Fifth grader has few friends

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  October 26, 2012 06:00 AM

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My son is in 5th grade, he's smart, hyper active, and very insecure. Since he started 5th grade, he hasn't been able to make friends. He plays soccer in recess but doesn't have a set of friends. How do I help him make friends?

From: Liz, Fresno, CA

Dear Liz,

1. Ask yourself this: Is he unhappy, or are you projecting that he's unhappy, based (perhaps?) on your own childhood or on your expectation of what childhood should be? All any kid really needs is one friend.

2. Make an appointment to talk to the teacher. I always recommend face-to-face, not email, and ask her how he's doing socially: What is his/her perception of where and how he fits into the social fabric of the class? You want to find out from her what the dynamics are in the classroom. Sometimes, there's a rough-and-tumble group of boys who dominate. Your son may not be one of them, but that doesn't mean there isn't someone he hangs out with or gravitates toward who's a candidate for being a friend but who is equally unable to make an overture. Ask the teacher to place your son on a continuum of not social to very social: where does he fit in, and how? Teachers generally have opinions about these things but they are careful not to share them unless asked. By opening up the subject, you may not only gain some concrete info but also a partner in helping your son.

3. Are there activities outside of school that might appeal to him -- karate, art, film-making, skiing, scouting -- where he could meet a new potential friendship group? Is there some event you know he would like? Can you suggest inviting someone along?

4. Read this book: "Best friends, worst enemies, Understanding the Social Lives of Children," by Michael Thompson.

Keep in mind that once kids move into middle school, there are more activities and more peers to choose from.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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10 comments so far...
  1. I would check to see if your son might have Asperger's Syndrome.

    Posted by Ed Hall October 26, 12 02:03 PM
  1. Does he have "few" friends or "no" friends? There is a difference, especially for boys. Boys don't make friends as easy as girls at this age but the friends they make can last them a lifetime.

    I went through school with a group of 2 or 3 friends and everything was fine. However, if he has no friends at all, then you should ask yourself is he painfully shy? Does he have non-school friends? If he does, then the lack of school friends is ok.

    One thing you may not want to hear is that you can't really help him make friends. All you can do is support him and nudge him in the right direction

    Posted by Paul October 26, 12 03:08 PM
  1. Some kids just aren't herd animals. If he has adequate social skills (he can get along with the kids even if they aren't "friends" by your definition) then don't worry about it so much. I'd ask the teacher if there is something he is doing that puts people off, not that being mean to him would be OK but is HE easy to get along with? You need to meet people halfway.

    The last thing he needs is Mom arranging friendships for him. Arrange some opportunities.

    And for every letter like yours, there is another one from a mom who worries that her kid follows the pack too much and isn't independent enough.

    Posted by di October 26, 12 03:13 PM
  1. Sounds like the mother is the problem, not the child.

    Posted by SophmoreCamelCharlestown October 26, 12 09:07 PM
  1. My son had a hard time making friends too. I took it upon myself to observe his social interactions whether we were at the park or at home. I even started going to pick him up from school about half an hour earlier just so I could peek and observe how he was interacting without him seeing me. Then I realized it had to do with alot of confidence issues. I got him into karate which is a proven activity for picking up self confidence and it did really help spike the confidence up. I also got him into a private soccer team where he had more practice time with other kids and the coach. I limited TV, computer and time he spend doing individual things. All this time I just did things naturally to help him pick up his confidence and things have improved dramatically. We'll he's not exactly a social butterfly but his confidence is firm and he now has enough friends at school and in every activity.
    www.beantownmom.com

    Posted by chisy October 27, 12 02:54 PM
  1. Set up playdates- lots and lots of playdates. Be bold and go straight to the mom (when I say be bold I mean- just ask away) E-mail the mom's directly- invite them over at the same time if they want to come for champagne or offer to do the whole drop off pick up thing.
    DO NOT tell the play date moms or any of the kids why you are asking (that your kids is having trouble)- Just ask. Then make the playdates rock- make them over the top awesome. If you have a local trip that can make it awesome do that- bake cookies- take them out for ice cream- let them have a giant toliet paper fight in the backyard (PROMISE IT WILL BE THE HIT). Do playdates with almost every boy in the class- follow it up the following week with the ones you kid is hitting it up with. I did the same thing with my son after getting the advice from a family member and it has worked- he is now in this cute little click of 3 boys- I had to act like the "cool mom" and let them kind of run wild so he would have the "cool house" -promise the toliet paper in your backyard will do it alone! Water Ballon fight with paint colors (lend the playdates old clothes)- go over the top.

