Coaxing a Child to Reach Out

Q: Our 12-year-old daughter is a little quieter than most of our children. She gets along well with her neighbors and cousins, but has little to do with classmates. She told me that she doesn’t really like the girls in her class, and there were not many whom she felt comfortable even calling for homework. Not that it is bad for her to spend free time with siblings, cousins and neighbors, but I see that we need to work together to broaden her limited social circle.

When I asked which girl she would feel comfortable inviting over, it was difficult for her to come up with a single name. I explained the importance of spending time with classmates and expanding her horizons. She then confided that she is afraid her classmates would be bored in our home because we don’t have videos (even Jewish ones) and very limited electronics. She worries that our house is not fancy enough, and that her hyper 10-year-old brother will act up when someone comes over. She is convinced that a visiting classmate will “rate” her house and family and talk about them to other girls the next day in school.

How can I help my daughter expand her social circle to include classmates?

A: You are correct in your assessment that you need to convince your daughter of the need to expand her social circle. Feeling comfortable with relatives and neighbors is fine and understandable, but failure to appreciate the good points of classmates has obviously become an issue.

Discuss this topic in an open-ended manner, showing interest in her feelings rather than being judgmental. Suggest the idea that it is sometimes easier to reject others (in our minds) before they reject us! This type of self-protection is surely a faulty one. Seeing the good points in others is a lifetime gift we give ourselves, as people with such attitudes live with less resentment and are liberated from many negative emotional responses towards others.

You can turn this into an “ahavas Yisrael” project, focusing on one or two classmates with whom she feels she might possibly connect. You can reward her for phoning these classmates and inviting them to get together outside school. If your daughter feels uncomfortable about girls coming over to your house, you can offer to drive her and a friend to an activity, such as going out for pizza — or whatever is acceptable to you. Children with insecurities often feel more comfortable suggesting actual activities; if a peer chooses not to participate, she seems to be rejecting the activity, not the child’s company.

Make it a point to not have your behaviorally-challenged son at home when a classmate visits. You and your daughter can help problem-solve the issue of which games to play; not everyone appreciates the world of electronics alone.

As far as her worrying about your home being “rated” the next day in school: most people appreciate the warmth and positive energy that emanate from a home more than all external trappings. Try to make your home a warm and inviting place to be.