What do you do when you find out your 3rd grader has no friends and is bullied? What do you do when you hear another child call your child a nerd? What do you do when your child’s best friend starts hanging with the “cool kids” and has left your son or daughter behind? What do you do when your child’s friends don’t call back or make excuses in order not to come over for a playdate.
Being a parent is painful, we feel every heart ache so deeply and we want to make it all better. As I watched my kids navigate bullying and rejection and then go on to be happy, social and all find great friends, I can say it did not happen “naturally”.
Moms talk about this a lot… some moms say “don’t worry, it will all work out” and it might, but it doesn’t always. Some say “all they need is one good friend” but it’s so much better to a great group of friends.
Some mothers are overly involved in manipulating their children’s friendships to ensure they are in the “popular crowd”. What is popular? According to one child, “the populars only talk to the populars and one level lower”, “I’m in a crowd where I can talk to anyone I want”. I asked “That sounds so much nicer, is it?, “Oh definitely” she replied.
Here is my advice to parents:
- If they are being rejected by a certain group of kids, or the neighborhood kids, or the soccer kids, or baseball kids – let that be! Don’t force your child into a group that is rejecting them. Help them develop a friend in the sport they love but don’t force friendships where they aren’t.
- If kids don’t call back or reciprocate invites… find out if it’s because the never have friends over or if they don’t invite your kid over. If it’s the latter, then help your kid focus on friends that reciprocate and genuinely want to stay and be with your kid. Otherwise, they are banking their friendship on a fair weather friend and when the wind blows they will be alone.
- Find their own tribe. They know who they like and who likes them, and it might not be the crowd they want to be in. Talk to them about how they feel inside with different friends. Which ones make you laugh, come running to you in the playground.
- Grow those friends one at a time and bring them together with group sleepovers and play dates as well as individual play dates. Watch how they behave during the play dates. Praise them later on specifics on how they exhibited great social skills and sharing, caring, etc… but also note issues they might have did they pout or cry when they didn’t get their way, not share, not listen well. Work on those issues when the time is right. Coach them on how to react, share and listen.
Also learn why kids are bullied or are rejected:
- Is your kid bossy? This is going to hurt but this is probably a reflection on you… mom or dad. Do you demand that they do this now and do that later? Change your tone and your way of requiring they do things by saying it nicely. They will mimick you. Yes as a parent you have the right to say “Do your homework now” but if you change it to.. “Sweetheart, would you please do your homework” in a soft tone…. you will not hear them be so bossy. Bossy kids are often rejected by their peers.
- Does your child have difficulty communicating? Whether it be speech issues or nonverbal communication, they need to be very aware of speaking clearly and reading people’s faces, body language, etc…
- How are their social skills? Actively work with them on listening, sharing, negotiating, and giving more than they receive. Do they remember people’s names?
- Kids love confident and assertive kids… do you actively build their confidence? Do all you can to create winning situations and build their confidence.
Two out of three of my kids had super tough times. Once we found the right tribe of friends, kind, smart, witty kids who were not necessarily the coolest or the best jocks.. but genuine kids who were thoughtful and kind… I worked at it, we invited them over frequently, had sleepovers to help develop bonds, I don’t let them spend much time on screen time as that is not bonding time that lasts. Force them outside, to take walks etc… You have to try out different friends and watch their behavior… are they are really good long term fit for your kid. If so encourage it. Or do you see serious behavioral issues like disrespect, if so discuss it.
I can say after heart ache that the child I was most concerned about is never ever home. If I allowed it that child would be at sleepovers every weekend all weekend and have back-to-back playdates as that child’s friends call all the time to get together. That child is not “popular” but is very popular with his/her friends. They are not the kids who we thought would be his/her friends, they grew from clubs and extracurricular activities. But they are true friends, the kind that will last a lifetime.