Linda Lewis Griffith

Is your child struggling to make friends? Here’s how you can help

Kindergartener Avari Moscardi, right, gets a picture taken with her friend and first grader Elin Heisdors by Elin’s mom Makenzie during the first day of school at Shell Beach Elementary School in 2010.  Parents can help their kids form connections, retired San Luis Obispo therapist Linda Lewis Griffith says.
Kindergartener Avari Moscardi, right, gets a picture taken with her friend and first grader Elin Heisdors by Elin’s mom Makenzie during the first day of school at Shell Beach Elementary School in 2010. Parents can help their kids form connections, retired San Luis Obispo therapist Linda Lewis Griffith says. Tribune

The academic year has barely started and your child is already complaining, “Mom, no one likes me at school.”

It breaks your heart to hear those words. But it’s hard to know what you can do.

Here are nine suggestions for helping kids make friends:

Don’t overreact. Listen to what your youngster says. Empathize with the challenges we all face in the social arena, but don’t blow things out of proportion. Kids’ feelings change daily and some tend to be overly dramatic.

Ask a diagnostic question. For instance, “Do you have someone to sit with at lunch?” Children don’t need an entire fan club. Sometimes one bestie is enough. If, however, they eat alone or are bullied by other classmates, it’s time to step into action.

Create social opportunities. Place kids in age-appropriate situations that suit their interests and temperaments. Try enrolling them in art classes, a dance company, a youth group or a scouting organization. Invite potential friends over for the afternoon.

Role-play social situations. Practice meeting people for the first time. Discuss strategies for sharing toys. Decide how best to respond if a friend doesn’t want to do the same thing as your child.

Be a good role model. Kids learn by watching their parents, so even your smallest actions can have a huge impact. Talk pleasantly to fellow shoppers in the check-out line. Offer to feed your neighbors’ pets while they’re away or take out their garbage if they are unable. Resolve family problems swiftly and respectfully.

Avoid competition. Replace winner-take-all games that foster self-centered behavior with cooperative activities that encourage positive group dynamics.

Relate your own struggles. Do you remember feeling isolated as a child? A heartfelt “I know exactly what you’re going through” will lift their spirits. Then share strategies that you found helpful for navigating the social arena.

Let kids work things out for themselves. Whenever possible, stay in the background. Boys and girls need to feel empowered and know they can handle whatever arises. Of course, it’s never okay if your child is getting bullied. In that case, immediately contact school authorities to ensure your student is safe.

Encourage acceptance. Not every child will take center stage. Some are destined to play supporting roles. Recognize all kids for the unique and wonderful beings they are, then guide them on their way through childhood.

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