'My Only Child Can't Make Friends And I'm So Frustrated I Want To Move'

This topic is close to my heart because I am an only child and struggled with feeling lonely. Unlike your daughter, I was very shy and so would never have just run over to another child's house to hang out. It is great that your daughter is extroverted, and I understand that you are anxious that her spirit and social nature will be crushed if other children continue to reject her.
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a sad child in a alley way in...
a sad child in a alley way in...

Reader Only Child Mom writes,

I have one daughter (cannot have more children) and really need some advice because her situation is very different from my childhood experience. I am the youngest of four siblings and also grew up with neighbors and cousins to play with.

My husband and I moved when my daughter was two (she is now 7) because of my job. I specifically bought my house in a neighborhood with lots of families. The problem is that no one really makes an effort to include my daughter in their activities -- I would occasionally invite kids over, sometimes they came and sometimes not which is understandable. However, it's seems as if everyone around me is caught up with their existing family and friends and never remembers to invite her. My daughter is a regular normal child, very sweet and social... she just wants to play like any other 7 year old.

A few days ago my next door neighbor had a birthday party for their 6 year old and did not invite her. She went out to play and came back inside crying as soon as she realized there was a party and she was not invited. She knew it was this child's birthday (they play sometimes in the backyard) and made a painting that she was going to give her... she just was not aware there was going to be a party.

My daughter is biracial and I am worried this may be an issue only because I do not know what else to think. We are educated professionals and obviously have no such issues among ourselves and family. I get the socially awkward problem taking her places alone, as you wrote about here, but sometimes I literally cannot find someone to take with us.

She did have a close friend at one point -- another only child but that family moved almost a year ago. I am getting tired of feeling like I have to hunt down kids for her to play with who don't seem to reciprocate. I am to the point where I am thinking of moving; I never realized it feels more lonely to have people around you that are ignoring you than to live without neighbors. I don't mind for myself but it breaks my heart to see her feeling excluded.

Dear OCM,

This topic is close to my heart because I am an only child and struggled with feeling lonely. Unlike your daughter, I was very shy and so would never have just run over to another child's house to hang out. It is great that your daughter is extroverted, and I understand that you are anxious that her spirit and social nature will be crushed if other children continue to reject her.

The key question to ask here is whether your daughter makes friends at school. Even if you think you know that she does, ask her teacher to be sure. Ask who your daughter plays with at recess and whether she seems to fit in with the other kids. If she is able to make friends at school, then you must make a conscious and concerted effort to befriend the other mothers. Get the contact information of the mothers of your daughter's three closest friends at school, and try to set up a playdate within the next two weeks with each of them. If you work full time, make it on a weekend. If you yourself are introverted, which I sense because you said "I don't mind for me," then you will have to get into a different mental zone to be sure that you get these playdates to happen. You have to invite these children to something specific, fun, and that they would want to join. Your daughter is seven, so this is the stage of drop-off playdates, so here is an email or text template:

"Hi! This is X's mom, Y. X loves your daughter Z and talks about how much fun they have at school! Can Z come over this Saturday at 11 for pizza and playing outside in the sprinkler? You're welcome to stay or drop off! If Saturday doesn't work, let me know a time that works for you."

If the mom doesn't respond, I would be shocked, but she may also say, "That sounds fun, but Z can't make it. Another time!" There is a 50% chance this means that Z is busy and the mother is too scattered or busy to plan something else, and a 50% chance that Z doesn't like your child. (If she says, "We can't do Saturday but we can do Sunday," then you move mountains to make Sunday work.) Now move on to the other two friends, with a similar email. If all three are "busy," we have to conclude that your child is struggling with social skills, and that would be a whole other post, but in the case that all three reject the playdate, you need to have a meeting with her teacher and ask her, openly and non-defensively, to help you understand why your daughter, who loves people, is not able to make friends who want to come over.

I think it may be possible that your daughter is doing something that is kind of off-putting to the other kids, but I have no idea what it is. Usually, social kids make friends and garner birthday invites pretty easily. But there is also the possibility that you aren't putting yourself out there enough. As the youngest of four in a previous generation, the odds that your mom scheduled even one
for you is slim. You may not know exactly what to do and how important it is that you do it. For the purposes of this post, I will assume that your daughter is sweet but possibly awkward or unpracticed socially, and you will then have to be the conduit between her and a social life. I don't think moving will help much, unless you are truly in Stepford and she is the only non-lily-white kid that the other kids ever saw. So, instead of moving, or at least prior to moving, here's ten things to do to give your daughter the best shot at a social life:
  1. Invite friends to playdates, all the time, as I told you to do before. Eventually someone will say yes.

  • At playdates, ensure that your daughter is primed and prompted to be an excellent hostess, including sharing and being nice.
  • Make these playdates as fun as anything. This isn't your childhood where you guys ran around in the backyard and someone gave you juice and cookies at the end. Get out some crafts from Michael's and some play dough and bake cookies and make beaded bracelets. Feed them delicious snacks that are colorful and store-bought, unless your neighborhood is against food dye, and then feed them $10 cookies from Whole Foods. Your goal is to be the Most Fun Playdate Ever.
  • Join the PTO and make friends even if it kills you. Be as extroverted as possible for the hour of the PTO meeting, even if you have to recharge for a week afterwards. Friend at least three moms on Facebook and do the playdate thing with them.
  • Make friends in any other possible way that you can, including work, the gym, meetup groups, church, I don't care what. Hang out with these friends, and voila, you have family friends.
  • Do not under any circumstances stand on ceremony or let your pride stop you from inviting over a child or a family multiple times even without their reciprocating. If your daughter has fun with the kid, then you invite them over again. That's the only rule.
  • Address any social issues that your daughter has by talking to her teacher, and assessing what the problem is, if any, and then working with the school counselor to discuss ways that your daughter could be coached to interact in a more socially skilled way with the other kids.
  • Enroll your daughter in dance, gymnastics, chess club, whatever. At least two extracurriculars, where she can meet other people. During the class/lesson/club, if any other parent sits there, or else during pickup, you exchange information and do the playdate thing.
  • Unless your daughter is actually being bullied, help her to continue thinking positively about people by framing experiences like the party as normative. "That's sad that she didn't invite you, but often people have a limit on how many people to invite, and I bet this was a party for school friends." (It probably was; introspect about whether you are projecting rejection by reading this.)
  • Remain positive. Think the best of everyone all the time and instill this in your daughter. Someone who was mean is likely having a bad day. Someone who was rude must have been feeling insecure. Teach your daughter that people are innately good, although sometimes may behave poorly for all manner of reasons.
  • Good luck, and please keep me updated. I am gunning for you and your daughter. Incidentally, don't stop the playdate invitation rodeo after one person accepts. Your goal for this summer is ten playdates with ten different kids. Pick them up in the playground if you need to. I don't care. Obtain them. Fly out my kids to wherever you live. This is your mission should you choose to accept it, OCM, and till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, Practice Is Everything In Life, And Socializing And Friendship Take Practice.

    This post was originally published here on Dr. Psych Mom. Follow Dr. Rodman on Dr. Psych Mom, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. Order her book, How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for Your Changing Family. Learn about Dr. Rodman's private practice here. This blog is not intended as diagnosis, assessment, or treatment, and should not replace consultation with your medical provider.