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Background

My 8 year old boy is having trouble making friends. He has always been a bit different and has never been much of an extrovert. I have never thought of it as a problem, since I've always thought that it does not bother him that much. He has deep interests. For example he has self taught himself to be a skillful origami creator. He has invested hours and hours into it and by now he creates stuff that I could only wish to create myself. Another example is, that he started taking piano lessons a year ago. Never in my life I have pushed him to practice and often I have found him just practicing for hours. He is way better at it by now than other kids at his music school class. As of lately he had never epressed any negative emotions himself about not socialising much or not having many friends.

He knows what it's like to have a very good friend, because he does have one. She is a girl her age and she is my sisters daughter. He could not be happier when they are about to meet. Problem is we live in different cities so it does not happen too often. Also a note that he has the biggest heart and compassion of anyone I know. He is never aggressive or anything like this.

Him opening up

Yesterday my heart sank. We had some very minor argument about something and then he burst out that he hates himself. That he would like to be someone else. That he hates his singing voice (he sings in a gorgeous high voice like a lot of boys his age) because he sounds like a girl. He hates how none of the classmates ever wants to play with him. He hates his shyness and he hates how he is constantly too afraid to approach people like other kids are. He told me that he has been trying to socialise with girls more as he is too shy to approach boys and this has worked well but now girls have started laughing on him as he has joined girls only groups while all the other boys play by themselves. And now he is too afraid to approach anyone and just sits alone at school. This came as a bit of a shock to me. I have many times asked from him, how things are with other kids at school and he has never hinted anything like that before. So yesterday I poured him over with encouraging words how being different is a pro not a con. I encouraged him to be proud of who he is and told him not a thing in the universe could make him more awesome in my eyes. And if he would keep on showing himself to others then others would see it too. And this all came very sincerely from the bottom of my heart. But no matter how hard I tried, the self loathing did not come to stop and I could not convince him to stop with the "i hate myself" stuff. Today he called on the middle of the day that he was feeling very sick and that I would come pick him up. I did. When we started getting home, he admitted that he just did not want to be in school no more.

How I could help

I personally don't know the other kids or their parents so that I could talk to them, and I am not sure if that would even be a very good strategy. One thing I definitely plan to do is contact the class teacher and discuss the situation with her. I also plan to keep encouraging him. But other than that I am not sure what I could do? I'm feeling extremely helpless here about how to conceal the situation before it gets even worse.

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    You need to get your son evaluated and maybe into treatment, and thing of treatment for yourself as well, as parenting a child who is suffering is extremely difficult. Talking to his teacher is a good first step. Trying to get him to conceal something about himself is the opposite of convincing him he's a good person. He confessed something he at least thinks about often. Honor that and learn to cope effectively with it, which might require help. There's no shame in therapy. – anongoodnurse May 24 at 14:29
  • @anongoodnurse As english is not my native language, I probably used the word "conceal" wrong here. I did not mean conceal as in "how do I make him stop this talk and hide his emotions", I meant it rather "how to help him get to a better place mentally" or "how to get him out of this situation". But thats unimportant. You understood the gist of the problem and your comment helped. Thank you. – user857303848 May 24 at 16:43
  • Oof mama, this is a very heavy moment for you and your son. I am so sorry. My heart would break too. Finding a family counselor is a great start. A book that I am currently reading may help in finding ways to communicate with your son and to show you how to meet him where he is at in these moments. How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk 30th Edition by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish. Thinking of you and sending you and your son love and light. Namaste – taimchi Jul 14 at 4:05
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Socializing is difficult and children learn it by playing together. It can be fun but can also be scary, confusing, frustrating and discouraging. It is possible that you kid learned he could get satisfaction doing origami, and it made less sense to go through all the troubles of socializing because he already had origami.

He will have to learn how to overcome his shyness, and how to have fun with others. It is important to stress that the negative experience from social interactions in the past, is transient and in the past, it is certainly not a permanent state of affairs and it is also not some personality trait that will stick to him.

It is important to bear the above in mind for 2 reasons: Children can behave badly towards each other but they will also start with a clean slate in a matter of hours. Even after a physical fight, after screaming and telling their parents they will never, never, play together again. It was mean of the other kids to laugh at your son for playing with girls only, but it does not mean boys will not play with him tomorrow once he overcomes his shyness. Second, there is some psychological theory that says that resilient people see a bad experience as something that just happened to them, on some occasion, while less resilient people are more inclined to think it is permanent (things will always be bad) and personal. I am paraphrasing and I'm not sure if this theory still has scientific support but it seems popular among parents.

