Difficult teens, whiny teens or screaming toddlers? Treated every week Fidelity an educational question from the readers. This time: An eight-year-old girl suddenly has fewer friends than before. Should her parents be worried?
Earlier, there seemed to be no end to the procession of girlfriends bringing their daughter home. But these days the eight-year-old girl often wanders alone in the school yard. There are almost no play dates anymore.
Her parents are worried. Has something happened that makes their daughter suddenly have fewer friends? Or is it just age related? How can they help their daughter?
Friendships change more often around this age, explains child and parent coach Hermina Terpstra from the Kindgeluk practice. “Each child is unique, so it’s never black and white. But in general, friendships before the age of eight are mostly about doing things together. Children become friends because they enjoy the same activities: hopscotch or horse riding, for example. You also often see friendships that are practical in another way; children often become friends because they live close to each other.”
Nothing right or wrong
As children grow older, friendships change. “From the age of seven, friendships begin based on how you feel about things. Does another child find it important to follow the rules as you do?”
Terpstra thinks it may be that the girl is going through a development where she is discovering which friends really suit her. Perhaps there are gradually fewer of them.
It is ‘super important’ that parents do not keep thinking about right and wrong, she emphasizes. “In this day and age, we often think that it is better to have many friends. But maybe this child is content with one or two good friends.” If so, you may wonder who has the problem, the parents or the child. “The fear of the parents can then give way to trust. Parents can work on an attitude that radiates: this is okay.”
If the girl really is suddenly alone in the schoolyard, the parents would do well to find out what is going on. “Is the girl comfortable in her own skin? What makes her suddenly often alone? It is good to investigate it’.
Conversation about friendship
The parents can start by simply talking to their daughter, says child psychologist Sander Kooijman from Unge og Børns Praksis Rota. “Ask your child: do you have enough friends? Or God, I’ll never see Sophie again, how come?” It’s important to pick a good moment. “Pick a time like before bed or when you have a parent-child moment like braiding her hair or at a board game.”
If the girl answers that she has too few friends, it is important to ask further questions, according to Kooijman. He developed a course ‘Building Friendship’ for children and their parents. He also tries to give children insight into friendships by drawing a picture of who they hang out with and who they don’t like. “Sometimes children say: I have no friends at all. But when they start thinking about it with an adult, it turns out that there are quite a few classmates that they like.”
But it also happens that there is none at all. In Kooijman’s course, he asks children to take the initiative and, for example, invite another child to a play date. It can be exciting. Sometimes it helps to bring something to school. “If you bring a ball, you can assume that there are other kids who will play with it at recess.”
“If the child really has too few friendships, I would like to invite the parent to remain curious,” says Coach Terpstra. “Your child has to solve it himself. As a parent, be a researcher and facilitator. You can ask the child questions so that you help your child. What do you want? What is important to you in friendship? Which child do you think is a good friend?”
Many children don’t really know who they are and what they feel, she says. “Then teach them to become aware of themselves, what emotions there are, and how to recognize, accept and express them. As a parent, also acknowledge the sadness a child may have and the desire to belong. Then your child feels: oh great, I’m understood.”
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