Tuesday 12 November 2019

Dear David Coleman: My five-year-old daughter is finding it hard to make friends

You can take steps to help your daughter become more sociable
You can take steps to help your daughter become more sociable
David Coleman

David Coleman

Q My five-year-old daughter is finding it hard to interact with kids in school. She is an only child, very outgoing when it comes to me and her mother, her cousins, slightly older friends that "look after" her but she has recently confided in her mum that she doesn't have anyone to play with in the playground.

Have you any suggestions how we could improve her social skills with kids her own age?

David replies: It can be a big transition for children to move from preschool into primary school. I'm guessing that this is a move your daughter made back in September.

There are many factors to consider in terms of children's readiness for school, and their sociability is often a big consideration for many families.

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It is quite likely, given what you describe about the successful social interactions that your daughter has, that she is simply more accustomed to being with adults and older children.

It may be, as you say, that she feels she can trust older children to "mind" her, such that she doesn't feel challenged in her interactions.

Similarly, with adults, she probably gets treated kindly and fairly, and so she may have been taken aback, a little, with the comparative rough and tumble of the school yard, where she was unlikely to have been given any special attention or consideration.

With most social challenges that we face, practice usually serves to both decrease our anxiety and increase our competence and confidence. So, I would recommend that you give your daughter the chance to practice hanging out with, and befriending, children her own age.

One option for you, is to target some playdates with girls or boys from her class that she would like to be friendlier with. I would suggest that you try to arrange one-on-one playdates, rather than having a few children over at a time, since, if there is more than one other child, the group dynamic may simply play out as it does in school and your daughter may feel on the periphery.

When other children are over, you can observe how your daughter interacts with them and that might indicate, to you, ways that you can then coach her to help her skills at making friends. So it may be that she needs to learn things like listening, taking turns, sharing, allowing others to decide what games to play, finding common interests with others and so on.

If you do spot areas that you think she could do differently to increase her, and the other child's, enjoyment, you can focus on helping her with these for subsequent playdates.

Given that her isolation appears greatest in school, it might also be helpful to talk to her teacher about the dynamic in the class to see if the teacher too might be able to influence how the mixing and playing is happening in the yard, ensuring that the class have a strong sense of inclusivity and care for each other.

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