December 1, 2023
December 1, 2023

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Social Challenges; Navigating Peer Groups

I was recently asked the following question by a parent: “How do I handle a situation where a certain boy always is hanging around my son? My son really doesn’t mind hanging out with him, but feels that their friendship hurts his friendship with other kids who do not like this particular kid. He doesn’t want to hurt his feelings by telling him to ‘go away,’ but this boy always seems to hang around my son and doesn’t seem to be able to ‘take a hint.’ As a parent, I am not sure what to do.”

In the above scenario, we can identify the following issues:

1) Should the parent “coach” his son on how to deal with this issue or should he let his son deal with it on his own?

2) What about the parents of the “annoying kid”? Isn’t it their responsibility to deal with their son’s social challenges?

3) Should there be direct communication between the parents as to what is going on in the “social circle”?

As a child gets older, there may be some hesitation from parents as to exactly how they should involve themselves in the social challenges of their children. Each situation is different and unique, but parents should not shy away from getting involved. The question that needs to be asked is, “What exactly is the best way to get involved and teach my child how to navigate a specific situation?”

Let’s offer some suggestions as to how the parents can be helpful in this particular case:

1) Parents need to validate how difficult this may be for their child. Trying to be friendly and inclusive displays the kindness and sensitivity of their child but also creates a dilemma as to how to deal with his other friends.

2) Parents can model for their child how to communicate assertively to a particular friend if a challenge should arise. Therefore, in our above example, parents can help their child to understand that there is nothing wrong with telling someone that they can’t always “hang out together.” Parents can work their child on the particular language, but parents can use the following script to help their child communicate his feelings:

“Listen, Chaim. I think that you are a nice kid and I like playing with you. However, there are times that I also like to play with other kids that may not be kids that you hang out with. I want to still be friends with you, so it is important to me that you try to understand this.”

In these types of cases, I always recommend parents to tell their kids that they do not have to choose one group over another or one friend over another. It is normal for kids to have different friends, who may at times not get along with each other or belong to the same social circles. Parents often make the mistake of coaching their children to choose one friend over another friend or by coaching their child to directly tell someone that they are “super-annoying and no one will want to be your friend if you keep acting like this.” This may be how the child feels, but using this particular language will certainly not enhance the self-esteem of the other child.

In our example, parents may think that it is best to allow their child to deal directly with this challenge, while doing their best to “stay on the sidelines.” While this approach may at times be beneficial, parents should work on providing tools to their children to help them to be more inclusive of other children.

Mark Staum, LCSW is the school therapist for the PTACH program @ MTA. Mark also maintains a local private practice where he specializes in working with children develop tools and techniques to manage anxiety, social challenges and family adjustments. Mark also consults with families and provides solution based techniques to improve family communication and family dynamics. If you wish to schedule an appointment or speak with Mark about any related issue, please contact him at [email protected]

By Mark Staum, LCSW

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