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HomeFamilyParenting AdviceSays He Doesn't Want Any Friends—Good Parenting

Says He Doesn’t Want Any Friends—Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,
Your column about switching schools and the importance of steady friendships got my attention. My family and I are living this right now, and only time will tell if my choice to move our family across a county line for a better school was the right one. 

My rising 3rd grade son has told me on a few occasions that he doesn’t want any friends. He is the classic introvert, but how concerned should I be about his request?

New School Same Quiet Kid

Dear NSSQK,

This request is either a cry for help or a request for understanding.

Your son may be anxious about the hard work of making a friend and he wants to be sure you’re not expecting this of him. He may be using a “sour grapes” approach to the worrisome possibility that no one will befriend him, so he’s heading off disappointment by declaring friends to be unnecessary. He may have had bad experiences at his old school that could be avoided at his new school, he thinks, by just staying away from the other children.

Or he may just have such a rich inner life – as many introverts do – that he is honestly telling you that friends are simply not something he will be looking for. Even so, friendship is such an essential experience of childhood that you should endeavor to support your son in finding a good candidate.
Since you have already identified him as an introvert, let’s go with that.

People Are Stressors
The thought of being bombarded with unfamiliar faces at school on top of a recent move is probably overwhelming to your son. An introvert prefers steady routines and surroundings so he doesn’t have to pay too much attention to them. Instead, he prefers getting “lost” in his own thoughts. He prefers limited interaction with only a few individuals whom he knows well enough that he finds them comfortably predictable.

Whenever possible, try to ease him into new social situations. Visit the new school ahead of time, even if just to walk around the playground when no one else is likely to be there. Arrive early the first day so he can claim a territory that others enter into, rather than the other way around. Stick close to him in social settings, letting him decide when and if he’s ready to interact with other people. He probably won’t mind your speaking (very briefly) for him in these situations if only to put an end to what may feel to him like an interrogation. If he has to be on his own, as he will be at school, help him identify a nonthreatening person to latch on to. His teacher can help with this, although she herself may be overwhelmed with getting to know the unique needs of each of her students as school gets underway. The school guidance counselor is another adult in the building with whom your son can develop a safe and reliable relationship. The important thing is for him to feel connected to at least one person, and not too many more, as he settles in.
Be sure to give him time, and a quiet space, to unwind, after a day of social bombardment.

A Quiet Friend
Once he’s well-anchored to an adult at his new school, your quiet child may be ready to accept a quiet friend. Or at least one who accepts his being quiet. Again, the teacher or guidance counselor can be a tremendous resource to help make this happen. Or you may find the friend at an after school activity – preferably an activity that holds a lot of interest for your son. Chess might be a good choice, or pottery, or archery, or anything that doesn’t require much conversation. If your new neighborhood has a Facebook page or a family activities coordinator put the word out that you’re looking for a 3rd grader who shares one of your son’s interests. This could be as subtle as making it known that your eight-year-old snapped a photo of an unusual insect and would like help to identify it.

It may take a few weeks to locate this first friend and get the relationship going, but time is your ally. As your son gets more and more used to the social stimulation of school his resistance to the idea of having a friend should diminish. Remember, a friendship takes more effort for an introvert than an extrovert, especially one in the throes of adjusting to a new home, neighborhood, and school. He’ll have more energy to be curious about and compassionate toward another child when he’s less focused on his own needs and emotions.

Quiet Confidence
It is very difficult for an introvert to be the center of attention. Hopefully his teachers will respect his desire to steer clear of any spotlight, including being called on to answer a question he may not be sure of, or to demonstrate a P.E. skill in front of his classmates. Written work, artwork or other projects may be better ways of assessing his knowledge and abilities. An introvert may do well with a project done with a partner – especially one who is well-matched for similar interests and or personalities. By the way, a partner project could be the opportunity he is willing to wait for to have a friendship blossom.

As you work toward establishing his first friendship, remember to respect your son’s strong need for privacy by refraining from telling stories about him in his presence. Your son will gauge when he has trust enough in this friendship to share his knowledge, skills, and talents, along with his faults and failures.

More tips about parenting an introvert can be found in Marti Olsen Laney’s book Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child (2005), and Quiet Kids: Help Your Introverted Child Succeed in an Extroverted World by Christine Fonseca  (2013).

These books can help you to be comfortable in letting your son stay in his comfort zone.

Dr. Debbie

Click here for more parenting advice by Debbie Wood.

What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com.

 

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