Middle school can be a tough social adjustment for many kids. But tweens with learning and attention issues can feel particularly lonely and out of step. They may not have the social skills to keep up with old friends. Classmates insecure about their own self-image may be not want to be seen with those who are considered “different.” Here are six ways you can reach out and help.
Observe your child away from home.
Offer to help run the concession stand at the middle school basketball game. Chaperone a school activity. Notice whether kids pay attention to your child and if she has someone to sit with.
Are there activities where she seems more comfortable? This information will give you an idea of what’s happening in her world and where she might need some support.
Avoid direct questioning.
“Don’t you have anyone to eat lunch with?” will most likely just make her uncomfortable. Instead, schedule one-on-one time together. Window-shop, take a run, go to a beading store and string necklaces.
As conversation unfolds, you’ll learn more about what’s happening. Then you might gently problem-solve with her. You could say something like, “I noticed how much you enjoyed being part of the class play. Do you think you’d like to join the drama club?”
Reach out at school.
Speak with the guidance counselor (and case manager, if your child has an IEP or 504 plan). Ask for their impression of how your child is doing. You can also ask if there’s a teacher your child connects with. If so, perhaps that teacher could take her under his wing. Having a “touchstone” person to talk to can make a big difference for a lonely child.
Help your child play up what she’s good at.
Perhaps she’s always discovering new apps or she loves to try new recipes. Together, figure out if there’s a way to translate that ability into a skill that would give her some positive attention at school.
Maybe your child can bring in Italian desserts to enhance a lesson on the Renaissance. If your child can get recognition from her peers that she has something to offer, they may look at her in a new way.
Encourage her to find alternate social circles.
There’s a whole world of social opportunities beyond those middle school walls. And somewhere there’s a place where she can feel she belongs. Perhaps it’s a local jazz school where she can shine with her saxophone. Or a nearby rock climbing gym where she can hang out with other “offbeat” athletes while others are out playing baseball and soccer.
Make sure she’s using the Internet to her advantage.
Many children with learning and attention issues find it easier to have conversations online than in real life. This can help reduce their sense of isolation.
At the same time, other people’s social media posts can make a child all too aware of the fun get-togethers that she wasn’t included in. Kids who are lonely may also be vulnerable to online predators.
With a gentle approach, parents can help their tweens find a way to connect with others and to enjoy their own company. Learn more about what parents can do to help widen a child’s social circle. And if your child will be entering middle school, learn about how to make her transition easier.