How can I help my daughter make new friends?

My six-year-old daughter is cheerful and friendly with children in the neighbourhood. But in school she is shy and reserved and doesn’t make new friends. Is there any way I can help her overcome her introversion?— Vinola Thomas, Trivandrum

Young children need time to blend into a new peer group. Typically, a child’s development process involves solitary play, followed by parallel, associated and cooperative play. The way forward is to allow her more free play time with neighbourhood children in non-competitive and non-academic environments. Since schools are a formal academic environment, you need to give her more time to adapt. She may also be experiencing a ‘silent phase’ of language learning which is common when young children are introduced to the English language in school.

My 12-year-old son often hangs out with friends at the local McDonalds and fast food joints. I’m worried about him picking up bad habits such as smoking and drugs. Since he is entering his teens, I don’t want to restrict his interaction with friends either. Please advise.— Shyla Dinesh, Bangalore

For children peer interaction is like oxygen. You need to encourage it while setting ground rules. My advice is that you start an evening connection ritual with your son, when you discuss the day’s happenings. Please note this time should not be used for crisis intervention, judgements, snide remarks, advice and lectures. This is a deliberate effort as a parent to make time for two-way communication in a non-judgemental and relaxed context. This will encourage your son to freely share his problems and pressures with you. Also note that children observe and learn from parental behaviour. Therefore you need to role model a healthy social lifestyle which balances peer interaction with work and family time.

I have three children — my twin boys are five and daughter is seven. The twins go to preschool for 2.5 hours every day. I am going bonkers managing them. The siblings squabble and often fight. I don’t have the support of grandparents either as they live in another city. I am exhausted by bedtime and tend to vent my frustration on my children. Please help!— Rijiya Begum, Hyderabad

Being a twin child myself, I understand the stress you are experiencing. Twin toddlers are always more than a handful. I suggest you take them outdoors more often for free play, to a nearby park for instance. Enrichment of all senses will assist children develop emotional regulation over time. Also make time for your own rest and sleep. This will help you gain perspective. If you are still unable to enjoy downtime when they are away at school, you should seek professional advice to ascertain if you have unrealistic expectations as a parent which is stressing you out.
It’s also important to remember that it is not how much time you spend with the children that matters but the quality of the interaction with children. Parenting is not easy and there’s no need to aspire to become a perfect parent. You need to strike a balance between childcare and your own personal needs and well-being.

(Aarti Rajaratnam is director of the Child Guidance Centre and Counseling Clinic, Salem/Chennai)

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