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Not every child needs lots of friends to be happy. Some kids need one best friend; others thrive with a small group of close friends.
But if you’re reading this post, it’s because you feel like there’s something not quite right in your child’s social life.
Before we get to the advice portion, we want to take a moment to acknowledge how hard it is to witness these social struggles, especially if your child’s self-esteem is suffering as a result. It can be an isolating experience for parents, wondering what you can do to “fix” the situation.
You’re not alone.
Children are unique, but there aren’t infinite reasons why someone might be struggling to make good friends. Zero-in on why your child is having a hard time in social situations, so you can decide the next steps to take.
Certain neurodevelopmental disorders — such as ADHD, autism, or social pragmatic communication disorder — make it difficult for children to bond with peers, and opening them up to bullying. If your child qualifies as twice exceptional (a learning difference/disability in one or more areas, as well as an academic gift), this developmental “mismatch” ( might make it harder for them to relate to kids their own age.
Any conversation about these disorders should start with a trusted physician or mental health professional. They’ll help you understand what kinds of environments and support to look for — including the kinds of schools that will be equipped to provide the right learning and social environment.
While public schools will provide special accommodations (individual education plans), they may involve pulling the child out of their regular classroom for special education classes — which may make them feel even more isolated from their peers.
A neurodivergent child may benefit socially from the tight-knit cohorts and individualized attention of an online school like Prisma. Since everyone is learning at their own pace, no one is singled out. And, with more ability to control their learning environment than in an in-person setting, kids can socialize when they feel up to it, and have plenty of quiet time in between.
Let’s tease apart these three terms that often get confused.
Shyness is an emotion that people experience in various situations — often in front of crowds or when meeting someone for the first time. It can bring with it a physiological fear response, such as blushing or butterflies. However, shyness melts away as a child feels more comfortable in their circumstances — the kid who takes a moment to “warm up” before running off to play.
To help a shy child make friends, you’ll want to find environments and situations where they feel safe and supported. Talk with their teachers at the beginning of the school year, so they can keep an eye out for signs that the fear is becoming overwhelming.
Shy kids may benefit from a school environment, like Prisma, where they are a part of a close-knit cohort that stays together throughout the school day, the school year and, at times, for multiple years. The close relationship kids form with their coach also can help them feel more confident socially; having a trusted adult in their corner can do wonders to help a shy child blossom.
They may also thrive in an online school environment where they have more control over when and how they appear on camera. The chat function — a popular part of our online classrooms at Prisma — can also help kids come out of their shell, allowing them to express themselves in writing at their own pace.
A person with social anxiety disorder (SAD) also feels fear in the presence of others, but so intensely that it can be debilitating. There’s no “icebreaker” that can set them at ease; it can take intensive work with a mental health professional to overcome this psychiatric condition that impacts approximately 12% of all adolescents.
Despite it’s widespread nature, few children get treated for SAD, because it is often seen as a developmental “phase.” However, research suggests that treatment can be go a long way towards helping children overcome this anxiety. In addition to being taught about rational thinking and facing fears, kids with SAD are taught a series of social skills on things like “initiating conversation” and “establishing friendships.”
Introversion is not a disorder — it’s simply a way of being. While extroverts thrive in a crowd, introverts recharge their batteries after spending time alone — but that doesn’t mean they are anti-social or even shy. They may prefer to socialize in small groups or one-on-one, but the best way to help children who are introverted is to make sure their need for downtime is being met (i.e. give them breaks in between activities).
For introverts, online schools like Prisma that mix synchronous and asynchronous learning can be a great fit. On the one hand, there are plenty of opportunities to make friends in the live workshops (again, with the help of the chat function, for kids who express themselves more confidently in writing). On the other, you can choose when to interact with the group — and there’s plenty of time to decompress in between social interactions.
Introversion itself won’t get in the way of forming healthy friendships, so if your introverted child is struggling with making or keeping friends, you may want to consider the next issue: opportunity.
This problem is common for families who homeschool. Without the built-in opportunities of in-person schooling, homeschooling parents have to take more responsibility to help their child socialize.
But the issue isn’t just having an opportunity to make new friends: they need to meet the right friends, in a supportive environment.
For younger children, you can arrange play dates. But by the time kids reach the tween years and middle school, you may have better luck with extracurricular activities.
Bringing your child together with kids who have similar interests, group activities are a great source of potential friends. Some children only open up when they are with other people who really care about the same video game, the same sport or the same type of art, which is why we offer clubs, lounges and enrichment activities where kids can bond over common interests outside the regular school day.
But it’s not just about the activity; it’s also about the adult who is guiding them. Whatever activities you look into for your child, the most important thing to consider is the leadership: Are they educators? Volunteers? What kinds of credentials and experience with children do they have?
If your child is struggling socially, you want to make sure that the adults who are guiding them excel at getting kids to open up and connect with one another — a must-have trait for the 1% of applicants that get hired as a learning coach at Prisma.
A parent may know their child best, but when dealing with something so complex and personal as social development, it’s best not to go it alone — especially if there’s an underlying issue that requires professional attention.