3rd grader with very few friends

Seeking advice or words of wisdom in regards to my 3rd grader (8 year old). She has a strong personality- strong likes and dislikes and is very expressive about them (lots of big hugs and at other times stomping & frustration). She is an avid reader. She loves to be outdoors doing non structured activities - she can spend hours playing in the sand at the beach or collecting sticks, organizing them and making up creative stories. During recess she likes to play under a tree with dirt or mud while making up stories and games. Her writing and conversation skills are ok. When she wants to, she will ask lots of questions but isnt always keen on answering questions. Pre pandemic, I got minimal details about school. 

My worry is that she doesn't have many friends. She had a little group in preschool and in kinder there was more of the - the whole class to my bday party thing. In second grade, she identified a few friends she enjoyed while at school. If I asked if she wanted to invite someone over for a playdate, the answer was usually no. Pre pandemic we basically never received any invites either. Occasionally I would try to set something up (and still do although more strained that ever). I see girls her age sit in front of the zoom for 30-45 minutes and have a conversation. She is in a reading level group with another kid who is highly conversational and my daughter says a few words when asked. How worried should I be? I do realize some of this is my issue (worried she will feel alone, sad she doesn't have many friends etc). She doesnt seem to mind in the slightest. She does have a younger sister 1.5 years younger and they play for hours together. Our 3rd is 4 so our house is active. When we go places with the family, she interacts with other kids and seems to be happy. She and her sister are really sick of zoom and so if I reach out to friends to have them meet via zoom, she is only half interested and I am feeling like I am forcing it on her. Would you wait until she is ready to make for friends or continue to push the issue or accept her needs actually being met with casual friendships and sisterhood? Prior to the pandemic, she didn't really want to sign up for activities and when she finally agreed to try hip-hop there was only one other little girl in the class (plus her sister). I grew up having a best friend over constantly from kinder to 6th so I am trying to understand how different needs can be in terms of needs for friends.  Words of wisdom please.  - Worried mama

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I think the answer right now is her next youngest sister is her best friend. They're so close in age, it may well be the same post-pandemic, but see how it goes next year when (fingers crossed) they are back in physical school. I have a 10 yo girl who can and will spend hours on zoom chatting to one or two close friends but I don't know if she would have wanted to do that when she was 7 or 8. The girl packs seemed to solidify in 4th grade (upper grade, in our elementary school), and she got very tight with a couple of girlfriends and a larger group of 5-6. This dynamic may change post-COVID when many friendships have shifted.

I'll just add the couple of "strong personality" girls we knew in elementary school changed a bit from 3rd to 4th grade probably due to maturity and parental intervention. A couple tried very hard to modulate their behavior and be more likable to fit in with the pack. A couple went "underground" with manipulative/sneaky behavior to form a counter-pack (not that it sounds like your daughter). Girl dynamics are very interesting!

I would ask the teacher how she is doing socially. Hopefully the teacher knew her in person before zoom classes.

Then as long as there is no issue you don't know about (which teacher could tell you), let her be. She may be an introvert who likes people, but reenergizes by herself. She shouldn't feel that that is "wrong".

My child is exactly the same! We worry all the time. My husband is an introvert and doesn't "need" many friends while I'm an extrovert and they are my life line. 

Thus, I feel like you and worry about her. She has big feelings as does yours and can get angry with friends who she feels like are not playing fair or if she is "wronged" on the flip side she does go out of her way to be helpful and make presents for everyone in the family. She does have a younger brother and they play and fight for hours as well. She likes to play with boys more than girls. I have no answers for you and hope that she does find a "someone" in her peer group. 

I think you have a daughter that may have a strong sense of self, is securely attached and doesn’t need to follow the pack. A few quality friends is all one needs. Winning the popularity contest in school is actually not a goal one should seek. Imagine she was a teenager:

she has a few select friends

is ok with herself, enough that she doesn’t need the approval of a pack

I would recommend you read, “Hold on to Your Kids”, by Dr. Neufeld. It talks about how our culture pushes kids to “socialize”, and in that we risk them not fully maturing, being teens that follow the pack, and attachment to peers not parents. 

Hi! I never post here, but your message struck a chord. Your daughter sounds very, very much like my 8-year old daughter, who was just diagnosed this summer with high functioning autism. I am absolutely not suggesting that’s what you’re dealing with, but one thing this journey has taught me is that what may seem important to me - like having friends, or saying the socially appropriate thing - is not necessarily important to my daughter. She is very happy in what she loves - her little sisters, nature, birds, science, stuffies, school, playing random games with kids she’s just met in a park and never seeing them again - and her social awkwardness, indifference, and inflexibility are just a part of who she is. Since my daughter was diagnosed, we have succeeded in getting her an IEP, and she now has a group of terrifically supportive special ed teachers who work with her on managing her emotions, saying “good morning” and feigning interest in other people. But that work is mostly to help her learn how to make other people happy - she’s totally happy in who she is. I guess my broader message (since I want to reiterate I am not trying to suggest that your daughter might have HFA) is that unless it seems like your daughter’s social issues are making her unhappy or creating other issues, like in school or in terms of bullying, it’s okay to let her be who she is.

She sounds like a great kid! Everyone is different, and she seems happy and busy. I wouldn’t worry at all. 

