Why doesn’t my child have any friends? This is a painful question to ask yourself. If your child doesn’t get invited places or have anyone to hang out with, it can be hard not to wonder—and worry.
Making and keeping friends is a skill. If kids struggle with it, it might not have anything to do with personality. It doesn’t mean your child isn’t likeable or funny. It may just mean your child needs a hand building social skills.
Learn why making friends is a challenge for some kids, and how you can help.
Making friends is a skill.
Friendship is a big part of life. But that doesn’t mean making friends comes naturally to everyone. The ability to make and keep friends is a skill that has to be learned. It’s trickier than it seems. It involves things like:
Starting a conversation and keeping it going
Responding to social cues
Interacting in a positive way
Listening and understanding what others are saying
For many kids, making friends comes easily because they have these social skills. Or they build them quickly as they get older. But some kids take longer. That’s especially true for kids who learn and think differently.
For example, some kids get too nervous or anxious to talk to other kids. If a conversation never starts, then a friendship is hard to come by.
If they do join a conversation, they might have trouble coming up with things to talk about. Or they may start talking about something the other kids aren’t interested in, and not notice that the other kids are tuning out.
It’s hard to bond, too, if you don’t understand social rules. For example, there are natural pauses in conversations that help us take turns talking. Some kids barrel through these or interrupt. Even if it’s not on purpose, the result is the same: Other kids can’t get a word in.
You also have to take part in the conversation in a positive way. If kids are too blunt, for instance, it can seem like rudeness or pushiness. You also have to follow what others say and respond not only to spoken words, but to how things are said. That means noticing things like body language and tone of voice.
Keep in mind that even if kids have the skills to make friends, it’s possible they haven’t met the right people yet. Friendship is often based on common interests. If your child is different in some way, or gets singled out, that can make other kids shy away.
Differences can come from not only how a child looks or dresses, but also a child’s situation in school. Unfortunately, kids might get labeled or even bullied if they get pulled out of class for special instruction. It’s possible that kids who are quirky or who don’t “fit in” just haven’t had the chance for friendship.
You can help your child get better at making friends.
Most kids really want to have friends, and they may need to learn the skills to do so. If you explain this to your child, you may find that your child is excited to try a new approach.
Start by talking together about how your child is feeling. Try to pinpoint where your child is struggling. Is it with starting a conversation? If so, work on building conversation skills. If you struggle making conversation yourself, maybe ask an outgoing friend or loved one to help out.
Or maybe the challenge is reading other people. In that case, help your child work on picking up social cues. If your child is seen as awkward, talk about personal space.
Some kids struggle with more than one skill, so you may need to work on a few things. Try role-playing social situations. Practice is important. If your child is on the younger side, try to find time for your child to interact with other kids.
You don’t have to do all of this alone. Lots of schools offer “lunch bunch” activities or buddy systems to make sure kids connect with each other. You can also ask your child’s teacher for support on helping your child make friends in school.
You can introduce your child to different kids who have similar interests. You may need to branch out to find kids on the same wavelength as your child. If your child loves comics, maybe there’s a bookstore or library with a reading group. Be open to online forums and friendships too, but make sure to closely monitor them.