I struggled to make friends as a kid and I still struggle as an adult. I can honestly say that I don’t have any friends. I would wonder what was wrong with me and sometimes I still do, but I’m learning to accept that I’m just different, with contrary values to most of Western society.
It breaks my heart to see my kids struggle with something that I don’t really know how to fix.
As a homeschool mom, I often worry about gaps in my kids’ educations. What I worry about more is the isolation that often comes with being home alone all day every day. Sure, we go on field trips, do extracurriculars like art, music, and sports. But, it’s still often very hard to make friends, even within the homeschool community. It’s lonely.
Being a military family, we move around every few years, and I think our transience has gotten into our attitudes as well. We don’t see the point in trying too hard if we’re just going away again.
Kids don’t play outside anymore. My children don’t know where to look for playmates and friends. It seems so many are overscheduled with private lessons, extracurriculars, extra classes, and special events that they don’t have enough free time to play.
We’ve also noticed a shift in parenting the last decade or so. Parents are scared to let their kids play outside, even in their front yards. Kids are overprotected and coddled, not allowed any risk or decision making. Parenting is fear-based.
I’ve made many efforts to provide friend opportunities for my kids, but it’s really hard as they get older and into their teens.
Some kids’ brains are wired in a way that makes it harder for them to connect socially with others and make friends. They lack the executive function skills and it’s not something they figure out on their own, contrary to popular belief.
Kids often need direct experience in the step-by-step brain-based processes that develop social awareness, self-awareness, self-regulation and positive social behaviors.
- Ask, don’t tell. Ask questions with genuine, respectful curiosity to find out what’s going on for your child.
- Listen and learn. Welcome what your child has to say. Be calm, listen and make him comfortable.
- Keep your cool. Your calm coaching response will allow you a little emotional distance, which goes a long way in finding a helpful middle ground to problem-solve with your child.
- Hold the metacognitive mirror up. Help your child take a bird’s eye view of the situation and reflect on his role.
- Honor your child’s aha. Whatever the realization, allow your child to have his own perspective and realizations in the process of growing awareness, reflection, goal-setting and problem-solving.
- Prep first, then pave the way. Prepare the ground for sensitive conversations by sharing stories from work and elsewhere about how people do what they can for themselves, but sometimes they need to ask for help.
- Meet them where they are. Better that you recognize your child’s capabilities at the present time and work with what’s real. That helps you both focus on goals and plans that are realistic.
- Be a cheerleader. Celebrate positive steps, small wins, or your child’s aha and you will keep the momentum going.
In her groundbreaking book, Caroline Maguire shares her decade-in-the-making protocol–The Play Better Plan– to help parents coach children to connect with others and make friends.
Children of all ages–truly, from Kindergarten to college age– will gain the confidence to make friends and get along with others.
Coaching, using the following simple techniques and the Play Better lessons, tools and skill-building activities, creates those learning experiences for your child.
*Social Sleuthing: learn to pay attention to social cues
*Post-Play Date Huddles: help kids figure out what to look for in a friendship
*Reflective Listening: improve your child’s relationship with their peers
Caroline Maguire, PCC, M.Ed. (media features include US News & World Report, Salon, HuffPost, Parade, MindBodyGreen, Publishers Weekly and more) has successfully coached thousands of families suffering from chronic social dilemmas, ranging from shyness to aggression to ADHD and more, and spells out her program for effective parent coaching for social skills based on proven strategies and techniques that support positive behavioral change in Why Will No One Play with Me? The Play Better Plan to Help Children of All Ages Make Friends and Thrive (Hachette’s Grand Central Publishing; Sept. 24, 2019).