Kids' Friendships & Socializing

Parent Q&A

8 yr that suddenly doesn't like to be around younger kids Sep 16, 2019 (4 responses below)
How Can I Help My 3rd Grade Daughter Develop More Friendships? Nov 1, 2018 (6 responses below)
How do I help my shy 2nd grader make new friends? Jun 3, 2018 (7 responses below)
Boy with overprotective mom Dec 7, 2017 (1 responses below)
8 yr old boy sad about not having friends Jan 19, 2017 (18 responses below)
First grade son having trouble at recess Oct 18, 2016 (8 responses below)
  • My normally very sweet 8 year old has suddenly in the last few months, started to dislike playing with or being around younger kids.  She says they are "annoying," which of course may be the case, but she has such a determined negativity.  She wouldn't hurt anyone but does say mean things. Is this an age-related thing or is there something else going on?

    She's also gotten some negative attitude towards friendly classmates, that she would normally be (or has been) accepting of.

    Mom in Oakland

    Thanks for posting.  I am in a similar boat since last year and I thought things would be different in a larger classroom with more kids this year.  I'm not sure that the situation has improved for my 8 year old daughter who doesn't say she is annoyed, but she looks sufficiently annoyed at drop-off.  She easily gravitates towards slightly older or more mature children but it would be nice if she could show similar enthusiasm (or empathy?) towards her same-aged peers.  There is of course the occasional exception.

    what could appear to be anger could be masking as anxiety.  Watch her behavior and see how she is acting, she may be nervous and upset because of anxiety.  Sounds like she is suffering with emotions she cannot control.  It happened to my child.  We got her therapy and it helped.  Comfort her and take her away from the environment that is upsetting her.  She clearly is going through something.  Good luck 

    My oldest is just emerging from this stage (he turned 9 in May). We spent most of age 6, 7 and 8 in the mindset you described. At this point, it didn’t seem to be an extroversion/introversion nuance; he seemed to like one or two kids at a time and got “irritated” at his lack of being able to manage other behaviors, noises, rough housing, etc. What has helped him is holding his hand to show him it’s safe to be with himself and to focus on “fixing” or “improving” certain things he can control. Like, playing outside and building a treehouse and being in charge there.  At school, we drive home the idea that kids will do what they do - it’s not up to you to be bossy (he did attempt to be a boss for a few months) but to be an example of how you want to be. He chose to focus on getting a math award, which means he puts his efforts into working hard, specifically at math. A little success something goes a long way. When he fails, we tell him everyone around him is also failing and you have to get right back up, think about where the downfall was and try to do it a little bit better next time. Shifting the energy in these areas has helped tremendously. To this day, he can interact with more personalities but he is quietly choosy about who he’s friends with and I think that’s just fine.

  • My son AA tells me about his "mean friend" (BB) who threatens him with "I won't be your friend anymore if you don't...(usually it is only over a toy).  But this friend reduces him to tears by telling him that AA's best friend doesn't like him anymore, and prefers to be with BB (which is also a lie in addition to being mean).  They tease a mutual friend together and makes this friend cry (this is not what my son would ever do, w/o BB around).  After my son accidentally hit him with a  frisbee last week, he hit AA more than 9 times in the face.  My son told teachers and friends that he fell down instead!

    I don't think this is a healthy friendship and do not think BB is a kind friend.  I've been telling my son not to play with BB at recess, and wonder if this is inappropriate for a grown-up to do.  I worry that I am being a helicopter mom, that I'm intervening too much.  And it is difficult for other kids and parents to hear that ""AA's mom told him not to play with BB"

    But the alternative is to let my son continue to follow him around like a puppy when the friend is so unkind.  We will start karate lessons and playgroups to learn how to navigate friendships.  But what do I do now?

    You'll probably get a range of replies, but I would say it is TOTALLY appropriate to tell your kid to avoid a kid who is obviously a manipulative bully, outrageous! My kids are a bit older so I don't even have to tell them, by now they KNOW to avoid what my friend would call 'ugly' acting people. Do you hang out with people who are manipulative or verbally abusive? Of course not! So why wouldn't you advise your kid - who needs you help learning how to navigate the world (we are not born knowing how), to avoid people who are not kind? Go for it mama!

