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If your child is struggling to make friends, or if it seems like they’re a hermit who doesn’t have any real friends their age, parents are eager to help. Unfortunately, you can’t just go out and make a child’s friends for them. When parents become too actively involved and go about things with a heavy-handed approach, not only does this tactic seldom work, but it all too frequently backfires, making matters worse for their child. It’s totally uncool for any kid to have Mommy or Daddy micro-managing their affairs, and even young kids are sophisticated enough to form the connection that if adults have to work this hard to get other kids to be friends with a child, then there must be something seriously wrong and unlikeable about said child. Trying to pressure other kids to be friends with a child only makes that child even more unappealing as a friend.

The key to helping a child make friends is to remove any barriers that might be getting in the way and then facilitating the type of opportunities that will allow them to make friends on their own. Let’s start with the first step.

Potential barriers that impede a child’s ability to make friends

Some kids are naturally shy and reserved, and so helping them make friends is a simple matter of finding ways to coax them out of their shell. Other times, however, there may be specific impediments getting in the way of a child’s ability to make and keep friends. Here are some things to consider:

1. Does your child have behavioral or emotional problems? Sometimes kids struggle to make friends because they’re instigators whom other kids don’t like to be around. Would you want to be friends with a child who ruined your games or was apt to pitch a fit and hit you if they don’t get their way? Or one who was dark and depressed all the time and constantly bringing down the mood of everyone around them? Parents need to be honest with themselves about this, because if it’s an issue, your child won’t be able to make and keep friends until this problem is resolved. Your kid might need behavioral therapy or coaching to fix these issues. In the meantime, specialized play groups with kids in a similar predicament might work best, or have them iron out these issues in play sessions with extended family.

2. Are you working with your kids to help facilitate their social life? Parents who are especially strict can make it difficult for their child to make any friends. Teens, especially, are often hampered by parents who don’t allow their child to go to parties or hang out with peers in social gatherings. Super nosey parents can also cause other kids to avoid their child as a “narc,” someone dangerous to be around because their nosy parent might foil their plans and get them in trouble. Then they sit back and wonder why their child doesn’t seem to have any friends or why they’re not interested in the arranged friendships parents try to set up. Make sure your rules and attitudes are flexible enough to allow your child a social life.

3. Does your child fit in? Some kids can feel like a freak or black sheep at their school, sometimes through no fault of their own. This is especially true when kids have relocated from a different area and find that the mannerisms and/or interests of the kids around them are distinctively different from what they’re accustomed to. Kids may also be socially inept, setting them apart from peers. (What? MC Hammer cargo pants in a lightning pattern aren’t cool? Where was the memo!) If this is the case, you may need to work with your child to help them fit in (or be more bold and confident about being different). Sometimes simple things like fashion tips can go a long way.

4. I mean this in the least offensive way possible: Is there something about your family that your kid is deeply ashamed of? Some kids keep to themselves and actively avoid making friends because they’re afraid that if they get too chummy with other kids their peers at school will discover some deep dark secret they are hiding. This could be anything from living in a trailer park to having an alcoholic parent. These things may be impossible to change, but you can help your child learn to live with them better and understand that every family has flaws.

5. Stop embarrassing your kids! Of course, you, as a parent, are a profound embarrassment to your offspring by way of your very existence, but if your child is complaining about the things you do in public, listen to them. Many parents don’t realize that what they do or how they act in front of a child’s peers can play an active role in their children being shunned or bullied.

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