Today’s question: “My daughter is 9 years old and doesn’t seem to have any friends. There are girls in the neighborhood we carpool with, and kids she goes to school, gymnastics, and temple with, but she doesn’t seek these kids out on the weekends or after school. At recess or on weekends, she prefers playing by herself. Her brother, on the other hand, is always with friends: riding bikes, skateboarding, and generally having an active social life. I’m worried that my daughter isn’t going to have close friendships. She’s very opinionated, strong willed, and doesn’t like to compromise, so I understand why other kids may not choose to play with her. She doesn’t seem as bothered by this as I am. She likes to read and be by herself, while I’m the one scheduling play dates. How can I make my daughter make friends?” Lea
Parent Educator Answer: It sounds like you are doing everything you can to support your daughter’s friendships. It’s wonderful that you have arranged so many opportunities for her to socialize and become familiar with other kids.
Between the ages of 3-9, most girls develop friendships based on proximity and convenience. They don’t discriminate easily and are usually happy to play with whoever is happy to play with them. Birthday parties can be huge during these years because it’s hard for kids to choose which friends they like best.
Between the years of 10-12 (once puberty begins) girls tend to want a smaller, more intimate group of friendships they can build closer bonds with. Developmentally, they are practicing intimate relationships by creating a more manageable group of girls they feel comfortable with. It’s common in these years to have hurt feelings as girls get edged out and left out while best friends are created. It is normal, however, for some girls not to be interested in forming these intimate relationships. In every class, there’s always at least one girl who is happy to play with whoever shows up. She doesn’t mind hanging with a different kid everyday, or even none at all. These kids are valuable assets for to those who have recently been rejected by their friend group.
From what I hear in Lea’s question, there are at least 5 perfectly healthy reasons why this kid might not like playing with other kids:
- She hasn’t entered the stage yet of wanting an intimate friendship or friend group.
- She may be the type of kid who is comfortable with acquaintences rather than close friends.
- She is exhausted from being around kids all day long and needs time alone to recuperate.
- It’s more important for her to be able to hear and execute her own ideas while playing, than to expend energy compromising and explaining her thoughts to others.
- She hasn’t found a friend yet that allows her to be fully herself.
Kids who have strong ideas and opinions often enjoy the company of younger children. Younger kids are so excited to have the attention of a big kid, that they are willing to compromise more than children of the same age are. Little kids love the creative ideas for play that big kids come up with, and don’t mind being told what to do. Older kids can make great babysitters or mother’s helpers because they get to play the role of leader, boss, or director that they were born to play.
Life Coaching Answer: When our kids don’t have meaningful friendships, this can be a big trigger for moms who place a high value on friendship. It is really easy to “futurize” and “catastrophize”, imagining that they’ll never have friends and be sad and socially rejected all through adolescence. Moms can worry that their kids will ALWAYS struggle to make friends and believe this is a huge problem that needs immediate attention and intervention.
First, we have to look at the problem that is CURRENTLY presenting itself. We cannot fix a problem in the future that hasn’t happened yet (and may never happen) and trying to do so will make us crazy.
The circumstance here, is that Lea’s daughter is 9. She hasn’t entered puberty yet. She likes reading books (a solitary activity), she doesn’t seek out playdates, she is surrounded by family members and family acquaintances almost every moment of every day, and she prefers to play by herself at recess, after school, and on weekends.
We want to take a look at what mom actually has control over. Can she make her daughter make friends? No. She can arrange playdates, carpools & neighborhood gatherings so her daughter has exposure to other kids and becomes familiar with the people in her life. She can sign her up for summer camps and gymnastics classes, but how her daughter interacts with the kids while there is not within mom’s control.
One thing we mammas do have control over is how we interpret our kid’s social relationships. Without meaning to, Lea may be communicating the idea that “there is something wrong with her daughter” because she doesn’t have the quality and quantity of friendships that her brother has. Can you imagine that there is an introverted mom out there in the world who loves to read, be by herself, and sees nothing wrong with her 9 year old avoiding social interaction? We have no idea how this girls social relationships will change with puberty, middle school or high school. This is a time of rapid development! After a day of obeying teachers and following their curriculum, she may have a higher need of listening to her own voice, directing others, or dwelling in her imagination.
It has never been easier to find one’s tribe than it is today. If you don’t fit in with the tribe of people around you, meetup, tinder, or youtube will help you find your village and connect you with people who appreciate your authentic self. Rather than thinking, “this is a problem that needs fixing”, try thinking thoughts that make you feel at ease.
“She is surrounded by people who love her.”
“She will find her people someday.”
“She is so true to herself that when she finds someone who likes her, they will really genuinely like her.”
“If she’s ok playing by herself, I can be ok with it, too.”
“I’ve done everything I can think of, the rest is up to her.”
“If she wants better friendships, she’ll be motivated to compromise.”
When you feel at ease around your daughter’s social dynamics, you communicate the message that there is nothing wrong with her the way she is. This gives her acceptance and belonging; the whole point of friendships in the first place!
I used to think that “good moms” worried about their kids. It seemed the opposite of neglect. When my worrying turned into anxiety, I had to make a change. What I’ve learned is that worrying is terrible for kids and robs us of our ability to enjoy our lives. Worrying is imagining bad things happening. Focusing on everything that can go wrong drains our energy and keeps us from appreciating when everything is going right. Once I stopped worrying, I was floored at how much more productive I was throughout my day, how much more energy I had, and how relaxed I was able to feel.
Supermom power boost:
All exercise is good for us but yoga seems to be especially beneficial for overworked mammas. My theory is that yoga turns our attention inwards. With kids around, your attention is constantly being pulled outside of yourself. Even when we aren’t with them, we think about them, talk to our friends and partners about them, and get annoyed with them for leaving their mess all over the floor. Yoga brings your attention into your body, focusing on the subtleties of movement, muscles, positioning, and breath. This forced self attention and flowing movement re-energies us in ways beyond a typical workout. In my opinion, yoga is a quick and reliable energy boost.
Quote of the Day – “Do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen.
Keep in the sunlight.” ― Benjamin Franklin