kids and teens can learn these skills as well. They should be able to acquire enough skills to make at least one or two friends. They don’t have to be “popular.” A friend or two can make a huge positive change in a child’s life.