For a video version of this question, go to https://youtu.be/C0EsCSnbCwg.
Q: My daughter is in third grade and is very different from her peers. She loves to play by herself at school and plays imaginatively in her room at home after school. I embrace her unique qualities, as does she. I assure her that God made her exactly the way she is supposed to be and she doesn’t need to change to fit in.
However, she is sad because she does not have any friends. There are none nearby for her to play with, and I have considered moving. I know she needs some down time after school, so I don’t schedule many playdates, maybe one a month. She’s so awkward around other kids that it is harder on me to have the playdate but I keep trying. She is in Brownies, which helps a little. She and I have been through a friendship devotional series and have read the American Girl book, Friends: Making Them and Keeping Them. When she has playdates, they are never reciprocated. She has never been invited to anyone’s home, even after multiple playdates at our house.
So I’m not sure what my question is exactly, other than do you mind telling me what you would do in this situation? I am struggling between just leaving her to make her own friends and working hard myself to try and find her a friend. Maybe I should invite friends from church over instead of school…I just don’t know what to do!
A: It’s always hard on the parent when we see our child ostracized or seemingly alone in the world, isn’t it? My second daughter (Second) was much like yours at that age—more comfortable being by herself than with others, making up stories in her head and spending time by herself. Now my daughter did have an older sister to pal around with, but Second did a lot by herself most of the time. I well remember several teary conversations with Second around third grade/fourth grade about her not having any friends.
A couple of things come to mind to help your situation, which I did with Second. It’s great that you’re talking with her and encouraging her on how to be a good friend. That’s important, even when there’s no one with which to practice.
I would sit down with Daughter and ask her what she wants to do about this friend thing. So far, it sounds like you’ve made all the efforts—arranging playdates, reading books together, etc. And that’s good because we have to take the initial lead in these things. But since it’s your daughter’s life, she ought to have a say in how to go about it. Ask her if she wants to continue with the once-a-month play dates or try something else.
One thing our family enjoys doing to help with the friend thing is to have “just because” parties. For example, one year, Second daughter invited six or seven girls from her class to come over after school to make chocolate-dipped pretzels for the holidays. That took the pressure off to invite just one girl, provided something fun to do, and allowed Second to shine in a different situation than a normal playdate.
I also gave Second permission to not do anything for a while. Trying too hard can be exhausting and discouraging, so sometimes just letting life flow by naturally without making playdates, etc., could be a welcome break.
It could just be that she hasn’t clicked with anyone in her class, and in third grade, she pretty much spends time with the same group of kids all the time, rather than switching classrooms like upper elementary classes start to do. I encouraged Second to seek out other kids who looked lonely or that they needed a friend—compassion is never wasted, and sometimes, thinking of how to help someone else can be the best antidote to overcoming one’s own problem or circumstance.
There’s not a magic bullet to get our kids to have friends (or even one friend), but helping them to see that there are options, that their current status isn’t permanent, and that they can decide what to do about it can help them navigate these friendship waters. And Second? She’s an eighth grader now who has started to spread her wings…and she has friends. Not a lot, but just enough.