The following question came across my desk. Teachers know an old truism that when one student verbalizes confusion about material being taught, it usually means that more than one student needs help. I imagine that the many parents agonize over their children’s relationships and this is not a unique scenario.
I am writing to you regarding my 7 year old son.
Recently he asked me to pray with him to ask God to give him more friends. He’s been sad because (according to him) he has “only one friend” at school and he sees that other kids don’t want to play with him.
I would love to hear what an ancient Hebrew perspective would be on how to help a child be more likable and make more friends. What principles can be learned on in this situation and how to relate them to a 7 yet old?
I imagine that your son is not the only one in your family who is sad. It is hard for any loving parent to watch a child be unhappy. Yet, we are called on to empathize with our child and at the same time to step back and see if we can help our child to help himself. It sounds like you are doing both those things, which is a good start.
Here is where you need to be a bit of a detective. There are so many possible scenarios as to what the problem could be, or even if there is a problem. Don’t forget that seven-year-olds don’t have perspective. The here and now is magnified. However, assuming that this wasn’t just a bad week your son was having or a rejection by one boy that he is assuming goes beyond that, here are a few ideas you might want to explore.
How about finding out more about this “one friend”? Can your son invite him over to your house for a play date? Watching their interaction will give you lots of information. Maybe he’s a charming kid and the boys really are compatible. Or maybe the only thing the boys have in common is a lack of popularity and this isn’t a healthy relationship. Is your son a gracious host? Does he pick up on emotional cues? Observing from the sidelines will provide a wealth of information.
In a similar vein, do you belong to a church that has a youth group or does your son play any community sports? Are his interests very different from most boys his age? Does he have cousins and neighbors with whom he interacts? Is this problem isolated to school, in which case there may be a problem with the classroom rather than with your son, or do you see it in other parts of his life as well? Does he see you and your wife modeling friendship both to each other and to others? I know you love him, but do you find him “likable”? Have you met with your son’s teacher? He or she probably has insight into the situation.
Two of the Hebrew words for friend are ‘YeDiD’ and ‘CHaVeR.’ The first literally means hand/hand while the root of the second word is obligation. Reciprocity is a basis for friendship. One needs to be able to be both a giver and a taker in a relationship. Young boys’ friendships are often based more on shared activities than on the above. School is an artificial environment in that it uniquely groups people together based on their age. I certainly do not limit my friends to those born within X months of me and I’m sure you don’t either. With maturity that you have, but your son does not, you know that many of the “less popular” kids in school turned out to have the most successful lives and vice-versa.
At the same time, much of how we view ourselves is formed in the school environment and you want to make sure to take your son’s concerns seriously. You can certainly help your son work on developing social skills and awareness that will serve him well throughout life. If the classroom is a healthy environment, there are most likely specific steps that can be taken once you pinpoint what the problem is. However, don’t underestimate the importance of his feeling that you and his mother and God are in his corner. Make sure to let your son know that he is valuable and loved no matter what his current social status at school.
Hope some of these ideas help and I hope that readers can share some of their thoughts as well,