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Social Struggles

Dear Janell,

My middle school son really struggles socially. He doesn’t have a big group of friends and I think he is left out a lot because he doesn’t know how to navigate social groups. Now with COVID I’m even more worried that he isn’t getting the social development he needs. I just feel so overwhelmed that he is missing out or that I should be doing more for him.

I think the first place to start is just in the assessment of what your son is experiencing versus what you want him to experience. I know as parents we sometimes project what we want for them and this includes our own anxieties, experiences and worries. Many times my kids have told me they’ve asked a kid at lunch to sit with them or included them in gym class & the peer has declined because they were content to have some time alone. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a child feeling ok not being “popular” or having a big group of friends. So, not knowing exactly what the experience is like for him, I would follow his lead & meet him where he is without adding any “should” to it.

With that, being social takes practice. So if he is craving or asking for help making friends, the teachers & school social workers in school are great at helping kids develop these skills. Reaching out and communicating your concerns to his teacher might allow them to give you feedback & observations as well as set him up for some social success within the classroom. Also, school social workers lead groups on social/emotional skills and maybe this would be a great time to tap into those resources especially because none of our social lives look typical right now. A school is set up to do this safely & regularly.

Along the same lines, use your parent connections & circles. Sometimes just one buddy can make all the difference in a child’s sense of belonging and confidence. See if you can engage a parent friend to help you facilitate some social practice with their child. It doesn’t have to be everyday, but some small, intentional interactions can really serve him. Additionally, I think video games & online social connections (with boundaries, communication & expectations) can be a great place to practice social skills. It’s low risk (not face to face), fun & anyone can belong. Despite all of the criticism of video games, when they are used with purpose, there are incredible benefits to a child’s esteem & connection. Like anything, this depends on the child, but it is a viable option.

Also, I want to note that it’s my understanding from your message that he is not currently being targeted or bullied. If he is experiencing anything consistent at school, please intervene & engage the school. Anything sustained, consistent or chronic is harmful and adult support is critical.

I think the key is to see what he needs based on what he tells you. Think about the team of people in your life & his life & see how you can lean on them for some support.

Keep Going!


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