My 10 year-old son claims he only has one friend in the world. He worries about being included and hasn’t found a group of friends to connect with. Any suggestions?
First of all, make sure to show compassion for his loneliness. It’s tempting to begin problem solving without first expressing how hard it is to feel lonely. If he can sense your genuine concern for his pain, he will be more open to solutions for his dilemma.
On the one hand, I find it encouraging that your son has at least one friend he feels good about. Child development experts note that when it comes to friendships, quantity is not necessarily better than quality. It’s better for your son to work on strengthening one friendship than spend time in a crowd of people hoping to feel included.
You also have an exciting opportunity to begin a journey with your son to help him discover his own strengths and interests. Children who understand their strengths and interests and how they can use those strengths to help others not only do better socially, but also thrive across other areas of life.
I have a few recommendations to help you work with your son to discover his strengths and interests. First, I highly recommend “The Great Self-Mystery” by H. Wallace Goddard. This five-part guide is designed to help children and young teens work with a caring adult to discover their strengths and interests and how they can use those strengths to help others. The highly interactive and experiential guide is a powerful way to get your son started on this lifelong discovery.
You can pick up a free copy of “The Great Self-Mystery” at my office: Alliant Counseling and Education located at 393 E. Riverside Drive, Suite 3A in St. George. Just stop in and ask the receptionist for a copy of the guide.
I also recommend you purchase the revised edition of Haim Ginott’s classic parenting book, “Between Parent and Child.” Dr. Ginott teaches parents how to understand and access the emotional world of their children in a way that will help you stay connected to your son as you work through discovering his strengths and interests. “Between Parent and Child” also has other suggestions for helping children improve their social relationships.
Your increased time spent with him discovering his strengths and interests will model proactive and socially intelligent behavior that will influence how he treats others. Recognize that what you are doing with him is what he should be doing with other people his age: listening, taking interest in what they are doing, asking good questions, showing respect, and demonstrating kindness. Do not underestimate the power of your influence as you go through this process.
One of the healthiest measures for a child’s well-being is how proactive and helpful they are to others. These pro-social measures are more significant than the head count of his friends. His confidence will come from knowing who he is and what he has to offer to others.
When it makes sense to formally start building a stronger social network, you can begin by “scaffolding” in new relationships over time. For example, you can start by inviting other kids over from church or school a few at a time and creating experiences where he can interact with other kids his same age in a familiar setting.
As he works with you to develop awareness of his strengths combined with some scaffolding in his social life, he’ll have a great combination to help him combat his loneliness.