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ASK MOM: My daughter repulses other kids

Aug 24, 2023 01:16PM ● By Mary Follin and Kristi Crosson

THE PROBLEM: My daughter is desperate for a friend—even ONE friend would do—but every time another child pays attention to her (which is rare), my daughter does something to make herself as annoying as possible, like starting these odd clinging behaviors. And by clinging, I mean following kids around and talking nonsense. She might get stuck on a knock-knock joke, or a silly song, and most kids don’t know how to respond. She even reverts to baby talk when the other child ignores her. I’ve seen this happen before, but now her (third grade) teacher is bringing it to my attention, too. What really makes me sad is that my daughter is so sweet—and loyal—and would make a wonderful friend if she could only get through the awkward stage of getting to know somebody.

MARY SAYS: For whatever reason, some children are less adept at picking up on social cues, and your daughter might be one of them. While there may be other issues going on here (and I think it’s important you check into that possibility), there are some behavioral techniques you can share with your daughter to help her make friends more easily.

But first you need to put yourself in her shoes. While it’s obvious to you that she is intentionally turning off the exact people she wants to spend time with, she most likely doesn’t realize she’s doing it. To her, the other kids ‘speak’ a language she doesn’t understand, so she’s made up her own set of signals to use, like: Follow that kid.

Then what? She has no idea, but she knows she needs to do something. Thus, the knock-knock jokes and baby talk.

So please don’t point out to your child how she is bothering the other children. Right now, these annoying behaviors are all she has. Instead of encouraging her to give them up, offer her some more powerful tools and explain to her how much better they work.

Open your conversation with what she truly wants. Ask her how she feels about making a special friend, and if she’d like to come up with some ideas about how to do it. Describe in detail why she would make a wonderful friend for a very lucky person. (You describe your daughter as sweet and loyal. Who could ask for more?) Then, share with her a time when you felt awkward about meeting someone new, and tell her it can happen to anybody.

Next, let her in on the ‘secret’ to making friends that a lot of people don’t know. People love when you ask them questions! Tell her it can be tempting to talk only about yourself, but people feel good when you care enough to ask about them. This may be a tricky concept for a third-grader, which is why she'll need to practice with you.

Here are few questions to get her started:

What’s your favorite color?

What do you like about school? (Or what DON’T you like about school, depending upon where your daughter is coming from.)

How has your life changed since the pandemic?

Do you have any brothers or sisters?

What’s your favorite food?

What’s the best book/movie you’ve ever read?

Once your daughter has chosen a few favorites, she’s ready to go deeper. She needs to learn to ask a second question about the same topic. For example, let’s say her new friend tells your daughter that ‘yellow’ is her favorite color. A second question could be, “Do you like bananas?”

The second question is harder because it can’t be memorized, so role playing with you is particularly important. Let your daughter play herself, and you be the new friend. Have her practice asking you the same few questions—many times. Each time, throw her a curve ball and help her think of a second question, based on your new answer. Stick with this until she can do it on her own.

Then switch. YOU be your daughter and let her be the friend. (She’ll love this!)

Learning a different way of relating to other people isn’t easy. But with enough practice, she’ll get more comfortable with it. She will also begin to exercise her ‘listening’ muscle, which is a critical part of relationships that many adults have yet to master.

KRISTI SAYS: I think making friends is harder for children in this generation. Some kids are so used to being in front of screens, let’s face it, they don’t know how to respond when real children want to interact with them. Add to that the hover-parenting culture and the prevalence of leveraging technology for “face-to-face” learning in the past year, and you have a recipe for social disaster. And at that age, kids have always been awkward.

At least, I was.

While I am quite the extrovert now, we moved every couple of years growing up and making friends was tricky. I’d get nervous and sometimes the only thing I could do was act silly. Not everyone liked that. I got rejected a lot. But sometimes kids would laugh about it and be silly with me, and it was wonderful.

As a mom, my heart breaks when my kids get rejected. My daughter (kindergarten) has the opposite problem to yours. She is very shy when she meets new kids. While I just want to jump in and introduce her to all the kids and get them to like her, I know I need to let her navigate these new surroundings in her way. She is learning to watch for opportunities to “be brave” and ask if she can play with others.

The problem is that when a new person is too bold, she gets intimidated by their strong personality. She gets fearful if the other child starts following her. It’s not that she doesn’t like the attention, she simply doesn’t realize the other child just wants a friend.

As a parent, I’ve had to sit down and talk about certain social cues to help her feel more comfortable. It’s my job to model these behaviors and to offer her ideas that can help her out. If I watch her struggle to say “hi” to a new person, all she might need is a gentle reminder that sometimes even a wave and a smile is a good start if she’s feeling too shy.

I also take time to tell her “great job” when I see her do something a little outside of her comfort zone to make a new friend.

Here are a few things that have helped us navigate the friend-making situation:

  1. Visit with the same group of kids regularly. Sometimes strong personalities can be off-putting to kids, especially if they are shy like my daughter. By spending time with the same group of kids more than once, your daughter will get a better chance to connect with them and make a friend.
  2. Get involved in something she can lead. It’s clear your daughter has some great leadership skills. There are programs like 4-H and Scouting that can help her use those skills and make new friends.
  3. Let her play a new sport. Competitive team sports are excellent for development and also help kids make new friends more gradually.

Here are some other things you can try.

  • Remind her that it takes time to make new friends and it may take a few tries.
  • Teach her to listen and watch. She needs to listen to the other person and watch for cues. It’s great to talk, but good friends also listen and give their friends a chance to say something, too.
  • Help her come up with 3-5 questions she could ask someone when she first meets them. Teach her to ask, then wait for a response. For instance, “What’s your favorite toy?” or “What do you like to do outside?”

There is nothing wrong with your daughter. She sounds amazing. The key is to help her learn how to take a different approach when trying to connect with someone new. Since she’s not shy, remind her that some kids are, and they might need time to warm up to her.

ASK MOM offers parents two perspectives on today’s child-rearing issues—one from a mom with grown children (Mary), the other from a mom raising small children (Kristi). If you're looking for creative solutions, or your mom isn't around to ask, drop in! If you have a question for Mary and Kristi, we’d love to hear from you! [email protected]

Read more ASK MOM advice.

 Mary Follin is author of the award-winning children’s book ETHYR and Teach Your Child to Read™, an online phonics program for children ages 3-6. She is mom to two grown kids.

Kristi Crosson is a freelance writer, homeschooling mom of three children, and author of Healthy Mom Revolution, a blog that offers insights on healthy parenting.

 Suzanne Johnson, mother of five children and grandmother of six, is an illustrator, book cover designer, and author of the Realms of Edenocht series.

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