Question from a Parent:
Hi, when I read your last post, I realised that my child was in a similar situation! I didn’t want to admit it initially and was very ready to push the blame to all the other children! Yet, after that post, I forced myself to admit that when he has changed 2 schools – things have not improved. I tried talking to him but he felt he has not done anything wrong. I wanted to speak to his classmates but his teacher felt that it was not right for a parent to speak to his classmates directly. Are there any strategies that I can help him with?
It is great news that you are proactive in finding out the issues that your child is facing with his peers. It would be a great idea for you to talk to your child’s teacher , school counsellor and even principal to find out more. If your child shows symptoms of severe stress such as headaches, interference with schoolwork or great reluctance of going to school, you may wish to look for a psychologist. You may also wish to try some of these suggestions:
RELATED: The Social Awkward
Make as Many Friends as Possible
While it is easier said than done, the idea of having many friends is to help your child to look for others when they are being rejected or being treated unkindly on a particular day. We have friends whose mood seems to swing on different days and this can be very confusing to your child. Explain to them that they are really unpredictable and just to leave them alone when they are ‘cold’ on those days. Encourage them to look for friends who are consistently nice instead.
Identify Behaviours that Attract or Repel Friends
When your child is able to anticipate responses to different social cues, they will be able to get along much better with others. Provide a list of annoying and polite behaviours and ask your child the following questions for each of them:
- What is the likely impact of such a behaviour?
- Why will the other child behave that way?
- How would the actions make the other person feel?
- What impression would the actions create about the person who does them?
- What would be a better way to handle the situation?
Ask them to try to and reflect before responding when interacting with peers the next day.
Sometimes, there are just kids who are just all out to tease and be mean. What should your child do? As these children only want to get a rise out of your child, get your child to practice looking bored and using the word “So?” in an even tone. The aim is for your child to look as if they are unaffected by the teasing. You can try roleplaying with your child but just ensure the words do not hurt them personally.
An Adult can be an Ally
When children are bullied, they will usually run to find a teacher to complain to. While most adults encourage this, they will have the reputation of a tattletale and this may lead to further rejection. Rather, ask your child to be visible to a nearby adult or friends by playing near them so that they can be less of an easy target and if anything is to happen, they can receive help immediately.
Talk like the Group
When children of a group come together, they usually talk of things that will be of interest to them. So imagine if they are complaining about a test and your child comes right along and says “No. It is easy. Did you even study?” Not only does it throws the whole momentum of the conversation off, your child has just trodden the tails of everyone of that group. If your child wants to be in the group, he/she has to follow the same tone, body language and similar comments for the group. If they complain about a test, he/she has to throw in a complain. If they are talking about the latest fads, he/she has to match the same enthusiasm.
However, if your child finds that the topic does not match his/her interest, it is better to withdraw than to pretend to be interested in the conversation.
RELATED: When Your Child Withdraws Socially instead of Just Being an Introvert
Most of the time, children are oblivious to things that they may have done to contribute to problems. Ask your child to consider some of these questions below and reflect on their behaviours:
- Have you laughed at someone who made a mistake or struggling?
- Have you ever told someone you ‘hate’ another child?
- Have you deliberately called someone a silly name, even after you are asked to stop?
- Have you made fun of someone because of the way they dress, talk, act or look?
- Have you continued ‘joking’ even though you notice someone was getting upset?
- Have you ever said “Oh no!” when you have to work with someone?
- Have you ever join a group to pick on somebody?
- Have you said mean things about other before?
- Have you passed mean notes about someone?
Simple questions but more often than not, you may find your child feeling more and more uncomfortable as they go down the list.
Stop being Aggressive
Many times, there is a natural tendency for a child to be aggressive especially when they are on the receiving end of one. Research showed that if the child has a friendly connection with someone or even write about someone they love or admire, it will soften the aggression in the child after they are rejected.