    Instead of telling your son not to play with a particular child, give your son tools to decide to do this himself. It's an important life lesson that I still struggle with as an adult. Ask him (and teach him to ask himself):

    -Does being with this friend make you feel good?

    -Is it OK for friends to hurt your feelings or body?

    -What are some things you can do instead of play with this friend?

    If your son can learn to come to his own decisions about friendships, he will be much better off than just doing what h thinks you want him to do.

    I think it's fine to talk to him about what's problematic about the relationship. The danger in saying you don't want him playing with the kid is what I saw with my son's friend. He was instructed not to play with a child at school. No surprise, he would lie. Now, the reasons were sillier than yours but don't set your kid up to want to keep info from you. Good luck!

  • I've been struggling the last few months seeing my daughter have ups and downs with her close friends at school. She had a best friend in preschool and they’re still friends but now go to different schools. She made a new best friend in Kindergarten but that friend left after second grade. Now there are a couple of girls my daughter is fairly close to in class, but sometimes I sense that she wants to be closer with one of them, but that girl seems to have drifted apart a bit from my daughter.

    I think in general I just want my daughter to have a best friend, or a couple of really close friends, and lately I’ve been worrying that she’s lonely. She’s an only child. Sometimes I think I’m just overthinking it but at times it really causes me anxiety to think she doesn’t have a close friend at school. I know the girls in her class can be a bit sassy sometimes, and my daughter is pretty sensitive. I’ve made several play dates with some of the girls in her class and I’ll plan to continue that. 

    I know she’s doing OK but if anyone has any advice on how I can help her or support her, I’d truly appreciate it:)

    Could have written this about my own third grade girl. I try to keep the lines of communication open with her about "friend issues", we read the nonfiction American Girl friendship guides together, and do occasional role-playing about how to reach out to new people. I try to actively discourage talk about one best friend and talk instead about "classroom friends", neighborhood friends, etc. I would like for her to do a team sport but she's really not interested; otherwise, that would be another route. My main goal is to not make it a big thing that she doesn't have a ton of friends, and trust that at some point she will click more with a small group.

    I can totally relate. Our DD lost her best friend in a terrible accident when they were 10 and since then I know she's longed for that kind of close relationship (as I did when I was her age) and I also feel it all very deeply for her. That said, it will be ok. She has some friends, one closer friend but still not quite that bestie thing yet, but I have no doubt as she navigates through life she will. Keep the communication open, sometimes we do overthink/overfeel for them and it's more about us, and sometimes not. It's also helpful to be involved in lots of activities (music, dance, scouts, etc). There are a couple of girl based groups in Berkeley that might be of interest to you (they regularly advertise on BPN). Mine is heading to high school and doing great, so just give it time!

    You are sensitive to what you think she is experiencing and you suspect she’s lonely. What has your daughter said to you? Has she been able to express what she is feeling and what she wants in friendships? If her best friend moves away, she’s “lost” her best friend. Maybe she’s wary of that. She may have a “friend needs” that are significantly different from yours. One thing you might try is to help provide additional arenas in which to cultivate friends. I found swim team to be wonderful because everyone swam together and cheered one another on and it was coed as well, so there was the opportunity to spend time with a diverse group of kids. Making friends outside of school is great as it expands the pool and lets children realize that school isn’t the only place for making new friends.  You might also suggest a planned outing with you—to the beach, Golden Gate Park, or to a movie and suggest she invite a friend. Sometimes that “specialness” helps spark a friendship. 

  • Some kids are lucky to be naturally outgoing.  I have a boy who is more shy and reserved, and has a more difficult time making friends in class.  Once he is completely comfortable with them, he is outgoing, fun, and very entertaining with his goofy sense of humor.

    Watching him from the outside, there are all these cliques of friends already formed for 2nd grade.  He has his own group of friends, but the dynamics are not very healthy (3 boys, always 1 is excluded), so I am encouraging him to find another group.

