Wednesday 29 May 2019

How to help when your child says they have no-one to play with

I am really excited to share this guest post with you, from a child expert whose books I am currently avidly reading as they sound essential for any parent and will hopefully help us navigate a tricky phase and some tough situations that are coming up with Ethan now he has turned six (full reviews to follow soon)...

Guest Post by Tanith Carey, Author of new book: 

‘The Friendship Maze: How to help your child navigate their way to positive, happier friendships.’

At primary school, every child will come home at some stage and tell you: ‘I had no one to play with today’.

At secondary school too, there will also come a time when your child is upset that they havent been invited to a party or get-together.  
And for a parent, desperate to protect your son or daughter from hurt, it can fill you with panic about what to  say. 

After all, until now, we tended to believe that there was little we could do from the other side of school gates to help our kids when they have friendship issues, even though it’s one good social relationship are one of the key pillars of a child’s self-esteem.

The good news is that there’s  now a growing body of research, set out in my new book: ‘The FriendshipMaze’ which will finally help you interpret what’s really going on in your child’s social life – and work out how best to help them at times like these. 

So how should you handle these moments? 

First of all, when your child comes home saying this, work out what’s behind it: All children have ups and down in friendships. It’s known as normal social conflict and up to a point, all youngsters will have to learn to weather it. 

But if your child says they are being excluded a lot, over weeks or even months, it may be a sign that either they are being deliberately left out  – or they need more help to learn more social skills to make and keep friends.

First let’s look at what to say if they are being pushed out of  their existing group of friends – and the possible reasons why.

As harsh though it sounds, one reason may that one of the more influential members of the gang– usually the child with the most social status or power - may be redrawing the lines of the clique – and your child is on the other side.

There could be a  range of reasons for this. They may view you child as a rival for seniority in the group, believe they have crossed them in some way, or feel they havent stuck to the unwritten rules of the gang, which could be something as simple as liking or wearing something different to the rest of the group.

Another possible reason is that your child has been trying too hard to fit in and is now seen as the wannabe who is easiest to target.

First of all, give lots of support and listen carefully. This is taking place within the social microcosm of school from which your child feels there is no escape. 

The fear of being visibly alone at break or lunch may be so great that your child may physically dread going to school each morning.

Next, lend your child your adult perspective. Children don’t have the life experience to realise that how it is for them today, is not how it will always be. Young people also have a tendency towards black and white, catastrophic thinking, which will mean that being left out by their friends, feels like the end of the world.
So talk about the times you were left out at school, you had fall-outs with your mates and how that isolation didn’t last forever.
Furthermore, to help them understand what has happened, explain how girls’ cliques and boys’ gangs work.
Researchers have found that whenever humans form groups they assign each other roles. In girls’ cliques, it can be anything from Queen Bee, to Sidekick, Messenger , Target,  Gossip and Wannabe,  all positions I discuss in my book. In boys’ gangs, it may be Ringleader, The Sidekick, The Bouncer, or the Punch Bag.
When you help your child work out where they fit in, they will realise that getting  left out is mostly to do with politics within the group, not how likeable they are.

Rather than hang around waiting to re-admitted, it may also be time to help your child to move on. Be supportive in your efforts to help them find new friends and set up dates with others who might be open to an approach.
Make sure your child sees their mates outside school too, so they know they are still accepted and liked beyond the fraught social hierarchy that grows up in classrooms.
Make some effort to set aside one-on-one time with them too – so your child feels both loved and valued by you when they are likely to be feel very rejected Remember you were their first friend and your child will get the main messages about how likeable they are directly from you.
But could there be other reasons you child might be left out?
If you think they are having trouble making friends in the first place, you may have to look at a different set of possible reasons – as well as solutions.
Deeply painful as it for parents to recognise, it may because your child is viewed to be ‘annoying’  or ‘weird’ by other kids in their year group.
This is possibly because they are not reading other children’s social cues quickly enough – or no  responding in a way that other kids expect. This can make their peers feel uncomfortable and uncertain. 
If this is the case, you may already suspect that your child has more trouble relating to others. They may seem more comfortable with adults for example, seem a little awkward with youngsters their own age or not always know how to see the appropriate thing.
Until now, it’s long assumed that some children are just naturally good at forming these bonds, and others aren’t.
However, the other good news is that there’s now a more up-do-date approach, outlined in my book, that shows that if a child finds friendships hard, they can actively be taught the skills to make them easier.
The research has found that, in the same way as children with dyslexia find it harder to make sense of the letters on the page, some children find it harder to read facial expressions and body language.
But by making them more consciously aware of how other kids expect them to behave, and of the to and fro’s that makes for a good friendship, they are more likely to be included by other children.
Having said that, it’s important to intervene as soon as possible. As they get older children who tend to get left on the sidelines can grow further away from their peers . The rejection can make them more withdrawn and less confident, making it more difficult for them to slot back in.
A few of the methods I describe in my book to improve friendship skills include   giving them practice reading facial expressions and body language by turning off the sound on a TV drama - and asking your child to guess what the characters are thinking and how they would respond.
Spend more time chatting with them at meal-times and practicing the to-and-fro of normal conversation so they learn to listen well and respond appropriately. Role play social interactions with their toys and  talk to them about how to join in by turning their body towards the group  they want to play with and suggesting fun ways of making the game better.
As a parent, of course it’s difficult not to be affected by the hurt our children feel when they have friendship issues.
But with the help of ‘The Friendship Maze’, I hope your child will know how to navigate some of these tricky spots more easily and find their way to more harmonious social relationships.

Find more ways help your child in ‘The Friendship Maze: How to helpyour child navigate their way to positive and happier friendships’, price £10.99, published by Summersdale.


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