I used to have a parent who would come down frequently to meet me regarding her child’s relationship with her peers. Most of the time, she believed that her daughter’s peers were ill-treating her and ostracising her on purpose. After observing and interviewing her peers, I realised that her child was adopting some strategies (which she had perceived to be the best ways),such as criticising her peers’ work, to gain their attention. She did not realise she was really putting them off. It was brought to her mother’s attention and soon, with support and encouragement, the child managed to have some close friends from class.
Children, without realising, can be rather mean to each other. A research found that these mean actions range from physical abuse to plain ignoring of a peer. While scientists have found that children who are disliked by their peers are more likely to be rejected; cruel rejection can also take place between children who consider themselves best friends.
Factors that lead Children to do Mean Things
When children do mean things to each other, it is really a mix of factors that contribute to this issue. Such factors include:
- immature problem-solving skills
- difficulty managing of emotions
- limited perspective taking
- group think
- experimentation (What happens if I act this way…)
Science research also suggests if a child respond to it appropriately, it can help to make the situation better or worse.
RELATED: When Your Child has Trouble Making Friends
Why Your Child’s Response Matter
Children, like adults, tend to respond differently to rejection. Some of them use humour to diffuse the situation. Others may ignore. There are also those who become very revengeful and obsess with hurting the person who they perceive had hurt them badly ( it is more of the ego has taken a beating). Those who whine and plead would face further rejection and may even become a likely target for bullying. Finally, there are those who request to be shamed further as a desperate attempt to win friends. One particular example that comes to mind was a case I encountered when a child asked others to continue throwing things at him when he was mocked as that was the only social interaction he had.
While there are cases where children are victims through no fault on their own, most cases of bullying are derived when children play a role in eliciting rejection. While this does not justify meanness, it helps to teach your child to be less of target for rejection. The key is to find out how did they contribute to the issue.
When Moving Schools May not Help
Scientists conducted an experiment when they identified three 10 year old children in a playgroup who were generally disliked and placed them in another group with strangers. They would meet up weekly for six weeks. Unsurprisingly, three sessions were all it took for them to be disliked again as the second group had the same perceptions as the first one. The issue was these children were oblivious to their social issues and did not work on improving them!
RELATED: When Your Child Mistakes an Audience for Friends
Boys Vs Girls
Naturally, boys and girls tend to be disliked due to different things. Below are some differences that contribute to their issues:
When boys are rejected by peers, they may be:
- hostile and aggressive
- behave immaturely
When girls are rejected by peers, they may be:
- express more negative emotions
- talk more about breaking rules
- indirect aggressive by spreading rumours or convince others not to like someone (may start as early as preschool!)
- poorer conflict resolution skills
Sometimes, as proactive parents, we tend to jump in quickly to save your child from bullying. Yet, sometimes, it might be better take a step back and listen to his/her peers to find out what is wrong without judging. Only then, you are doing yourself a great favour by not being a helicopter parent but a greater favour to your child by intervening appropriately.
“Isn’t that William and Yovan from your class? Go over and say ‘hi’!” Jim’s mother was waving to his friends and trying to drag Jim over. “No!” Jim snarled. Can’t you just leave me alone? I hate my class and I hate everyone. I just don’t want to attend this graduation party!” Without another word, he stomped out of the door – leaving his mother behind.
Some children really hate to attend social events. However, is it something to worry about?
If your child is able to
- interact with others happily under certain circumstances
- have at least one relationship with another child where they like each other mutually
- have someone to sit and chat with during lunch
Then, it is not a cause for concern. Your child is simply an introvert who prefers quieter and smaller interactions.
Yet, if you find your child routinely pulling themselves out of social issues due to the following issues:
- they may have been rejected before and fear the possibility of being rejected once more
- they feel anxious and are unable to reach out to peers
You may have an issue on your hands.
1 out of every 5 babies are born with the ‘inhibited’ temperament. That means, they are very easily overwhelmed and get very upset when there is a change in routine, people and environment. One theory states that they may have more sensitive nervous system than others which makes them harder to calm down. These children may even refuse to look at unfamiliar people or be prone to anxiety attacks when they are older.