    How is this best/most efficiently achieved?  Through playdates?  We have done a bunch of those and are not excited to do a lot more because we do not have a lot in common with the other private school parents, and make mostly small talk.  Or afterschool classes?  Or should I sign him up for one of those social playgroups in SF that "teaches you how to platy"

    TIA

    I’m sorry but you absolutely have to host more play dates, stop judging the other parents, get to know them in depth, quit making small talk, and MODEL building friendships with a diverse group of people. This is the only way, and you need to work at it for the next 12 years. Sending him to an after school program or camp will not work and will certainly not work with the peer group he’s spending time with for the next few years, his classmates. Volunteer to help with school related projects - get involved and get to genuinely know people. He is modeling your own anxious, low self esteem, judgy behavior right now, and it will hurt him all his life. Invite the nicest family to dinner and make it a special evening. Then do it for the second nicest, and so on. Give your son (and yourself) the gift of being truly friends with a broad spectrum of folks - what an amazing gift for all of you.

    Playdates are really the best.  At this age, you can do drop-off playdates so you don't have to deal with the parents.  I have a first grader and usually drop off at someone's house or have a kid dropped off in mine.  Figure out which kids have personality that will match well with your son and arrange playdates for the kids.  I found out that I cannot control who my kids play with in school but can encourage closer friendships with the kids I like by doing frequent playdates with them.  I found that if I invite a kid for drop off playdate and offer to host the answer is almost always yes since the other parents are getting kid-free time or one less kid to worry about the an afternoon, etc and my son loves to have playmates his own age (he has younger siblings but loves playing with kids his age or older).   I usually monitor the playdate but don't get involved to see which boys are good influence on my boy and they are a good fit and invite those over more often.  After school activities rarely help unless they are large groups or you do activities afterwards in smaller groups since the focus is on the class activities and the groups at this age are large enough that no friendships are formed during the class. 

    You might consider reaching out to his teacher and ask their help to make a good friend match. Also, try new activities and he might meet like minded friends there. Good luck!

  • I am wondering whether I am worried about nothing. I have a 7yo son, "Adam" that became very good friends with another boy named "Leo" in kindergarten. Towards the end of the year, I became uncomfortable with their friendship they became too co-dependent--instead of playing with a group of boys as he previously did, my son now only played exclusively with Leo, just the 2 of them. We used to carpool with Leo, and when we couldn't, Leo had stomach aches and cried. When their playdates ended, the boys cried, even though they see each other at school every day.

    I stopped the carpools and requested that the boys be separated in 1st grade. My son now has made new friends and is able to play with different groups of boys at recess. Leo is in the other class, and now plays exclusively with another boy, "Eddie", just the 2 of them, even though my son routinely invites them to play with the group.  They now cry when their playdates end. When Eddie is sick and not at school, my son pulls away from his other friends to play with Leo "because he doesn't have anyone else."  When Eddie does join in play with the other boys, Leo would ask him throughout recess, "Are you still my friend?"

    Of course, Eddie's parents have requested that their son separated from Leo in 2nd grade. The teachers will put Adam and Leo will be back in the same class again next year because Leo needs more emotional support. How do I teach my son kindness, to play with and include everyone, but also not be sucked into such an intense friendship with Leo and be isolated from the rest of the class again? I had sleepless nights last year when we cut off carpools/playdates with Leo's family, because I worried that I would hurt Leo. But I also do not want my son to be the social emotional solution for Leo for the next 8 years. Please help me do the right thing for both kids. 

    I hope that Leo will grow out of this, but it might not be soon.  He is the one that cries when it is too loud at lunch, when the boys are too boisterous in PE.  When I comment to his parents that the boys need to branch out more, they even more playdates with Adam, because "they do not want to break up the friendship".

    I'm likely not a nice person, but I would request that my son not be in the same class as Leo.  A second grader is not mature enough to handle the pressure of another kid who is constantly depended on him for entertainment and uses emotional manipulation (which I view to include asking if he is still his friend the moment he plays with other boys, even if unintentional).  If Leo needs more emotion support than the teachers can provide it or the kids can play together in recess, but it should not be the job of a second grader to serve that role.  If your son does end up in the same class as Leo, I would make sure that you son is not isolated from other friends either by asking for teacher's help in that (your son gets at least 1-2 recess a week where he plays with other friends) or at least by scheduling regular playdates with other kids in his class.  Leo needs support and is beyond nice of you to allow your son to serve in that role, but as a second grader he is still a kid and in my view it is your job as a mother to make sure that serving in that role does not come at a cost of his own emotional well being and friendships with other kids.  

