How do I help my child become more sociable?

My ten-year-old son always sticks to his 12-year-old sister or plays at home. How do i encourage him to make new friends at birthday parties or play with children in the neighbourhood? I worry about his ability to form relationships as he likes to interact only with family members. – Raihanna Fathima, Chennai
Todays generation of children tend to have limited social skills because they are exposed to fewer people outside the home and therefore feel uncomfortable and are hesitant to make new friends.

Young children take anywhere between six weeks to a year to develop the capability to bond with peer groups. Peer bonding and new friendships require children to spend time in free play. This cannot be achieved through structured classes, especially in school. Free play without gadgets is essential as building new relationships is a process. If your child has other options for entertainment including technology and siblings, the likelihood of him trying to make new friends is almost nil. To build relationships, he must experience a genuine need for friendship. I suggest you arrange for a play date” away from home where he must interact with others without the option of returning home. If he fights or tries to dominate during his play date let him deal with the situation on his own. Dont try and solve his problems in the hope that it will ease his adjustment into the peer group. Your interference will alienate him from the others.

But always ensure you are there if he wishes to discuss new friendships. In the younger ages, children move from solitary to cooperative play through four stages. He can move through the stages faster provided he has the opportunity for free play at least four times a week.

Ten years ago, my husband and i adopted a baby girl. Last year, I found out I was pregnant. As I am in my late 40s, it was a difficult pregnancy, so we were focused on making sure all was well with the new arrival. Our girl is now two months old and we are thrilled. But my elder daughter is finding it difficult to adjust to the new family situation. She is angry, moody and disinclined to bond with her sister. Recently, she told me she hates her sister and wants her to die. We had previously told her she is adopted and have constantly assured her of our attention and love. Please help. – Ftalyani Ramanathan, Erode

For ten long years, your older daughter has been the centre of all your attention. Her strong reaction to the new situation is perhaps independent of the fact that she is adopted. Sibling rivalry takes a lot of time to settle. Until now, she was the only child and didnt have to share her things, your time and attention. The fact that now she must share all of that is the likely cause of this behaviour.

Additionally, its not unusual for children who have been adopted to experience insecurity and fear of abandonment and/or suffer an identity crisis. Make sure that you and your husband spend equal time with her every day one-on- one and do fun activities together. When she speaks about her dislike of her younger sister, listen for the core message. It will provide clues to what she really needs. Sometimes she may just need to be hugged and loved to feel reassured.

Words of reassurance may be insufficient; you need to supplement them with physical displays of affection. Make her feel important and encourage her to help in whatever way she can with her sister. When family and friends visit the baby, please ask them to bring gifts for your older daughter too. Spend time with her every night at bedtime, and reiterate her importance in your lives. These positive messages will help. But if things dont settle in a couple of months, consult a therapist who specialises in play therapy.

(Aarti Rajaratnam is director of the child guidance centre and counseling clinic, Salem/chennai)

The article was published in the print version of ParentsWorld February 2018 issue.

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