“Mom, I don’t have friends.” It’s a phrase we never want to hear, and it breaks our heart. We adore our children. We not only see who they are, but we also see all their potential. Our desire is that our kids have friends and be enjoyed by people. When we discover our child is struggling we can become desperate to help, but what can we really do to best support our children and teach them to create and foster healthy relationships? The tools you give them now will be essential for all the relationships they encounter in life.
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Mom, I Don’t Have Friends
“Mom, I don’t have friends.” I have heard these words uttered by each of my kids, and it quite honestly triggers feelings from my own childhood. I remember feelings of sadness on the playground, in the classroom or after school hours during different seasons of my life. The pain is real, and we want our kids to be free from that kind of hurt. While we can’t and really shouldn’t alleviate all struggles from our kids’ lives, we can come alongside them and help them respond the right way and grow in their ability to relate to other children.
Asking questions and listening is always a great first line of defense when raising kids. My parenting mentors who have 11 children, the Pritchards of Axis Ministries, use the phrase, “That’s interesting. Tell me more.” I love this open ended approach that helps our children start talking. Beyond this phrase, I have a number of questions I pose in regards to friendships. Here they are:
- How long have you been feeling like this?
- What do you do at recess?
- Who do you sit next to at lunch?
- Is there anyone you have felt close to at school?
- Who would you like to become friends with? Why?
- Are kids mean to you?
- Have you asked people to play with you?
- What do kids play at recess?
These questions begin the conversation. Try to listen before you try and solve. Some of these questions will lead to more questions, so take a lot of time to understand the situation.
Sometimes, I will ask questions and we are able to reach the conclusion, together, that this is a feeling the child might feel today, but it is not how they feel all the time. I have one child who is a lot like me. How she feels in the moment can shadow reality.
My son recently said, “Mom, I don’t have friends,” and I came to understand that no one passed to him during soccer that day. There was no need to panic because his reality was clouded by a moment.
That said, sometimes these questions lead to the conclusion that your child really is struggling with friendships and more action steps are needed.
John Medina, author of “Brain Rules for Baby,” says empathy is one of the top two predictors of social competency. If you want to learn more about how to develop empathy in kids, read about it here. One of the ways to teach empathy is to show empathy.
Your child is hurting. Hurt with them. Tell them your stories. Relate to their pain. Explain that you have sadness for their situation and really want to help.
Have Them Self Reflect
Have your kids begin thinking about what kind of friend they are being to others. Again, I encourage you to ask questions before giving advice. This piece of marriage advice is actually a great way to navigate all human relationships. Here’s another gem that can help kids think about their interactions with others.
- Am I being a friend?
- Am I being selfish – wanting everything to go my way?
- Do I genuinely care about others?
- Am I being kind?
- What actions do I need to change to be a more enjoyable person?
- Am I showing strong moral character? For more help raising kids of strong character, visit my character development series.
I remember a conversation with my daughter about this. We can be very egocentric people. I asked her who she wanted to become better friends with. She could name a few names. I asked, “What do you know about them?” She really didn’t know anything. I said, “One of the best ways to make people want to get to know you is to become genuinely interested in them.” I then offered a challenge. This week I want you to ask these girls questions about themselves. We brainstormed together: What do you like to do on the weekends? Do you play board games? What are some of your favorites? Do you have any pets? What shows do you watch? What music do you listen to? What’s your favorite thing to study in school? Read any good books lately?
It took just a couple days of being interested in other people for my daughter to feel completely different about her friend situation.
Giving our children the tools to learn how to get outside of their own heads and really invest in others is often a learned skill. With my own child I also had to teach her to engage in the ideas of others. She is often stuck with her own agenda. Being willing to set aside our own wants and engage in how other kids want to play is part of the give and take of friendship.
Teach Them to Smile
Part of making friends is to smile at people. Your child doesn’t need to engage by begging someone to be their friend every day. If other kids see your child as someone who is positive, friendly and fun, they will be more likely to engage. A smile goes a long way. Sulky people have a hard time making friends.
Teach Them to Play Alongside
I was a teacher. In the younger years, I have found that there are some group activities going on and there are more individual ways of playing on the playground. Playing alongside people is a great way to generate friendships. Sometimes people won’t be included if they seem desperate, always asking people to be their friend.
