Loner or Socially Handicapped?

Is there something wrong with a child who doesn’t like to play with friends? Or, is it possible that the child is just a healthy loner? How would a parent know if and when to intervene?

If you are concerned about your child’s lack of social life, consider the following tips:

Content vs. Discontent?
Is your child playing happily on his own? Is he busy with books, toys, computers, and other resources in the home? Is he building, creating, learning, exploring and otherwise enjoying himself? Is he acquiring new skills or engaging in productive activities? If your child is thriving in his independent activities, he may just be an introvert – someone who is energized by his own personal activities and drained by being with people. Or, it might just be that he’s had enough people for the day, having interacted with his peers at school for 8 hours or longer; now he’s ready to spend time with himself. Not a full-fledged introvert, he just has a lower need for social activity. Adults are like this too – many grownups just want to relax at home in the evening after a day of interacting in the world. In short, if your child is happy on his own, don’t worry about his behavior and don’t push him to be with friends.

Fearful or Comfortable?
If your child would like to have friends but doesn’t know how to make meaningful social connections, he might benefit from some help. Try a bit of bibliotherapy – ask the librarian for age-appropriate books on the subject of how to make friends. Talk about the subject directly or do some role-playing in order to practice various skills: making and accepting invitations, being a host, being a guest, keeping friends and so on. Also consider enlisting the help of professionals – there are social skills classes and trainers and also mental health professionals who can help. If your child actually feels fear at the idea of inviting a friend over or fear at the idea of going to a friend’s house, then accessing the help of a mental health professional is definitely recommended: there are techniques and interventions that can help your child overcome social discomfort and anxiety.

All or Nothing?
If your child has even one or two regular pals, there is no need to worry about his social life. Not everyone wants or needs a big social net. Similarly, if your child has close and warm relationships with siblings, cousins, community members or neighbors, there is no need to worry that he doesn’t have more friends. However, if your youngster has absolutely no one to connect to there is more reason for concern. Having someone to interact with and talk to is an important life skill. Again, professionals are available to help your child learn how to create at least a small social circle.

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