by Dr. Marian C. Fritzemeier, Ed.D. © 2014
The good news for parents is about 80% of children fall within the “accepted” children friendship group. (1) These children have at least one friend who protects them from experiencing long, lonely days in school.
However, the remaining 20% are part of the “unclassifiable” group; they may have no friends at all. Psychologists are concerned about this bottom 20% on the social ladder. In this blog, we’ll look at the three sub-groups, typical friendships characteristics of each, and how parents can help these struggling children with friendships.
The first sub-group is the “neglected” children who tend to be very shy, comprising five percent of children. (1) Although the group sub-title sounds negative, these children are very close to their families and typically good students. They simply don’t attract much attention from peers. Parents mainly need to accept their child’s social style which was explained in my last blog, Parents Can Help with School Age Child’s Friendships.
The second sub-group, “controversial” children, also five percent, possess some traits peers like, but they also have annoying habits, such as: being a poor sport or poor hygiene. (1) These children need to be coached to give up annoying habits. Some parents think that by addressing these issues their children’s self-esteem will suffer, but these children are already suffering silently. If children knew how to change their behavior, they already would have.
They need adult guidance and specific strategies for improving these habits. It can begin with a simple observation question. “Today when you were shooting hoops, did you notice that your friend was angry when you kept hogging the ball? What can you do differently next time you shoot hoops?” When parents gradually and consistently work with children on specific annoying behaviors, most children will improve over time.
The last sub-group, the “rejected” children contain 10% of children. (1) These children lack important social skills in a wide variety of areas and may not cooperate or know how to respond in certain situations.2 “Rejected children are either overly aggressive from the start and react to being rejected with more aggression, or they become depressed and withdrawn.” (1)
Whereas the “controversial” children need some help on certain social issues, these children must be taught missing skills. (2) If not, this child will become a rejected adult. Maybe you know someone like this. They don’t pick up on social cues and are observed as “misfits” at work and in social settings.
Now is the time for parents and schools to help these children develop the all important life skill of making friends. School administrators are a great resource to find out about arranging friendship groups that help rejected children make friends. “Just 6 to 8 meetings of such a group can have a significant positive impact. Administrators should also implement anti-bullying policies and train teachers to create a socially safe environment in the classroom.”1 Rejected, angry children may need counseling.
Help Finding Friendships
Both “rejected” and “controversial” children need help finding friendships in other venues beyond the school day. Spending time neighbor kids or cousins is one way to begin. Children are in close proximity for observing interactions combined with “coaching” later. Joining a youth group, like Boy Scouts, Girls Scouts, or 4-H are other possibilities. Community service projects are great ways for children with to learn social skills while helping others.
When your children are in the last two sub-groups, they will need extra guidance, direction and support. Overtime, your children will benefit from better friendships. Remember, “It only takes one real friend to alleviate the worse aspect of loneliness.” (1)
1. Let’s Be Friends: Help your child’s friendships flourish — even in the face of difficulty. Scholastic Parent, www.scholastic.com/parents/resources/article/stages…/lets-be-friends. Accessed 10/17/2013.
2. Children’s Health: Peer Pressure, www.healthofchildren.com. Accessed 10/5/2013.