Q: My daughter is nervous about summer as many of the neighborhood kids go to a different school than the one she attends. She is worried about how she will fit in with the children on our street and what her summer will look like. How can I help her?
A: This is a very common concern for school-aged children today. Most children like being social, and having friends to hang out with is really important to them. Neighborhood children are the natural playmates during the summer months when school is out – especially for children who are not driving.
Reconnecting with previous relationships may be the best place to start. Had your daughter played with children in the neighborhood in the past? If so, encourage her to call them up and see if they want to come over to catch up and have fun. It may have simply been schedules that kept the children apart and the friendship remains strong once they see each other again. On the other hand, your daughter may think she has nothing in common with neighborhood kids anymore. Remain optimistic and help your child think about other children she can approach.
Social skills develop as children mature. Traits such as empathy, healthy self-esteem and communication skills help every child. Talk to your child about non-verbal cues and what message she sends to others. Encourage your daughter to be friendly – especially when around the group of children she is interested in. Talk about interests your child has and what she enjoys doing with others. Encourage her to explore new activities as well. Talk to your daughter about what she is looking for in a friend. For example, it may be that she just wants someone to laugh and sit with at the pool. This is different than a best friend. It is very natural to have assorted types of friendships. Make sure that you let her initiate her own friendships now that she is older. You can encourage her, but her friendships should grow from her own choices.
I would also recommend that you encourage your daughter to stay in contact with her friends from school. Can they arrange a weekly outing so they can still see each other? The summer is the perfect opportunity to fit in all those fun activities that homework and schedules never seem to allow for during the school year. Have her coordinate a miniature golf outing or bowling pizza party so she can stay connected. Face to face contact is important in today’s world of social media and texting. Be willing to host her friends from school at your home occasionally. I would recommend that if your child is around eight or nine years of age, definitely let her take the lead in creating her social calendar. Obviously, she needs your permission, but help her learn that she may not need a planned activity every single day. Sometimes a spontaneous trip to the park is just as much fun as the planned outing to the movies.
Friendships often navigate towards cliques or closed groups. You can discuss this with your daughter and see what her thoughts and feelings are. Listen to your daughter and her friends and see how they express themselves and how they talk about children. Strongly discourage gossiping and teasing and model that yourself. Help children to be accepting and respectful. Encourage your daughter to be the friend to others she herself would like to have.