Most of the time, these children really enter a vicious cycle of not being able to make friends. In the end, most end up in the cycle illustrated below:
When this happens many times, they will believe that they are a social failure and will be very sensitive to any signs that they may be rejected.
When parents are naturally outgoing, they are unable to understand why their children are unable to be in social situations. When parents also have issues mixing around, they either become overly cautious by protecting their children from fearful situations. Sometimes, they believe that they should go all out and demand that their children must mix around. This only adds on to the anxiety of the child.
Research has shown that ⅓ of these inhibited children tend to grow out of these inhibitions due to positive parenting strategies, This involve striking a delicate balance between accepting your child’s feelings and nudging them forward with small encouragements. These small steps actually contribute to greater social competence and confidence over time.
Strategies to Help Your Child Blend In
Observe before Blending In
Never ask your child to ask “Can I play?” while others are playing as this interrupts the flow of the game and mischievous kids may answer “No.”. Rather, get your child to look for ways to blend in such as running around as well in games of tag or look for sticks to contribute to a building project.
Look for Individuals or Groups of Four or More
Research shows that groups of twos or threes are least likely to welcome someone into their group as they are more close knit. Rather, look for groups of fours for higher chances pf being accepted. If your child do not succeed on first try, don’t worry. research also shows that even most well-liked children also face rejection ¼ of the time.
Use Friendly Body Language
A smiling face, a relaxed and open body posture, interested eye contact and an upbeat tone of voice all really signify openess to friendship. If your child is always hunched in a corner with a book and refuses to interact with other kids, this sends a very strong negative message to others. What happens if your child protests? You will need to explain to him/her that it is now a manners issue instead. They can do the reading anytime.
Practice Simple Conversations
One simple way for your child to interact with others is to ask open-ended questions about others instead of talking about themselves. Use role-playing and encourage your child to look at others in the eye. If they are unable to look at others in the eye, try looking at the bridge of their noses! This will seem less scary.
Find Interest Groups
Your child should have a specific interest by now. Encourage your child to join these groups so that they are able to interact with peers with similar interests.
Use Voice Recordings
Some children become mute in front of strangers. Encourage your child to talk and record their voices. They can role play or make funny sounds. After that, play them so that your child can get used to their voices.
8 year old Robert is feeling frustrated. He badly wants to go and play but his peer, Andrew, was not letting him. Andrew, for the past 10 minutes, has. Den telling him about the various functions and technicalities of The latest IPhone but Robert has never been interested. He only uses the iPhone to play games. Despite Robert’s attempts at expressing disinterest by switching topics and providing monosyllabic replies, Andres goes on as he is determined to show everything he knows.
A gifted child may be too used to performing for the adults by displaying knowledge of everything that he/she knows and thus, may take the concept down with them during an interaction with a peer. His/her peer has no interest in their knowledge and what is worse is that they may actually comes across as arrogant than enthusiastic.
Trying to Impress than Connect
Most of the time, a gifted child often gets a lot of attention from adults for displaying their knowledge. Naturally, they assume that they have to impress his peers with their knowledge to like him/her. A gifted child may feel insecure and desperate when they realise that their peers are not exactly warming up to them as they may perceive the former as arrogant.
Ignoring Social Feedback
The issue many gifted children face is that they are unable to recognise or totally ignore social cues altogether. As interactions require constant adjustments by both parties guided by ongoing reading of social cues to keep the interaction going, gifted children may either dismiss them or thought they are not necessary for interactions. Thus, they may persist in their negative behaviour and thus, continue to turn others off.
Strategies to Help Them Reach out to Peers
Plan Two-Hour Activity-Based Play Dates
When there is an activity, there is context for the peers to work on. This minimises awkwardness and its short length helps to leave children wanting more.
Teach Them how to be a Host
Some children can be very territorial and become bossy when peers come over to their house. Go over the rules of being a good host with them.
