What these ‘friendless’ moments reveal is how very important friendships are to children. They mean much more than just having fun, although that is, of course, the main reason children have friends. When children are having trouble with friendships, they feel miserable. It undercuts their self-confidence and self-esteem. Parents, too, often worry: ‘What's wrong with my child that other children don't like him?’
How popular is popular enough?
For better or worse, our culture places a high value on popularity, but only one child – or one small clique – can be the most popular in the class. Children who feel excluded can suffer greatly. Some children change their clothing, interests, manners and speech, all for the sake of fitting in. Parents often puzzle over how much of this chameleon behaviour is healthy, and wonder how they can help their children value their own individuality while remaining a part of their community of peers.
The parents' role
From a parent's perspective, the world of your child's friendships may feel like a foreign country that you can visit, but never really be part of. In the normal course of things, parents nurture their children, then let them move on to other relationships in which, necessarily, the parents are no longer the central players. This doesn't mean that you can't enjoy your child's friends, step in from time to time to help with a problem, or set limits about his behaviours in his peer group. But at some level, for friendships to be genuine, your role must be secondary. Your child has to navigate the social waters on his own.