"My lonely only struggles to make friends"
Is your child having problems fitting in at school or making friends? Dereck Jackson answers a concerned parent's question
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My son is 10 years old and is in Grade 4. He is an only child and therefore spends a lot of time amongst adults. It appears that he finds it difficult to make friends. Once he even called me from school, as he did not want to go to athletics because he had no friends to sit with.

Every year I invite different boys from his class home so that he can play and make friends. When he was younger, one of his teachers told me that he places very high expectations on his friends. Why is this?

Looking for the answer as to why your child does not make friends easily is a complex matter. There could be so many reasons. You have already offered two possibilities: He is an only child, and he is very demanding of his friends. Let us look at these two possibilities first.

The fact that he is an only child does have social implications. There are advantages and disadvantages to being an only child.

The advantages are that the child has the relatively undivided attention of the parents which tends to result in high verbal skills and a greater desire to achieve than children who have older siblings. Obviously this is a generalisation but there is statistical support to it.

The disadvantage of being the eldest or only child is that sometimes, the child is not exposed early enough to peer group relationships. Also, such a child often develops more adult verbosity which may cause his peers to ridicule him.

Another disadvantage is that the child is not exposed to sibling rivalry which teaches him to stand up for himself in conflict situations. Being an only child could also explain why he is so demanding of his friends. It is well documented that only or eldest children have more demands made on them by their parents and this in turn makes them more demanding of others.

Let us now explore other possible explanations. You say he has problems making friends at school but you do not say whether he has the same problems with relatives and neighbourhood friends. If it is only a problem at school then I would suspect that he is incorrectly placed.

Questions to ask yourself

  • Is there a socio-economic difference? Are the other boys richer or poorer than him? Is there a supposed class difference in status?
  • Is he the only Christian child in a Muslim or Jewish school or the only Muslim child in a predominately Jewish or Christian environment?
  • Can he cope mentally, physically and emotionally in the school where he is placed or should he be in a special school?
  • Has he been placed in a school that is in keeping with the family’s ethos and values?

I cannot emphasise enough how important it is that your child is placed in an environment where he feels comfortable. If he is placed in the correct environment then there are other factors to consider:

  • Does he have any perceived physical defects that would cause others to mock or shy away from him?
  • Is he submissive or aggressive?
  • Is he well mannered?
  • Does he participate in activities the other boys enjoy?
  • Does he wear the same type of clothes the other boys wear?
  • Is he considered a nerd by the other boys?

While you do not want your child to become a slave to peer group pressure, a child needs the acceptance of the peer group in order to fit in. Elicit the help of the teacher in identifying the problem and maybe the help of a therapist if the teacher deems it necessary.

I would recommend that you seek the help of a psychologist who specialises in social skills training for your son.

About the writer:
Dereck Jackson is an educator, counsellor and father. He is the author of Parenting with Panache, and a well-known and loved speaker at South African schools.

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