Friends and Friendships (page 3)

— NYU Child Study Center
Updated on Jul 9, 2010

Questions & answers

How can we get friends to stop fighting?

Don't intervene unless you are asked to. In other words, don't be a detective who has to find out who did what first, a jury to decide who deserved what and who was more guilty, and don't be a judge and mete out punishment. If someone asks for help, then intervene.

I don't like my kid's friends. What should I do?

We all want our children to have friends who are polite, honest, and bright, who don't smoke or do drugs. Some parents are afraid that if their children's friends are less than perfect, they'll be a bad influence. If you try to forbid a friendship, you may actually make it more attractive. Address yourself to the need in your child that the friendship satisfies. Ask your child what it is that he likes in that particular friend, and the answer may give you the real reason for the attraction.

Children have to learn to deal with all kinds of people, and short of keeping a child in the house day and night, you don't have many alternatives. If your child is associating with kids you don't approve of, don't focus on trying to prevent him from seeing his friends; work on uncovering the real issues, which are the child's needs and feelings. However, when the issues are potentially dangerous, such as when the child aligns himself only with belligerent, antisocial friends, then parents have a responsibility to discourage the association.

Will an only child have problems making friends?

Not necessarily. There is no evidence that only children find making friends harder than children with siblings. Research has found that only children are as cooperative and competitive as children with siblings.

When a 4-year-old invents an imaginary friend, is that a sign of emotional disturbance?

No. In fact, many see an imaginary companion as a sign of creative potential. There is no evidence that an imaginary friend interferes with a child's relationships. Imaginary friends can help children learn how to master and cope with anxiety. It's important not to belittle or make fun of a child's imaginary friend. As the child begins to feel more competent overall, her need for imaginary friends will decrease.

What about a 9-year-old kid who stays in his room from the time he gets home from school almost until the time he has to go to bed? He won't go out and play with any of the kids on the block. He won't call for any kid in his class. All he wants to do is play with Legos and watch TV. I tried screaming at him to go out. It didn't work. I tried bribing him. It didn't work. I told him he has to call one boy a week. It didn't work. What worries me is that he'll grow up without having a single friend.

The source of this child's behavior can be due to a number of issues. Trying to help him by means of legislation hasn't been very successful. Trying to find an afterschool activity where he could build with Legos in the company of other children without being forced to take the initiative would be a first step. His mother should speak to his teacher and guidance counselor to see whether he could somehow be integrated into a group, a committee, or a team.

Sometimes a parent's own experience with a social situation can impact on the child's attitude. Forcing the child to associate with others or be punished or rewarded shows him that this issue has strong emotional significance. He may refuse to do what is demanded of him because he's angry. He can't tell his mother directly that he's angry, but without being aware of it, he may refuse to do what she requests. Ways to understand the behavior and ways to change it should be explored with the help of a mental health professional.

About the Authors

Robin F. Goodman, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist specializing in bereavement issues.

References and Related Books

Good Friends Are Hard to Find
F. Frankel
Perspective Books 1996

Teaching Friendship Skills (Primary Version and Intermediate Version)
P. Huggins
The Assist Program Sopris West
1140 Boston Avenue
Longmont, Colorado 80501

Bullies and Victims: Helping Your Child Through the Schoolyard Battlefield
S. Fried & P. Fried
Evans Books 1996

About the NYU Child Study Center

The New York University Child Study Center is dedicated to increasing the awareness of child and adolescent psychiatric disorders and improving the research necessary to advance the prevention, identification, and treatment of these disorders on a national scale. The Center offers expert psychiatric services for children, adolescents, young adults, and families with emphasis on early diagnosis and intervention. The Center's mission is to bridge the gap between science and practice, integrating the finest research with patient care and state-of-the-art training utilizing the resources of the New York University School of Medicine. The Child Study Center was founded in 1997 and established as the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry within the NYU School of Medicine in 2006. For more information, please call us at (212) 263-6622 or visit us at

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