Children have surprisingly strong emotions, I think that is normal, but it is very sad when it is such a sad emotion. My son is usually optimistic and happy but when he is angry, jealous or frustrated he will dwell in these emotions in a terrible way. (Which is why I was reading the resilience book)

You can help your son by continuing to encourage him and maybe also practically by explaining the situation to another parent and arranging a play-date, or multiple play-dates. This will help him practice and get positive experiences.

The other day we had a 'street-play-day' in our street, two neighbours arranged all kinds of games for 15 or so kids from 4 ~ 9 years old. One boy at first did not want to come, he was laying curled up on the floor saying he did not want to play (his grandmother later told me). During the day he participated in the games, while chewing on his nails a lot. By the end of the afternoon he was initiating play with other children.

My son (7) has a friend (8) who is very shy with other boys, and plays only with girls and with my son. But he is smart and creative and they really have a great time together.

Finally, before Corona I did spend quality time with my son, but during these Covid-lockdowns I generally spend a lot more time with him even if it isn't all quality time. During this time he has opened up a lot more. Before it was really difficult do get anything out of him (How was school? Fine) and now he volunteers all sorts of details. So my last advice would be: spend time together even if it is not quality time and you just take him with you to the grocery store.

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Take him to see a psychologist.

We're not equipped to make diagnoses of your child's psychological state based on a post on the internet. A psychologist would be able to, however - and it sounds like your son might have autism, from how you described his introversion and deep interests, so taking him to see a psychologist to get that evaluated might be important to help you give him the proper support if he does.

In any case, a psychologist would hopefully be able to help you with the self-hatred stuff - or at least refer you to a psychiatrist who could proscribe medication for him.

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  • I used to be a lot like OP's child - albeit a little less severely. I also had female friends mostly in elementary school. It's definitely not autism, but the psychologist advice is correct. – 10 Rep Jul 22 at 23:14
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I can very much identify with your son --I was also a quiet, bookish kid, but one who desperately craved friends. I was more than a bit effeminate as a boy, and at one point had mainly female friends. I wanted to have more male friends, but I found male friendships frightening and stressful. It's not surprising this has only come up now --this is the age where friend groups tend to become highly gendered.

You can tell your son, from my perspective as someone who lived it --all those problems can be overcome! Something I have learned as an adult, watching my own kids, and their peers --all kids are weird, all kids are insecure, all kids are confused about the world and trying their best to understand it. Some are just better at hiding it than others --and some hide it by making other kids feel bad about themselves. Many of the kids who I grew up with who seemed like they most had it all together --the popular, athletic ones -- have struggled greatly as adults. Being a weird, bookish kid isn't all bad, it can teach you a lot of valuable lessons that will help you later in life.

Of course, that won't help much now, so here are a few things that might:

  1. Are there other boys in his music school? If so, see if you can support him building a friendship with one of them --he might have more in common with someone else in the arts. Having friends outside of school might help him feel less insecure at school. There might also be friends from school he could reach out directly to outside of school --lower pressure without all the onlookers.
  2. Is there any sport or physical activity he likes and might become good at? I was horribly unathletic and absolutely hated sports, but I did end up doing martial arts, and dance, both of which I liked a lot. My own oldest child --who is a lot like me in many ways --runs track, which isn't as stressful as something like basketball or football. A huge amount of the bonding that most boys do is through some form of athletics.
  3. Along those lines, you might encourage him to study a sport and follow the local team. I'll never be a sports fan, but I learned enough about football to enjoy watching a game, and have a conversation about it. There are a lot more people who are fans of sports than who actually play. Like origami or music, it's something that has rules and that you can learn to understand and appreciate, even if it's not natural to you.
  4. Something to know about male friendships --they are aggressive and offensive and competitive, especially for younger boys, just by nature. I want to be very careful about this next piece of advice, because I don't want to sound like I'm advocating for your son to put up with abuse from his friends. But sometimes (often) a male friend will insult you or mock-fight you, and it means they like you. They are really being affectionate, it just doesn't seem like it. It can be very confusing and off-putting if you're not used to it, but once you understand it, you can take it in the spirit it's meant.
  5. The biggest thing to remember about making friends --other kids are insecure and lonely, and looking to connect too, even the boys.

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