Offer Sincere Compliments
Teach your child to offer sincere and short compliments to make others feel good about themselves. This helps them to reach out to others. You may want to remind your child to offer one at a time as too many may seem insincere.
Seek Similar Activities
A gifted child needs to learn more about the potential friend by seeking out common interests and doing them together. By emphasising similar activities, they can build these friendships.
Encourage your child to watch the listener’s reactions when engaged in a conversation and to say no more than three or four sentences before asking a question to allow the other person to speak. If the other child looks remotely bored, guide him to end the conversation “Well, that’s it!” To wrap up the conversation as soon as he/ she can. After that, ask a question and listen carefully to the other person’s response.
Train your child to speak briefly of an event using three to four sentences. They do not have to go into every detail about the event.
Humour Can Backfire
If your child is struggling socially, do not suggest that they try humour. If the joke is inappropriate or hurtful, they may persist as they do not even read the social cues appropriately. When peers get mad, the excuse “I’m kidding! Can’t you take a joke?” Will not cut them some slack.
Do not try to bribe others with friendship using possessions or money. Others may just take them but do not offer a sincere companionship in return.
Practice Perspective Taking
During a movie or TV show, practice asking your child questions to observe the characters’ facial expressions and reactions. One or two questions will do as too many will only serve to irritate the child.
Friendships are not only a source of fun; they also help children to grow in meaningful ways. Having friends create a sense of identity for children and one important aspect is learning how their peers react to them. They learn to grow beyond self-interest and shift from thinking solely to a more emphatic perspective towards others.
Having a friend teaches them how to temper selfish urges and open the way for negotiation, compromise and even generosity.
Why it is harder for Children to develop Friendships Nowadays
When parents jam packed their children’s activities as much as possible and more families are becoming smaller and more dispersed; our children are having lesser time to interact with peers outside.
With the introduction of video games and social media, our children are beginning to have an increasingly misconstrued image of what are friends. Most children are beginning to look upon the number of virtual “friends” and “likes” as a basis for self-worth. Others believe that maintaining virtual friendships via video games is a form of social contact. What they don’t understand that this is a very diluted form of social contact and is really a easy way to tune out the social world in time to come.
How to Develop Friendships
Learning friendship skills is really like doing a math problem sum. Both involve three processes : seeing, thinking and doing.
For example, a child needs to read a math problem sum before recognising that it is a subtraction problem. Then, the child needs to think of the right strategy to to work out the sum correctly in order to solve the problem. Cam this sum be solved with little practice? Chances are, they will need to practice it several times before they are good at it.
This is similar to a social situation. First, the child must be able to see what’s going on by picking up social cues from different settings. Only then are they able to decide the best appropriate actions from the various behavioural responses possible.
RELATED: When Your Child Mistakes an Audience for Friends
They also need to recognise if they are actually contributing to the problems as well by monitoring the reactions of others. This will allow them to select another course of action instead. Children who are unable to pick up these cues will find themselves ostracised as they may have unwittingly offend others or persist in actions that others found irritating.
The children must also be able to think about social situations by interpreting and understand actions of others. This can also help them to come up with effective strategies to influence peers in desired ways. To do this, they must know what are the expected behaviours and being able to predict others’ likely responses to their actions. Otherwise they may often misjudge a situation and will not be sure of how to react.
Lastly, the children must have many chances to interact with others positively so that they can feel genuinely confident and comfortable in social situations. If not, they may freeze up and feel anxious before blurting out an inappropriate comment.
Facing a Friendship Issue
While most of us may rush in to help our child with their friendship problems, it is advisable to let your child handle it first while you listen and emphasise with them at the side. Do not ask questions such as “Was anyone mean to you today?” As this sets them up for the victim mentality.
RELATED: When Your Child Withdraws Socially instead of Just being an Introvert
If all else fails, ask your child’s teacher as they may be in the know of the social situation. The teacher can be the one who guides your child toward better choices or mediating between conflicts.
Making friends is tricky. For the next few posts, we will be taking a look at the various issues that occur when making friends.