    Also- make friends with the moms, but this is no guarantee and they can still stab you in the back or not invite your kid because of what their kids want. Finally make sure you are signing up for the popular town extracurriculars. It's a lot of work- I had about 3 weeks with playdates at least 3 days a week and on Saturdays with my husband, (and I work full time) but it was worth it- after a 6 weeks at school my son has a little set of friends and is in the mix of things.

    Posted by Meredith October 27, 12 07:17 PM
  1. Yikes, sophomore camel - on what do you base your conclusion that the mother is the problem? You must know something the rest of us don't, since there's nothing in her letter that suggests any such thing.

    Posted by alien57 October 29, 12 05:59 PM
  1. At second reading I focused on the words "hyperactive and insecure." Could he, when he is not under observation, be acting in ways that make others want not to be friends with him? Has his teacher talked to playground monitors, lunch monitors, etc, about this?

    One of the problems with teacher contracts specifying that other people (mostly non-teachers) be hired to supervise children at lunch/recess/gym/music/art means that teachers sometimes do not observe a child's "downtime" behaviors and can miss problems that do not show in the classroom. And those who do observe the problems may not realize that intervvention is needed (boys will be boys!) or do not feel that their suggestions and observations will be supported by teachers/administrators.

    Posted by Dixie Lee October 30, 12 02:05 PM
  1. Is he diagnosed "hyperactive" or psychologically diagnosable overly "insecure" or is mom projecting? I think that's where the idea is coming in that it may be the mom's image rather than anything the kid is or is not doing, that she's setting up a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    As for being carnival mom to bribe kids to be your kid's friend, then acting hurt when not every mom thinks you walk on water...is that a put-on?

    If not, he's the ringleader because he is their sugar dealer? OK, when he's 17 and they expect him to bring the beer come back and let us know how that's working out.

    And it's "clique" not "click" and just like Trix are for kids, "cliques" are for girls and are generally considered to be a bad thing.

    Posted by di October 30, 12 05:32 PM
  1. Whoa Whoa Whoa!! Asperger's Syndrome? Is it a symptom? Yes, it CAN be. It doesn't mean that it is. LW do not have him evaluated based solely on this, unless you see other factors that worry you. Some kids simply have harder times than others making friends.

    Posted by jd October 31, 12 01:52 PM
 
10 comments so far...
  1. I would check to see if your son might have Asperger's Syndrome.

    Posted by Ed Hall October 26, 12 02:03 PM
  1. Does he have "few" friends or "no" friends? There is a difference, especially for boys. Boys don't make friends as easy as girls at this age but the friends they make can last them a lifetime.

    I went through school with a group of 2 or 3 friends and everything was fine. However, if he has no friends at all, then you should ask yourself is he painfully shy? Does he have non-school friends? If he does, then the lack of school friends is ok.

    One thing you may not want to hear is that you can't really help him make friends. All you can do is support him and nudge him in the right direction

    Posted by Paul October 26, 12 03:08 PM
  1. Some kids just aren't herd animals. If he has adequate social skills (he can get along with the kids even if they aren't "friends" by your definition) then don't worry about it so much. I'd ask the teacher if there is something he is doing that puts people off, not that being mean to him would be OK but is HE easy to get along with? You need to meet people halfway.

    The last thing he needs is Mom arranging friendships for him. Arrange some opportunities.

    And for every letter like yours, there is another one from a mom who worries that her kid follows the pack too much and isn't independent enough.

    Posted by di October 26, 12 03:13 PM
  1. Sounds like the mother is the problem, not the child.

