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Boy needs a friend — Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

My 7-year-old son is very shy. It probably doesn’t help that we moved here just before this school year. Or that his dad and I aren’t together any more. I have been called in for three meetings with his teacher, including one with the principal, about his reluctance to participate in class activities — which I try to point out is because of his shy nature. I don’t feel like anyone takes his side at school. I’m sure he feels this way, too. Needless to say, it’s a struggle to get him going on school days. I try to do fun things with him and his little brother on weekends but even then, it’s hard to put a smile on his face. What more can I do to help him? Maybe we have a chance to make things better before the next school year begins.

Mom Looking On

Don’t miss last week’s column Tired mama needs to recharge — Good Parenting

Dear MLO,

I wonder if the teacher and principal appreciate how your son’s personality and family situation are affecting his comfort with school? Maybe the person to connect with is the guidance counselor. This is the professional whose role includes supporting the mental health of the children.

Even without the counselor’s involvement, you can work toward helping your son with making a friend. Ideally, this is a classmate who shares some common interests and who is accessible during out-of-school hours for getting together. A friendship can flourish over the summer if the children are able to spend lots of time together. Ask your son. Ask his teacher. Chaperone on a field trip or see if you can volunteer some other way at school to see who is friendly toward him. The teacher may be able to assist in getting parent contact information for you, or the children themselves may be able to pass parents’ phone numbers between them.

Many schools have end-of-the-year events for families. This is another opportunity to be on the lookout for a classmate who seems to enjoy your son’s company.

Then, via his/her parent, you need to invite this friend candidate to do something fun with your family. The first play date could be as simple as an arranged time to meet at the park or playground. Then, if all goes well, see about having the next play date at your home. You are building trust with the child’s parent as well as testing whether your son can sustain enjoyable play time with someone. If the first candidate doesn’t work out, keep looking until you find that easy-to-get-along-with pal who is the key to unlocking your son’s enjoyment — or at least tolerance — of being at school.

Shy children often lack skills in initiating play, but with practice and maybe some coaching, they get comfortable interacting with familiar playmates. Moving to a new school is a major setback for a shy child. And, as common as it is, being the child of a single parent can cause additional self-consciousness because he is afraid this makes him different from other children. So he doesn’t talk about it. This makes him unaware that about 25 percent of his classmates, on national average, are living with only one parent as well. They probably don’t talk about it either.

Having a friend is such a strong need for a child, that it usually doesn’t take much more than opportunity for a good and lasting friendship to get started. Parents, teachers, camp counselors, scout leaders, older children, even socially-conscientious same-age peers can coax mere acquaintances into starting a friendship. And a good match can be struck for a lifetime. If you have at least one friend, that proves you are valuable. A friendship is strength against a bully. A friend can make a hard time more bearable, and a good time a treasured memory.

Class rosters will be worked on over the summer, so if you can gain the assistance of the guidance counselor, your son and his buddy could be assigned to the same teacher for next year. At the minimum, a sure friend in your class is a school supply no child should be without.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com

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