A child can learn to swing beside someone. He or she can learn to wait in line for the monkey bars. Jumping rope or shooting baskets is another great way to play alongside people. When other kids see another child having fun, they will often be more likely to engage. There is also time while playing alongside to ask some of those get to know you questions discussed earlier.
Look for the Person Who Needs a Friend
Your child is not alone in his or her feelings. There are other kids at school who feel disengaged from the group. Sometimes the problem is that our child wants to be part of the “cool kids” club. That was my issue growing up. I didn’t want friends. I wanted popular friends. Getting to know people on the inside wasn’t as important as the status on the outside. Ask engaging questions to find out if that’s the case with your child.
We want our kids to be looking out for those who also need a friend. Encourage your child to make and foster one or two closer friendships rather than being concerned with the masses. Who else doesn’t have someone to sit with at lunch? Is there anyone hiding under the slide that might need someone to come alongside them? How can I encourage another person who feels left out?
It’s great to help our kids learn to take the focus off themselves and see how they can help another.
Get Involved in the Process
Many of these battles our kids can learn to tackle themselves. However, there are healthy ways you can get involved in the process. You don’t want to be too pushy, but you can help your kids make friends. How? Invite kids over. Engage with the moms of those boys or girls that your child wants to start a relationship with. Do family things together. Volunteer in the classroom and gently help your child engage with others. When you are there with them, you will notice if they smile, engage, ask questions, make eye contact and show confidence.
Get involved in church youth programs, scouts, sports, music classes or other extra curricular activities where they can connect on another level with their peers and find others with similar interests. It’s a great way for you to connect with parents as well.
Being present and a part of the process helps you observe what is really going on. You can see if your child has things they need to work on or if there are bigger issues with “mean kids” at the school. Maybe their view on their life isn’t reality, and they need you to point out the fact that other kids are engaging with them.
If you discover issues with other kids, especially bullying, this will need to be addressed and tackled with the school or with the other parents.
The Bible has so much to say about our relationships with others and with God. First of all, we want to recognize that struggles are part of life, and they are actually good for us. We learn and grow through our positive and negative experiences.
“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment.” – Romans 5:3-5a
We learn through God’s Word that God alone has everything we need for a fulfilled life. We too often rely on friendships or life circumstances for peace and contentment. I know this is something I am constantly working on, and this scripture helps:
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10
The Bible shows us how we should treat others.
“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” – Romans 12:10
Scripture also teaches us to focus on what is true and good. Some kids get overwhelmed with how they feel in the moment rather than the reality of the big picture – that they actually do have some friends. These kids have Satan whispering in their ear, “No one likes you. You have no friends. You are not enough.” This is not truth. Here’s my life verse I memorize and use for when I get stuck focusing on the negative:
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” – Philippians 4:8 (free printable available)
Teach kids to examine their own hearts. The truth is, your child might struggle with friendships. It’s important to keep our heart in check.
“The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7
After our kids have checked their hearts, it’s important to check their actions. When we are feeling hurt or vulnerable because of friendship pains, it’s easy to be nasty to people. I’ve told my kids, “Hurting people hurt.” If someone is being mean to your child, there may need to be action. However, it can also be an indication that this child is hurting because of their own broken relationships or personal struggles. The Bible teaches us how to handle such people. Some parents will advise, “Just ignore them.” I suggest a slightly different approach. This approach asks, how can I continue to be kind to someone who is hurting me? Your child does not need to put themselves in a situation where they allow someone to keep damaging them, but they can still be kind. One powerful way to equip your child is to teach them to pray. This verse gives great wisdom, but it is often counter-cultural:
“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you..” – Matthew 5:44
In reality, some kids are going to struggle with friendships. We have never been promised an easy life. That is truth. Yes, it sucks, but how we learn to respond to that reality reveals and strengthens our own character.
“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” – 2 Timothy 3:12
Help your kids rest in the truth that God loves them. He sent his son, Jesus, to die for them and cares about them. Help them learn to talk to God about their feelings and remain in hope about their future.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11
When your child says to you, “Mom, I don’t have friends,” don’t panic. This is a time for teaching. We can help them learn how to make friends and keep them by being a good friend. For some, it might happen quickly. For others, it will be more of a struggle. However, I fully believe that all our kids can connect with other human beings in a positive way. We were created to be in relationship. These are the parenting moments where you can really come alongside your child in an intentional way and make a big difference.