Manufacturing friendships (v long)

(20 Posts)
Fatsia Sun 26-May-13 07:28:00

Have NC for this but am a regular. DD1 Yr 7, made a good group of friends (part of the UNcool crowd) in seniors this year. One of that group, lets call her X, is being marginalised by the others, as she is doing really embarrassing things, off kilter with what's socially acceptable - eg shouting out 'weird' things across playground, going up to sixth formers and trying to talk to them etc. Just things that 'you don't do'. As this is already the uncool crowd, this is really difficult for that group.

This girl has been going through a difficult time at home but has always been a bit 'different', much more 'innocent' then the others. She doesn't 'get' a lot of the jokes and the rest of the friends feel they have to protect her from some of their conversations as she's being brought up to be more innocent and less mature than many of them.

Fortunately, the school has excellent pastoral care and DD, along with her friends, have been talked to about not excluding X and how hurtful this must feel to X. DD is mortified, quite rightly, that X is so upset and is immediately trying to make amends and re-include X. So I'm happy with DDs response and the school's response too. DD and X will meet up this half-term and DD wants X to feel happy again.

I'm wondering though how far a school and parents should go in trying to manufacture a friendship that may have run it's course? At age 12, all the children are changing rapidly, growing up differently. Some are maturing faster than others. Some who were close friends in the juniors have drifted away from those friends and made new ones.

DD has privately told me that whilst she's happy for now to re-include X and can understand that X has felt left out, she can't really see in the longer term wanting to stay friends with X. They've really only been 'friends' this year and this was partly because they're both in the uncool crowd.

If DD doesn't stay friends with X, this is going to be perceived as 'bullying and excluding' and DD is terrified of being seen that way. So part of her wanting to remain friends with X is so as not to be seen as a bully. But this isn't going to work in the long run is it?

An additional factor is that DD has a sibling who has no friends at all now and has struggled to socialise as they have AS. DD has been used to 'making allowances' all her life for her sibling - hence her ability to accept X more readily, who is also a bit 'different'. I've therefore also been that parent on the other side, like X's parents, worrying about my child being ostracised and uncertain how to change this.

I can equally see on the one hand, why DDs sibling is being excluded (the school has tried to help with this but it's not worked) because of being 'different and embarrassing to others' - yet really upset and worried as a parent of a child like this and not sure what to do and to what extent to attempt 'manufacturing' friendships for DDs sibling.

So I guess I'm posting here to get some feedback from others and am in the position of having one child who is feeling compelled to maintain a friendship, really out of compassion rather than desire, yet also have another child who has been ostracised themselves for being 'different'. I 'feel' for DD who is feeling responsible for X's happiness and compelled to be friends with her. Yet I also 'feel' for X and for DDs sibling, who have no idea why they're losing friends.

Should a school take an active role in manufacturing friendships - for the sake of the 'excluded and different child' or should there come a time when the children should be allowed to befriend who they want to befriend and it's the responsibility of the parents to help their more socially isolated DCs to acquire skills to enhance friendships?

chocoluvva Sun 26-May-13 13:09:22

My DC and I get round this by inviting 'difficult' (for want of a better word) friends round/to join in with activities as part of a group thereby 'diluting' their effect IYSWIM. There have been times when I've told them they ought to include particular friends, the friend hasn't been free to come and I've privately acknowledged that we're not disappointed they can't come but glad we gave them the nice feeling of being asked.

It's hard to find a balance isn't it? We all want our DCs to be kind and also strong enough to not feel the need to conform to the popular crowd's ways but there comes a point......

On the other hand, in a few years the 'difficult' friends will have matured and grown out of the worst of their foibles. Your DD might be glad she was nice when she finds herself sitting beside her in A2 French/sharing a room on a school trip/whatever.

Nevertheless, the school can only hope and encourage pupils to make and maintain friendships. Attempts to "manufacture" friendships will surely backfire. Perhaps there are school clubs/groups that this girl could attend?

Earlybird Sun 26-May-13 13:23:47

This is such a tricky age for friendships.

You don't mention X's parents. Where are they in all of this? Is the school communicating with them and X and her issues?

It sounds as if X may have some issues that go beyond simply being 'different'. Is that possibility being looked into?

Btw, I think it is lovely that you have a kind/compassionate dd who considers others and is inclusive. But it is not your dd's 'job' to make everything OK for X.

Fatsia Sun 26-May-13 14:09:10

That's a good idea about inviting some more difficult children around as always part of a group. In fact, with my other 'eccentric' DC, we always had lots of children round, in the days when friendlessness wasn't an issue.

