Frank is sweet and thoughtful but stands just a little too close. Susie has a wonderful laugh, but her voice is so loud people around her cringe. Todd can say the funniest things but also the most hurtful. Ashley is incredibly creative but too shy to share it. James is a people watcher but also an informant. Kate loves having company but has a tough time sharing. Danny is smart and talkative but doesn’t allow a word in edgewise.
For all these kids, their little quirks are preventing them from having something they want more than anything—friends. But there are ways to help kids overcome their idiosyncrasies and make friendship a little easier.
The boundary basher stands just a little too close for comfort. He doesn’t have an understanding of personal space and can make other children uneasy.
How to help: This child needs concrete boundaries before he can understand abstract ones. Try using two hula hoops. Have him practice a conversation with you while you are each inside a hoop holding it at waist level. The goal is for him to have a complete conversation while maintaining personal distance. As he gets a better understanding of personal space, the hula hoops can be dropped to the floor. When he is successful, have him stop using his hoop. Then stop using yours. If he forgets and gets too close, you can have a code word to help him picture the space.
Pump down the volume
This child has poor volume control. She can be talking one minute and yelling the next. Or maybe everything comes out in a thunderous voice, making other kids jumpy.
How to help: Valerie Smith, speech therapist at Prairieview School District 46, shares this idea: Find pictures of three animals of varying sizes. Smith recommends a dog, cat and mouse. Cut them out and glue them to note cards. Explain to your child that each picture represents a different voice. The dog’s voice is loud and best saved for outside. The cat’s voice is a conversational tone and the one we use most often. The mouse’s voice is a whisper. Practice using each one. Then talk about different times of the day and have her decide which voice is appropriate. The next time your child is using a loud dog voice, simply reminded her to use her cat voice. It will take lots of verbal reminders, but once she is able to lower her voice after just a reminder, move on to picture cues. Just show her the cat or mouse picture when her decibels start rising. This can be highly effective when all the adults involved with your child are using the same system. It can also work in reverse for your little mouse talker.
This child has no filter from his brain to his mouth. Everything comes out of his mouth without thought to the consequences. He lacks impulse control. Sometimes his words can be funny, hurtful or a little annoying.
How to help: Caesar Palma, social worker for Meadowview School District 46, says once a child has said an inappropriate comment, parents need to step in and explain that there is a better way to share thoughts. The child needs concrete examples of positive ways to communicate ideas. More importantly, he needs time to filter his thoughts. Palma suggests teaching your child to stop before he speaks, relax by taking a deep breath and think about what he wants to say. "This is when, as the adult, you can help him with the words, especially in the beginning," Palma says. Role playing is a great way to give your child practice without hurting real feelings.
This child has a hard time separating or speaking in new situations, which makes it almost impossible to form friendships.
How to help: Try one-on-one play dates at your house. Offer activities that the children can do together, such as playing a game or making a craft. As your child feels more comfortable, try less structured activities. When you are out and about and your child needs some extra security, keep a small soft item in her pocket. Whenever she is feeling unsure she can rub the item for comfort and no one else will know. If your child is having a difficult time in school, tape a picture of your family on her locker or desk. Then she can take a peek anytime she needs a little encouragement.
This child polices the rest of the children. He shares every broken rule, whether it relates to him or not. His tattling affects his ability to interact with other children.
How to help: Parents need to explain the difference between responsible telling and tattling. Palma uses the book, Armadillo Tattletale, by Helen Kettleman. It offers readers concrete examples of how tattling effects friends. Parents can then break down when it is appropriate to tell on others. For example, a parent might say, "I want you to tell me when someone is hurt or might get hurt." Your child needs to hear that it is the adult’s job to enforce the rules. "Parents need to let the kids know ‘that’s my job. I’ll handle it. You don’t have to worry about it,’ " Palma says.
If your child is still having a hard time understanding the difference between responsible telling and tattling, try giving him a set of steps to follow.
1. Ignore the action, especially if it does not involve him.
2. If the action does involve him and continues, he should calmly ask the other child to stop.
3. If it still continues, he should move away from the situation.
4. If he has gone through the steps and there is still an issue, then he can share with an adult.
Sometimes a child just needs a path to follow. If he has tried the steps and there is still a problem, then an adult needs to intervene.
This child has a hard time sharing anything and can get aggressive toward other kids who try to play with her things. All children have trouble sharing sometimes, but for this child it interferes with her ability to make friends.
How to help: Start by setting up play dates on common ground, like a park. Not only are there no toys to fight over, the area does not belong to anyone. When your child is ready for a home field advantage, plan a play date and get a new neutral toy or game, Palma says. Another helpful tip to a successful get-together is let her pick out five toys that she does not have to share with her friends and set them aside ahead of time. That means, however, she agrees to let her guests play with whatever is left.
This child is used to having complete attention in every situation. He tends to monopolize the adults’ time and can have a hard time taking turns with friends.
How to help: It is important to establish ground rules so that the child recognizes he does not control every situation. Parents need to enforce a non-interrupting clause. "Kids need to be told, I’ll be with you in one or two minutes," Palma says. Use a timer to get him used to waiting for his turn. This is a great time to introduce a visual cue, such a finger on your earlobe or a wave of your hand. That way you do not need to interrupt your actions and your child knows you will be with them soon. Also try playing games that need time to strategize, like chess or Clue. Insist on a quiet moment to think during your turn.
Changing how a child interacts socially can take time. If, after trying these tips, your child is still having difficulty making friends, it may be time to ask a school social worker or child psychologist for some extra help.
Amber Beutel is a teacher, private tutor and mother of two children living in Grayslake.
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