Every child faces friendship challenges at some time, in some way, but broadly speaking, there are three main ways that children struggle socially.
1) Doing too little
Some children have a hard time reaching out to other kids to make friends. This includes kids who feel shy or tend to be quiet. It also includes kids who tend to be passive in social situations, waiting for someone to approach them, as well as kids who just don’t notice when someone is trying to be friendly or withdraw into solo activities in social situations.
There’s certainly room in the world for a quieter style of relating, but we want kids to have the choice of being able to reach out to friends when they want to do so. Children also have to think about the time and place for their solo activities. When kids withdraw in social situations, such as lunch or recess, they can unintentionally send the message to their peers, “I don’t like you, and I don’t want to have anything to do with you!”
We can help children who do too little in social situations learn simple ways of reaching out. This could involve teaching them how to greet people, ask interested questions, and show they like someone through compliments or small acts of kindness.
2) Doing too much
We see this problem in kids who are clingy or impulsive. They might think they’re being funny, but their peers find their actions annoying.
While kids who do too little in social situations tend to be overlooked by their peers, kids who do too much are likely to be actively and sometimes cruelly rejected.
We can help these children recognize stop signals so they can put on the brakes when they need to. If they persist doing annoying behavior after a peer asks them to stop, they’re essentially announcing, “I don’t care what you think or want!” Some children need to learn specific stropping strategies, such as saying, “Sorry,” and moving over, sitting on their hands, or silently counting while pretending that their tongue is stuck to the roof of their mouth.
We can also help these learn less-disruptive ways to connect with peers, such as by doing something kind, rather than trying to be funny. These children may also need to let friends have other friends.
3) Being out of sync
Some kids have trouble because they behave in ways that set them apart from their peers. They may brag, have younger interests, or off-putting habits.
Every child is unique, and we want to support their individuality, but we also want kids to be able to find common ground with their peers so they can build friendships and enjoy being part of a group.
We can teach these children to match the emotional tone of a conversation or slide into a game without interrupting. Kids make friends by doing fun things together, so we may also need to help these children cultivate some interests that their peers share.