    P.S. I likely feel stronger about this than most since I was in a similar position to Adam and Eddie in elementary with a friend who attached herself to me (like Leo in your question), and I'm beyond grateful to my parents for extracting me from that situation (they moved me to another class/recess period mid-year) and allowing me the freedom to play with many other kids and not have another child following me around and crying every time I wanted to play with someone else or do something else and making me feel guilty and like a "bad-friend" for even expressing an interest to play with other kids.  At the time I thought it was fine and that she just really liked playing with me but looking back as an adult I see that relationship was not healthy and my emotional and social well being in school improved drastically after I was separated from that friend. 

    I feel for you and for all of the kids involved. As a child, I often asked my best friend in elementary school if we were still best friends at random times, usually when I was feeling particularly insecure. I was a worrier and my insecurities got the best of me at times. I agree it wasn't my best friend's responsibility to provide me with emotional support and stability, and she often told me that she wouldn't be my best friend if I kept asking. That was usually enough to keep me at bay for a while. Eventually, I did grow out of this and she and I were very good friends until she was held back and we were no longer in the same grade. I say all of this, not to suggest that you just wait it out, but to share that I can relate somewhat. Has your son ever let "Leo" know that he doesn't want to play with him when he acts certain ways? That seemed to work in my case though the message needed to be delivered more than once. Perhaps there are things going on at home for "Leo" that are influencing his singular attachments? Lot's of possibilities, but at the end of the day, I totally agree that your son deserves an environment that is freeing and joyful. Hopefully the summer break will help. Lots can change in a few months. 

    Your post resonated with me. I can empathize as you try to deal with this difficult situation in a compassionate way. Parenting is hard. 

    My kid (call them G) had (has?) a friend relationship like that. They met in middle school, so they were a bit older than the "Leo/Adam" dyad, but the dynamics were very similar. G's friend (call them H) just had a lot of emotional immaturity. H wanted to hang out with G all the time, and got jealous when G spent time with anyone else. It was hard for G to learn how to navigate boundaries with H, and we had a lot of talks about G's responsibility to their on personal space, as well as being kind to H. At the time, G was seeing a counselor (for other issues) who helped G sort through their feelings. After they entered high school, H felt abandoned by G as they developed new relationships, and there were hard feelings. Right now they seem to have worked it out, although they have mostly drifted apart. 

    I think it's common for kids to attach themselves to people who will enable them. In my kid's case, this has come up a few times but not so extreme as it was in middle school. My kid ended up playing the role of "counselor/therapist" for their friends and it compounded the problem. It was very helpful for my kid to have someone else to talk to about what was going on, and to recognize patterns in their own behavior so they can make good decisions about their relationships.  Group therapy, or social skills classes, would benefit your kid as well "Leo," for different reasons. These are great lessons to learn about co-dependency, interdependency, setting boundaries, and compassion and kindness. Since the kids in your case are young, obviously these terms are a little out of their developmental understanding, but they can certainly start to work on the same concepts. If you have a trusted and knowledgeable teacher or administrator you can ask for advice, please do so. I'm sure they've seen this sort of stuff a lot. Best of luck!

  • Boy with overprotective mom

    (1 reply)

    My son has a boy in his class with a very protective mom.  Basically every time the boy has a conflict with another kid or gets hurt (even if just accidentally during playtime) she insists that her boy is a victim and the other kid is hurting her kid (the word bullying is thrown around a lot too!!!) and that the other kid needs to be separated from her son and not play with him.  The teachers are going along with it.  My son told me this week that this boy has nobody to play with during recess -- at this point the list of kids who are not allowed to play with him is over half of the class and includes most of the boys (I believe all except for 4 boys).  My son was added to the list a few months ago because the other boy fell and skinned his knee during a game of chase and tag at recess when my son was chasing him. I remember the teacher telling me about it and said my kid is not punished but he cannot play with the other boy because of his mom's wishes. I really feel bad for that boy.  My son is saying that he is not allowed to play with any of his prior friends and is constantly told to go play with the girls or some of the boys not on the list but he likes active play and the kids not on his no-play list usually don't engage in it.  I know this is not my problem and my son has plenty of friends to play with, but is there something I can do except just making sure the teacher is aware of it -- though I cannot see how she can not see this is going on.  I told my son that I know he feels bad for the boy and I do too but I don't want him to get in trouble and so until the teacher says otherwise he is not allowed to play with this kid since I don't want him to get punished if the boy gets hurt accidentally during play with him or if the teacher sees and decided to say something.  Any advice?  This situation is beyond ridiculous and I cannot believe the school let it get this bad.   

