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.