Unless she seems unhappy because of not having more friend time I wouldn't worry about it. I was introverted as a child (still am) and my mother spent a lot of time trying to force friendships. It was generally counterproductive. As others have said, sister time is important (honestly maybe better to be developing the sister relationship than spending time with friends she will lose touch with when older anyway -- being a sister doesn't make them any less of a friend). And you seem to be creating some opportunities to interact with other kids if she wants that. You are smart to be thinking about these things and monitoring the situation because some kids truly are lonely. But it doesn't sound like your daughter is one of them. 

My daughter (only child) has a strong personality to put it mildly. She often would rather do her own thing than compromise to get along. In the “social thinking” world, I have been told this is not good. She would make friends easily but lose them quickly, too. It was hard to be her friend. 
Starting in 6th grade this changed! She still navigates friendships on her own terms but is loving zooming with friends and posting a bit on social media - Instagram, tiktok, getting likes. She also has a true BFF. 
Given that your kid can play for hours with a sibling I would not worry. Her most important relationship is still with you! 

Your description of your daughter sounds a lot like me when I was eight - except that I also found trees to climb and crawl spaces to spelunk when my caregiver grandmother was not looking.

There is one school of thought that says that certain people - adults and children - manifest a "driver" personality.  They simply don't want to be bothered with people who have different interests or are perhaps less smart. They are okay - temporarily - with not having close friends, until they find playmates who are truly engaging. In teachable moments, it would be good to coach social skills, if this were the case.  The really socially successful two-percenters seem to have an innate ability to take an interest in whoever they find themselves with.  I wonder if this skill can be taught?

At age eight, a girl is large enough, and probably coordinated enough, that she may want to take on an individual sport - gymnastics, martial arts, horseback riding.  That would be a way to meet like-minded kids.

I would also suggest that you also check out your local Scout troop. In our experience, Girl Scouts were the luck of the draw as to the quality of the program, but we hit the jackpot with our son's Boy Scout troop, which is now all-gender.  The structure of the program, the ability of a child to develop self-esteem by setting themselves modest goals and achieving them - we found it wonderful.

So... because it’s on my mind, as an adult woman discovering she probably has autism, this sounds a LOT like me as a kid. It might be worth considering, as recognizing what is going on and having words as a kid for why they were different and struggled with social stuff is something many late diagnosed adult women wish they had. (And if you’re not familiar with it,  autism, especially in girls, is VERY different than the stereotype).

But, either way, I’d try to really get a sense of whether it bothers her. Maybe, she’s actually happy on her own. Maybe, the girls at school aren’t very nice to her, (in my family’s experience, some girls get pretty mean for a while in 3rd grade) or she doesn’t know how to interact with them.

I wouldn’t push zoom though. We’re all zoomed out. Who wants to spend any more time on zoom than they have to? But, post-pandemic. I’d think about whether it’s lack of desire, or lack of skills/girls willing to be her friend, in considering what supports she needs.

I feel for you. We have an 8 year old daughter. It is impossible to make new friends while we are distance learning and avoiding human interaction. Her best friends are still her preschool friends. She made no real friend in K and we continued to keep up with preschool friends. She made a best friend in 1st grade, we were so happy! That friend moved to Portland. She made a couple of other decent friends and one moved to Sacramento and the other left for private school. I am sad that our daughter doesn’t have a good friend at school. But, we have worked very hard to keep up the preschool connections so that she continues to have some friends. It’s a little sad but now I try to gauge the likelihood of the family sticking around when I consider making efforts to build friendship. Many of her preschool friends have moved as well — Oregon, so cal, etc. This school year — no new friend. It’s a $!,&@“.’#%*^># year for us all. Chatting on zoom is really boring for young kids. My kid doesn’t participate in these chats either. My kid does like playing games online with a friend while having the zoom screen on the side. Nintendo switch has been fun but we also have played guess who or battle ship online. 

On the subject of strong personality... our child is vibrant and has strong opinions but is an extrovert who wants playmates. I have noticed a stark difference in my kids who are extroverts v introverts. Perhaps you can check in with your kid and see if she is lonely or wanting friends other than her sibling. She may be content with her social life. 

My girls are younger than yours, so I don't have advice as a parent.  But as an introverted child of an extroverted mother who often felt like I was disappointing or worrying my mom because I wasn't social enough - I'd recommend you try really hard to be understanding that children can have differing needs for friendship and socializing, and not to allow your daughter to sense your worry about this.  You should definitely continue to monitor the situation to see if there are more concerning problems with socialization, but simply the fact that she doesn't have the same number or intensity of friends you had at that age isn't a problem if she doesn't think it's a problem.  I'd focus on creating a safe and supportive environment for socializing and friend-making that does encourage her to push outside her comfort zone on occasion -- but too much pressure is not going to help. So follow her cues, especially if she seems otherwise happy -- occasion questions about whether she like you to set up a playdate or if she's like to join a new group are great (and if she has any tendency toward introversion or social anxiety, there may be an opportunity for you to take on some of the "hard" parts of organizing to set her up for success), but don't ask so often that she feels like she's disappointing you every time she says no. And please avoid any language like, "why don't you want to go play with your friends? It would be so much fun!"  That may just make her feel like something is wrong with her because she'd rather read or play outside.