Why can’t my child make friends? This can be a difficult question to ask yourself. But if your child rarely gets invited on playdates and spends most of his time alone at home, it can be hard not to wonder—and worry.
For kids of all ages, friendships offer the acceptance, approval and sense of belonging they crave. If your child struggles to connect with other kids and form friendships, it can be a blow to his self-esteem or leave him feeling alone and frustrated.
What Can Cause Trouble With Making Friends
If your child has a hard time making friends, it may have nothing to do with his personality. Trouble with forming friendships can be the result of learning and attention issues.
“If your child’s learning and attention issues cause him to have a hard time making friends, there are ways to improve his social skills.”
Some learning and attention issues have a direct impact on social skills. Some affect communication skills or listening comprehension skills, which can make conversation difficult. And others create a variety of behaviors that can get in the way of making friends.
ADHD: Kids with ADHD may lack self-control, be overactive, talk too much, talk without thinking or not pay attention to what other people are saying.
Executive functioning issues: Children with executive functioning issues may have trouble sharing, taking turns, controlling emotions and accepting other viewpoints.
Nonverbal learning disabilities (NVLD): Kids with NVLD may miss social cues like body language, expression and tone of voice. They may not understand humor or sarcasm and may take what others say too literally.
Language disorders: Children with language disorders may not understand the rules of conversation or may have trouble finding the right words. They may avoid talking when around other kids.
Auditory processing disorder (APD): Kids with APD may miss the point of what others are saying, miss words in conversation or have trouble following the directions in games.
Trouble Making Friends: A Common Problem
Not every child with learning and attention issues struggles to make friends. For some kids, social skills are their strength! But if it’s a trouble spot for your child, he’s not alone. Kids with learning and attention issues often face social challenges. When compared with their peers, studies have shown they’re more likely to be:
- Poorly accepted by their peers
- Socially alienated from teachers and classmates
- Viewed by teachers as lacking social skills
- Not chosen to play or join in group activities
- Willing to conform to peer pressure
Kids can feel that they don’t “fit in” at school or at outside activities. They may even feel that way at home with siblings.
Kids with learning and attention issues can stand out sometimes. They may require additional time and attention from teachers, parents and others. They may call negative attention to themselves by asking inappropriate questions, seeming uninterested in other kids’ conversations, and interrupting or moving around a lot at the wrong times. Other kids may react badly or turn away.
How Friend Troubles Can Impact Your Child
Your child may be resilient and bounce back from social setbacks. Or he may enjoy spending a lot of time alone. But for many kids, difficulty making friends can have negative effects. It can hurt their self-esteem, wear down their confidence and keep them from trying new activities. They may feel self-conscious, sad, angry, helpless or hopeless.
It can be hard for kids to manage these intense feelings and find ways to cope. Encouraging your child to talk about his feelings can help him feel better about himself. Just knowing he can come to you for support and comfort can make a big difference.
Ways You Can Help
If your child feels his learning and attention issues are making him stand out, there are ways you can help. Talking to your child’s teacher is a good first step. The teacher may be able to find ways to put your child in positive group experiences or match him up with classmates who are more accepting and share his interests.
At home, you can work on changing the dynamic between your child and his siblings. You can also try to change the way you respond so your child isn’t singled out as much. And you can take steps to make social events like playdates, sleepovers and birthday parties more successful for your child.
If you see that your child is struggling with his emotions, you might want to consider counseling. Explore Parenting Coach, where you’ll find practical tips from experts on how to help your child fit in, interact with others and more. And learn more about how to help your child build communication skills, improve social cues and become more resilient. Strengthening those skills may give him the confidence to try new ways to connect with other kids.