Tips for parents whose kids struggle to make friends


Dr. Richard Lazaroff

Recently, a friend posted a video of a popular motivational speaker discussing why some children struggle to make friends. He concluded that it was a parent’s job to “maximize the social attractiveness of your children — because they need friends — if you dislike them, other people will.” 

Dr. Richard Lazaroff
Dr. Richard Lazaroff is a retired pediatrician who practiced in St. Louis County for nearly 40 years. Married for 42 years, he is the father of two and grandfather of four and the author of “Some Assembly Required, A Guide to Savvy Parenting.” His latest book is the novel “Illumination.” (

My friend agreed with his man’s opinion, for the most part, suggesting children who are kind, understand their limits, display good manners and know the world is not just about their wants and desires are more likely to make friends. 

This confused me. I agree with some of the sentiment, but I believe it missed the mark on why some children struggle to make friends and, in addition, it suggests that a parent has failed in their parenting (to do their job).

I, too, believe in intention. Intentional parenting plays an enormous role in outcomes for children. I, too, believe that parents should instruct their children on kindness, empathy and self-awareness.

But usually, a child with few friends is not unlikeable. And what a shame for this speaker to suggest that any parent would ever “judge” their own child so harshly. It should also be remembered that one or two friends is often sufficient for many children. Kids just aren’t programmed to be the most popular in the class.

In my experience, children with few close friends fell into several categories. Some were simply shy. Shyness is thought to be genetic. A shy temperament is associated with social anxiety. Though a parent can attempt to “coach these children up” with scripts for social interaction (like how to greet your guests at a birthday party), this coaching can produce additional anxiety in your child.

Other children struggle because of an inability to read social cues. This skill can develop over time, but again, just like being a fast runner, some are born to run and some less so.

Impulse control is often seen in children diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity) and disruptive behavior disorders. These children can struggle in waiting to take their turn and they are prone to angry outbursts.

So what is a parent to do?

1. Please don’t judge your own child. You may have been among the most popular kids in your class, but not every child wants that status or can maintain it. In some measure, accept your child for who they are.

2. Schedule play dates with another child. Initially, having even two children over may be one too many as three kids often results in one child being left on the outside looking in. When possible, schedule play dates at your own home or somewhere your child feels comfortable. A “home field advantage” will put an anxious child in an environment where they are more likely to be successful.

3. Be nearby in case things become physically dangerous, but don’t interfere to prevent your child from some social failure. You can gently review any problem situations you observed with your child after the “friends” go home. We all learn better, when learning from our mistakes.

4. Recognize and give words of praise to your child’s successes. Do not punish failures.

5. Social scripts can be useful for kids who struggle with social skills, especially if your child is receptive to the help. Remember, it can add an additional stressor at times and certainly if your child is resistant to your suggestions.

6. Sign up for group programs with intrinsic structured activities. Sports teams, dance, scouts all value teamwork and respecting others. These activities are fertile locations to reduce the anxiety associated with larger numbers of children at one time.

7. If these suggestions are not working, talk to your pediatrician. They may refer you and your child to specialized group for social skill training or may wish to consider a medical diagnosis with treatment.