Dear Ms. Starr,
My daughter is in the 7th grade and has a very difficult time making friends. She tells me that although everyone in her grade likes her, no one makes an effort to hang out with her or invite her to social events outside of school. My daughter is a sweet, smart, and beautiful girl, and I am beginning to worry about how this lack of friends is affecting her. She told me recently that she feels angry and anxious.
How can I help her boost her confidence and make friends? ~ Confidence Boost
Dear Confidence Boost,
Your concern and love for your daughter’s social struggle is clear and heartfelt.
Putting yourself out there is no easy undertaking. Like so many of us, girls fear rejection from their peers. Thus, many girls tend to keep themselves quiet and small, and only take the risk to reach out to others if they believe their efforts will be a guaranteed success.
I want to take a moment to appreciate your daughter’s emotional awareness and expression. Simply recognizing our inside feelings can be a challenge. Going the extra step to actually share how we feel with others is also challenging, not to mention an act of complete bravery!
Your daughter is asking for help by being open about how her lack of friends is affecting her. Keep inviting her to share her feelings and remember that no feelings are “bad” or off limits. Remind your daughter that it is totally okay and understandable that she feels angry, frustrated, embarrassed, and possibly sad.
I also recommend that you take your daughter shopping for a journal in which she can privately explore her feelings and thoughts. Helping your child to find healthy outlets for anger is also important. Taking up kick boxing, screaming along to an angry song, or seeing a mental health counselor are a few ways that your daughter could express her anger and uncover deeper emotions in the process.
Encouraging emotional venting may also serve to prevent a “girl bomb” situation (a burst of anger caused by a build up of emotion). When we “girl bomb” – and we all do — we usually feel shame and embarrassment. On top of a likely negative reaction from others, we tell ourselves that we made a mistake or that something is wrong with us. This critical inner voice then provides all the reason we need to keep stifling our emotions, repeating the “girl bomb” cycle all over again.
When it comes to making friends, I will honestly tell you that I do not have all the answers. As I have mentioned in previous articles, navigating the girl world is a daunting quest that every girl must venture alone. Although it is a solo journey, here are some essential tools that can help along the way:
1) Ask questions: Waiting for a lunch invite or a Friday night movie text may only lead to disappointment. Instead, next time you are having an interaction with a peer before class at your locker, or on the sports field, invite them to do something after school or over the weekend. If they give you some cool response like “I’m really busy these days” or “maybe sometime,” ask them directly when they do have time. It’s all too easy to back away as soon as we feel we might be rejected. However, when we don’t retreat right away but rather take the risk to ask more questions, we might just make that friend date happen.
2) Look for friends in unlikely places: Sadly, it is all too easy to dismiss those who have been labeled by the majority as “weird” or “nerdy.” Yet, signing up for a drama class or joining the yearbook staff may be a great place to hit it off with people you never thought of being friends with. Exhausted by the fact that you have known everyone in your class since you were in second grade? Get involved in activities outside of school or go to a summer camp to meet new peeps. Going to a camp or after school club where you don’t know anyone can be super scary. However, it can be an awesome chance to be the person you want to be (instead of someone everyone else thinks you are).
3) Be yourself: This is by far the hardest tool to wield but a very powerful one indeed. Like Princess Merida’s rocky journey to accept her strong-willed nature, we all make mistakes on the path to authenticity. Although we all change ourselves somewhat in order to fit in, never stop searching for friends who you can be yourself with. Be your wonderfully unique and silly self as much as you can. For when we find the courage to be ourselves, true friends find us.