Earlybird, the school have been brilliant with X's family circumstances and have really supported X's mum, which, although DD was implicated in the ostracising, makes me feel very confident about the school in general. Yes, X has other issues going on outside of school that DD is aware of and so everyone makes even more allowances. X's 'differences' pre-date those issues however.

I'm v proud of DD and am glad she's reacted in the way you'd want, as a parent. It's more the longer term problems for DD if she wants to find other friends than X and how the school might perceive this if it then means her spending time away from X.

Meanwhile, having arranged DD to meet with X this week, I've tried to arrange something similar for her sibling - but so far no one's 'available', sadly, which may just be a kind way of others simply not enjoying being around my own 'eccentric' child.

chocoluvva Sun 26-May-13 14:10:07

It sounds as if X possibly has aspergers too IMO.

chocoluvva Sun 26-May-13 14:14:05

Sorry, cross posted.

'Eccentric' children often find that school is the most challenging time of their lives. The combination of their personal development that comes with being a bit older and the opportunity to mix with others who share their interests at uni/college is often a very happy one.

You sound very kind and thoughtful.

BrianButterfield Sun 26-May-13 14:19:20

There's very little a school can do - I've never really seen pastoral or teaching staff make any difference to friendships, despite trying. I have a boy in my form who sounds like X and my dearest wish would be to see him with a proper friend, but the other y7 boys in the (vertically mixed) form won't have anything to do with him. I also teach him and have tried resorting the whole class's seating plan and sitting him next to amiable boys in the hope they might gel but they always end up falling out (he can be very antagonistic). I try to give him friendly advice on how to act socially, feedback when he's fallen out with someone and I have been quite straight-talking at times but at the end of the day you can't force people to be friends.

WouldBeHarrietVane Sun 26-May-13 14:20:59

Tbh I'm not sure on the info given whether X is just different or has issues. I used to tall to the sixth formers at that age too - wasn't aware that wasn't allowed?! I definitely wasn't cool tho' grin

I was friends with someone at school who was 'uncool' and a bit off kilter - they almost certainly have AS undx according to their sibling. Their dad also has a lot of AS traits. I think I would encourage them to be civil and including at school and in out of school group stuff, but for real one on one friend stuff say it's ok to choose.

WouldBeHarrietVane Sun 26-May-13 14:21:34

Posted too soon - ok to choose who to be really close to.

thornrose Sun 26-May-13 14:29:43

Hmm, this is a tough one. My dd has Aspergers and doesn't fit in with anyone in her form sadly. The form tutor tries to stop the other girls from being mean or excluding dd. She does not insist on them being friends with dd however, which is fair enough (but breaks my heartsad)

Your dd sounds like an absolute credit to you, and you sound like a great mum if you don't mind me saying blush

Manufactured friendships never work. I've worked in a few schools, only primary, and it's a minefield. I think you're right, friendships must be allowed to change and develop especially at this age.

Schmedz Sun 26-May-13 16:54:12

My DD also has AS and until the last few years has not really had any friends at school. However, having a diagnosis really helped her relax about who she was...she now understands that she is different and it isn't her fault! She is also fortunate to have found one special friend who 'gets her' and will always help her act in a more socially appropriate way when she gets it 'wrong'!

Has your DD ever spoken to X (who almost certainly has an ASD!!) about her behaviours and explained how it affects others in the group? My DD certainly appreciates someone gently explaining why something she has done or said is inappropriate (not that it will always change her mind about saying/doing the 'right' thing!) she is picking up a few more social skills because her friends are willing to do that for her...

Fatsia Sun 26-May-13 17:07:05

Thanks for all this input. I'm not sure if X has AS. She is more socially disinhibited like a younger child and also speak v loudly at inappropriate times, likes to be in charge etc. My 'eccentric' Dc has many more AS characteristics than X but I have wondered if X has certain inclinations towards this.

Yes, Schmedz, all of X's friends have tried to tell her, at different times, things like, "X - please just don't do that" when she's been a bit 'weird' and inappropriate. They tried this all year but X doesn't stop or seem to 'get it' - a bit like my other DC - and so that's why their next 'solution' was to try just to avoid being with her some of the time - hence the awful situation with X feeling ostracised.

DD and friends have told the teachers about how they've tried to gently stop X doing and saying certain things but this hasn't made a difference.

TBH, I don't know if X has AS or if she's just different or more immature in personality or if it's all recently got worse because of X's home life issues.

DD is very good at being understanding of others who are 'different ' but sometimes I've felt like she's had to make too many allowances for her sibling and should now been developing her own more ordinary friendships. In the past, when DD has stood up for her AS sibling, she's felt she's lost friends and has been torn between protecting sibling and wanting to fit in better herself.