    RE: Boy with overprotective mom ()

    You are very kind for wanting to fix this. I would too. Maybe someone could suggest that the mom observe what's going on at school for a while and see how her son is being impacted? I doubt that talking to her will help much but maybe if she was watching (without her son knowing that she's watching) she'll see that her policies are harming her son. It would also help for her to see how the kids interact with each other on the playground and the lack of overt bullying.

    What a sad story. Maybe she reads this newsletter and will recognize the problems that she's causing for her son. Kids get hurt all the time. It's really not a big deal.

  • 8 yr old boy sad about not having friends

    (18 replies)

    My son is an only child and is sensitive.  He is very caring and funny but he has trouble making friends.  And since he is sensitive, kids tend to tease him and his feelings get hurt pretty easily which probably makes the situation worse.  He did have a best friend but they are growing apart.  His friend is noticing girls and my son is still just interested in playing.....this is also causing him heartache as he feels his friend doesn't like him anymore.

    He has told me that he feels useless and that no one likes him and that his life is hard and he doesn't want to be alive.  I do not know what to tell him or how to help him.  

    What have others done to help their kids?

    Advice is greatly appreciated---it just break my heart that he doesn't have a good friend and is so sad about this.

    Maybe try some activities outside of school, such as dance, ice skating, soccer, baseball, swimming, to try to make different groups of friends. Also, perhaps he could accept that friends have other friends, too? Like tree branches or something, just because he is exclusively friends with someone doesn't mean they are exclusive with him, however are still friends.

    Hi,
    My son just turn to toddler.. but I am sad about what you mention and is sound like how I grow up (feel like everyone don’t like me, not the popular girl type)…
    Try to bring him to church! This helps a lot…
    even my son is just 20 months, I can tell he is different than kids don’t go to church, not shy, care on small thing (when he see trash on the floor he will pick him up and throw away), and he is willing to play with other kids too, laugh a lot for many small thing

    My oldest is 13 and has always had social problems. There are social skills classes and camps (probably lots of recommendations here on this board) which can help him with his confidence. But basically you have to find him groups outside of school. Sports, theatre, art, doesn't matter what it is but anything to get him around kids his own age. 

  • First grade son having trouble at recess

    (8 replies)

    My first grade son has been having challlenges at recess.  He says all his friends just want to play ball sports (four square, wall ball and the like) and they are telling him he's not very good. And he is somewhat uncoordinated for this age. We are trying to help him develop some new strategies (find a new friend who wants to play the games you are interested in, etc) but he's resistant, and sad. Ideas?

    Does your school have Playworks coaches? Playworks is a nonprofit in Oakland that provides playground coaches to teach the kids good social skills along with a wide variety of games for every level. In my opinion, it is a better anti-bullying program than any of the dedicated anti-bullying programs I have seen. I recommend them highly - they can help your kid get better at stuff and encourage other kids to be kinder. It's hard to direct this stuff from home. 

    Go after school or over the weekend and practice the games with your son so he can develop skills needed to enjoy recess with the friends he is spending the most time with. Bring a few friends (his/yours) to help you with practice to provide a neutral balance so it'll be more fun (not just a parent thing, but a group experience, I think will boost his confidence overall).

    Could you get onto the school grounds on the weekends and practice those games with him?  It might be less stressful to learn how to do the games in a parent-led setting, than to try to find kids to make friends with who don't play the games.  Playground games are relatively easy to master IF the child can play them frequently.  Also, in a 1st - 3rd grade recess, you could suggest that the yard duty teacher make one court a 1st & 2nd grade court and another court the 3rd grade court.