What to do if your child tells you they have no friends at school

With the big return to school this week, the answer that most parents dread when they ask their child, ‘How was your first day, darling?’ is: ‘It was awful, I don’t like anyone in my class and I haven’t got any friends’.

As an educational psychologist, I have so many parents ask my advice about this.

Making new friends who understand and appreciate your child as they are, takes time and a little courage (from parents and kids), but is definitely worth it.

Here are my tips to help you navigate this tricky time, and encourage your children to both make new friends and maintain existing friendships in these testing first few weeks of the new school year…

Don’t call school

The first thing worried parents ask me is if they should contact their child’s school to move their child to another class because they are not in with their best friend this year. This is almost never a good idea.

Your child will have relationships with other children that can be developed and there will be reasons why children have been assigned to that class. It will be a great opportunity for your child to start conversations with others.

If they truly are the best of friends, then their friendship will last outside the classroom.

Out with the BFF, in with the GFF

While its lovely to think of having the same best friend forever, it’s not always the same person for the whole of a childhood, or even the whole school year. It is more like ‘best friends for-now’.

It can be very difficult for your child if their BFF has made a new friend over the Summer and your child feels left out.

No one person can meet all friendship needs – let’s be honest, that’s way too much pressure on one person. It is much better to encourage your child to create a circle of friends (a bigger range of people to connect with) rather than doing everything only with one friend, as this will nurture their independence and resilience.

Great friends forever (GFFs) are much better for your child’s self-esteem and development.

Encourage a game of Roblox

If they are fearful of losing old friends you can support their existing bestie relationship by inviting them for play dates (or to hang out), attending after school activities together and providing opportunities for FaceTime and games they can do together, such as Roblox. Yes, really – I am recommending screen time.

Active friend finding

Sometimes it just takes being in the right place at the right time to find friends.

Getting your child involved in activities that they enjoy you will not only make them happier (happy smiles attract other happy smiles) but will also get them mixing with like-minded peers.

Sport clubs, drawing classes and playing at the park are great ways to find new pals with similar interests.

How to deal with ‘no one likes me!’

‘I don’t like anyone’ or ‘no one likes me’ are quite often derived from the same feeling: insecurity.

Remember that making friends takes time. They need to get know each other. It can be even harder if your child is shy, as their shyness can appear as just being bad-mannered to other children.

Talk to your child about how they feel and how to start conversations.

Conversation starters

Most children are nervous to start conversations with others they don’t really know. The may be so worried about starting one with a peer that they don’t notice someone trying to talk to them.

Share these good strategies for starting conversations:

  • Finding something in common (I saw you playing football, I like football too).
  • Offer help (I can show you where that class is).
  • Introduce yourself clearly and confidently (Hi! I’m Anna, I think we are in the same class).
  • Show an interest (I’ve been wanting to read that book, did you enjoy it?).
  • Give a complement (I love your haircut, it looks great!).
  • Share a little (I moved once too, it is really hard at first).
  • Ask an opinion (which colour do you prefer?).
  • Offer an invitation (want to sit together at lunch?).

Discourage being clingy

When it comes to making and keeping friends, one thing that doesn’t work is clinging.

Friendships can end fast when one feels overwhelmed by the other. If your child is clingy, or is being clinged to, encourage them to take some time out.

Many children get upset if they see their friends out with another child. If they go in a ‘huff’ with their friend, then that is more likely to hurt their friendship rather than making it better.

Remind them that their friend is still their friend, and they have other friends too. And, most importantly, that friendships should be fun.

Dr Clare Daly is the in-house Educational Psychologist at Swotties.com, where confidence-boosting 1-2-1 online tutoring sessions with uni student mentors start from £15.99 – £19.99 per hr.

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