I have a 6-year old who doesn’t want to be friendly to other kids. How can I help her?
MOLLY: We received this question from a reader who also mentioned that as her daughter is getting a little older, she is starting to arrive at a point where other kids don’t want to be her friend. Should she stand back and let her daughter be who she is, and if she doesn’t want to say “Hi” or be social, let her be that way? How does she teach her daughter how to behave in a socially-acceptable manner if it’s not in her nature?
Dr. Susan Rutherford (MOM): When I think about a child and her own nature, I think about things that are different than what this mother is describing. I think about if the child is introverted or extroverted. Those kinds of things children are born with.
Social behaviors are not necessarily innate. There are certain social cues that go on in life that you really have to help your child with because they don’t come by it naturally. For example, you teach little kids to greet people by saying, “Hello. How are you?” You teach them how to shake hands with people while looking them in the eye. You teach them social graces that will hold them in good stead, really, all of their lives. Practicing these behaviors will make their lives easier. For this child, it’s much harder if she’s not inclined to do this. However you still have to teach her to do it.
MOLLY: What if you teach her and she still doesn’t do it?
MOM: There isn’t much you can do about that.
MOLLY: Should you make consequences for your kids if they don’t say “Hi” when other kids say “Hi”?
MOM: Well, you can talk to her about the natural consequence of not speaking to friends when they talk to you: they won’t want to be friends with you. And most kids want to have friends on some level… some more intensely than others.
The fact is that the natural consequence of not having good social behavior is that you’ll end up alone and lonely.
MOLLY: If a 6-year old says, “I don’t really care if I have friends”. Do they even know what that really means?
MOM: I don’t believe that they know what that signifies. They probably learned along the way to say “I don’t care,” but I wouldn’t believe that. Human beings are social beings and you want to help your child learn social skills, especially when they don’t come naturally.
MOLLY: So you shouldn’t say, “Fine, you’re not going to have any friends!”
MOM: Right, you can say that you can see that it will be upsetting that she will not have friends if she doesn’t do some of these social niceties that she’s resisting doing.
MOLLY: And then should you practice doing them?
MOM: Yes! When your sister’s kids were younger, I taught them how to shake hands and look people in the eye. (I think their Mom worked with them on this, too). I would practice shaking hands with them and emphasize to them that they also have to look the person in the eye when they do it. And now it feels very natural and comfortable for them. But they didn’t automatically know how to do that before; kids are not born with that kind of knowledge.
Experience this? Comment below if you have tried this or other methods to help your socialize your child. Or, Contact US if you have a parenting issue you would like to see addressed.