A question has come up on one of my groups again. It's an issue often enough that I decided to blog about it.
The question goes something like this: (please,forgive all the slashes)
"My child doesn't have any friends. S/he is quiet/reserved and imaginative/creative and/or active/physical/kinetic. S/he doesn't seem to "click" with others easily."
First of all, why is this an issue? (No. I'm not being facetious.) Does your child want more friends or do you want your child to have more friends? Some kids really would rather not bother with friends, especially when they're very young and/or have siblings they enjoy. Is your child content playing on their own or with siblings? Is your child asking you to be their playmate more often that works for you?
It's important to understand how much of this is your issue and how much is theirs. It's perfectly legitimate for it to be your issue. Something like "My kid is driving me crazy. He has too much energy for me and needs someone else to work it out with" is a perfectly good reason to search out friends, but it may require a different approach than "My child was crying and told me that he wanted more friends." There seems to be certain Right Brained kids that are not extroverts and it's important that we respect that, even if we have compelling reasons for wanting to them make more and deeper connections with others.
My middle child suddenly noticed he didn't have any friends a couple of years ago when he was six. My heart just ached for him. I wanted so much to fix it, but it wasn't something I could "do" for him. It's been a process for both of us.
I noticed much earlier, but since he didn't care I gave up worrying about it. Once he expressed a desire for friends it became something we've worked on together. While he's very empathetic, he's not one for whom friendship has come easily. We've had to talk about what makes a person a friend and how to be a friend.
We've talked about what it means to be a friend, how you know if someone is your friend, the different kinds of friends. There are friendships based around a shared activity, friendships based on physical location, friendships based on a feeling of kindred spirit, etc... It's possible to have many different kinds of friends to meet different needs.
I have boys, and I know their friendships can be different than that of girls, but here's my experience, for what it's worth.
Park days, church, classes and such are a great way to meet people, but not a great way to build a real friendship. When we have the opportunity to meet new friends I look for characteristics I know will be good matches for the child I'm thinking of. I look for similar interests, similar energy level, emotional maturity/awareness (or lack there of :-P ). For instance, my oldest loves books, games, robots, electronics, so it's easy for him to build friendships around these interests. My middle child has more energy than an entire gymnastics team, so he does better w/ someone who also has a lot of physical energy and doesn't mind a bit of tussling. (Also, the child's parent needs to be ok w/ that level of physicality, so if their child is already like that I don't have to explain so much). At different times my kids have done better with kids older or younger than them.
When we really want to make a friend we arrange a one on one play date with someone that we'd like to know better. It's nearly always a "family" play date. In fact, sometimes the other parent and I will not point out that it's a "play date" for the kids at all. We'll just say "we're going to visit my friend" or "my friend and her kids are coming over" and then encourage the kids to get out of our hair by giving them an activity near us while we chat. That takes some of the pressure of playing together off the kids. They're just hanging out because we make them, not because they're trying to be friends. I'm pretty up front w/ the other parent about how we need one on one time for the kids to warm up to a real friendship and most other parents have understood that.
If your child is having problems with friends gravitating towards a sibling rather than him/her, you might try looking for friends that are not likely to be as attracted to, or attractive to, the sibling. Maybe someone younger or older than the sibling, or w/ interests that are unique to your child? We've had that problem with my middle son. He's a bit wild, and wears out even the most energetic kids, isn't really great at using his words... His current two good friends are both also very energetic and creative, one a year older and one a year younger. The older one can gravitate to my oldest boy, which has hurt middle's feelings... We talked it through, and oldest becoming aware of the situation has worked to turn attention back to his brother sometimes, which has helped. Middle is learning to pay attention to body language and spoken language has also helped him realize that he needs to tone it down sometimes. (Room for growth here!) It's amazing what a couple of years of growth and intention have done though.
The final thing I would say is that it's more important to be comfortable in your own skin than to be popular. If a child feels good about himself it's easy to find others whose company he enjoys or to be comfortable without company.
OK, not the final thing. I never shut up, so there will probably be more somewhere later. ;-)