    Posted by SophmoreCamelCharlestown October 26, 12 09:07 PM
  1. My son had a hard time making friends too. I took it upon myself to observe his social interactions whether we were at the park or at home. I even started going to pick him up from school about half an hour earlier just so I could peek and observe how he was interacting without him seeing me. Then I realized it had to do with alot of confidence issues. I got him into karate which is a proven activity for picking up self confidence and it did really help spike the confidence up. I also got him into a private soccer team where he had more practice time with other kids and the coach. I limited TV, computer and time he spend doing individual things. All this time I just did things naturally to help him pick up his confidence and things have improved dramatically. We'll he's not exactly a social butterfly but his confidence is firm and he now has enough friends at school and in every activity.
    www.beantownmom.com

    Posted by chisy October 27, 12 02:54 PM
  1. Set up playdates- lots and lots of playdates. Be bold and go straight to the mom (when I say be bold I mean- just ask away) E-mail the mom's directly- invite them over at the same time if they want to come for champagne or offer to do the whole drop off pick up thing.
    DO NOT tell the play date moms or any of the kids why you are asking (that your kids is having trouble)- Just ask. Then make the playdates rock- make them over the top awesome. If you have a local trip that can make it awesome do that- bake cookies- take them out for ice cream- let them have a giant toliet paper fight in the backyard (PROMISE IT WILL BE THE HIT). Do playdates with almost every boy in the class- follow it up the following week with the ones you kid is hitting it up with. I did the same thing with my son after getting the advice from a family member and it has worked- he is now in this cute little click of 3 boys- I had to act like the "cool mom" and let them kind of run wild so he would have the "cool house" -promise the toliet paper in your backyard will do it alone! Water Ballon fight with paint colors (lend the playdates old clothes)- go over the top.

    Also- make friends with the moms, but this is no guarantee and they can still stab you in the back or not invite your kid because of what their kids want. Finally make sure you are signing up for the popular town extracurriculars. It's a lot of work- I had about 3 weeks with playdates at least 3 days a week and on Saturdays with my husband, (and I work full time) but it was worth it- after a 6 weeks at school my son has a little set of friends and is in the mix of things.

    Posted by Meredith October 27, 12 07:17 PM
  1. Yikes, sophomore camel - on what do you base your conclusion that the mother is the problem? You must know something the rest of us don't, since there's nothing in her letter that suggests any such thing.

    Posted by alien57 October 29, 12 05:59 PM
  1. At second reading I focused on the words "hyperactive and insecure." Could he, when he is not under observation, be acting in ways that make others want not to be friends with him? Has his teacher talked to playground monitors, lunch monitors, etc, about this?

    One of the problems with teacher contracts specifying that other people (mostly non-teachers) be hired to supervise children at lunch/recess/gym/music/art means that teachers sometimes do not observe a child's "downtime" behaviors and can miss problems that do not show in the classroom. And those who do observe the problems may not realize that intervvention is needed (boys will be boys!) or do not feel that their suggestions and observations will be supported by teachers/administrators.

    Posted by Dixie Lee October 30, 12 02:05 PM
  1. Is he diagnosed "hyperactive" or psychologically diagnosable overly "insecure" or is mom projecting? I think that's where the idea is coming in that it may be the mom's image rather than anything the kid is or is not doing, that she's setting up a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    As for being carnival mom to bribe kids to be your kid's friend, then acting hurt when not every mom thinks you walk on water...is that a put-on?

    If not, he's the ringleader because he is their sugar dealer? OK, when he's 17 and they expect him to bring the beer come back and let us know how that's working out.

    And it's "clique" not "click" and just like Trix are for kids, "cliques" are for girls and are generally considered to be a bad thing.

    Posted by di October 30, 12 05:32 PM
  1. Whoa Whoa Whoa!! Asperger's Syndrome? Is it a symptom? Yes, it CAN be. It doesn't mean that it is. LW do not have him evaluated based solely on this, unless you see other factors that worry you. Some kids simply have harder times than others making friends.

    Posted by jd October 31, 12 01:52 PM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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