It's SO difficult, as I can see everyone's perspective here yet don't have any easy solutions. I just hope that both X and my own AS child will eventually find their 'place' socially and their niche in life and not suffer too much along the way.

alpinemeadow Sun 26-May-13 17:47:32

This is very difficult. You and your dd sound lovely! My view is that schools should do everything they can to foster friendships for those who don't naturally find friends - by means of trying to 'pair' them with likely people, reorder seating plans, and anything else they can do to encourage friendships to develop. So yes, play an active role in facilitating friendships. Depressing to hear from brianb that he (is it he?) has never seen teachers or pastoral staff make a difference to friendships - though i must admit I have wondered about this myself! Could it perhaps make a difference at the beginning of yr 7 with very shy dcs who just don't have the skills currently to identify and approach likely friends? Anyway that is a digression, and we just have to live in hope!

But nobody should ever be forced to be friends with someone they don't like - and as you point out, it can't work out long term anyway. By all means require dcs to be civil and friendly, but not to 'be friends'. The school should be helping x by listening to what your dd's group is telling them about x, and helping x to adapt if possible, so that the group are happier to be with her. Perhaps the school are already trying to do this?
Meanwhile, as for what your dd should do - it is really really nice of you to have invited x over this week - and for that alone her mother will probably be eternally grateful. maybe invite one other person? I think one difficulty of inviting more then one other friend may be that you feel you have to be present, and intervene to avoid an excluding dynamic developing if the other dds are not as lovely and inclusive as your dd - and that can be very difficult for you! Longer term, i would keep a very close eye that your dd is not being held back by x from developing her own friendships - if she is, you may have to approach school.

alpinemeadow Sun 26-May-13 18:03:19

Aagh my anSwer was so long and now i want to add to it!
About your other dc - just to say the parents whose dc are unavailable this week may genuinely not be around, rather than just being kind. loads of people are going away for at least part of this week, and then if you already have a couple of things arranged and want some downtime as well, that does effectively mean you're booked up for the whole week. The problem is you don't know which it is - so it's difficult to know whether to pursue it another time! (having said which i would much prefer a polite brush off than brutal truth, to be frank!).
Has the school given you any indications as to who the likely friend 'contenders' for your dc might be? It sounds as though you've been grappling with the issue for some time, so they probably have,

Fatsia Sun 26-May-13 18:35:34

Thanks for your thoughtful response, Alpine. Yes, I've talked with the school about possible friendly children for my AS DC but the difficulty is that DC lacks the ability and the courage to approach these other children.

I've had long talks with DC about how to make friends, what to say, how asking other people questions about themselves, makes it easier if you don't know what to say yourself and also allows the other to feel you're interested in them. However, DC is firmly of the belief that these other children are now in a friendship group and it's too late to join.

Previous friendships have been with other children who, when younger, were more quiet and shy and passive so that DC would walk round the playground with them 'lecturing', voicing opinions, repeating things about any current special interest/obsession. Many of those children have of course now reached an age when they're no longer happy to be the recipient of DC's 'lectures' and now have the confidence to branch out themselves, leaving DC behind and alone.

I've been going down the 'join a lot of clubs' route but DC has left so many of these. What's also interesting is that AS DC is acutely aware of which other children don't fit in and does anything to avoid them despite being in the same category as many of them!

A very kind teacher suggested that she confidentially asks one of the children in DCs class to invite my DC to join in at times, although I don't think this has yet transpired. It's very possible that the parents of that other child is also feeling like her DC's friendships are being 'manufactured' and may not want my DC foisted onto theirs!

alpinemeadow Sun 26-May-13 19:03:07

Fatsia your dc may well be right that friendship groups are now formed - and although schools are right to say that the friendship groups remain fluid and shift, that doesn't help the less socially adept dcs, because they can't 'spot' the gaps that open up, and move into them - and that is a key skill which most dcs exercise instinctively, without even knowing they are doing so.

One frustrating thing is that a school's approach at the beginning may be 'give it time, early days' so they don't intervene; then it is later days, and by that time the groups have formed, making it that much harder, and the 'friendless' dc has lost confidence. So it is so understandable that your dc doesn't have the ability or confidence to approach other dcs who seem 'taken'!
so, that is why I see a role for schools doing the pairing off, seating plan type of thing - and for example, in the case of your kind teacher, set up a group activity (some project or other) that your dc can be in with some likely buddies. Could you suggest that to the teacher? It also means one dc doesn't have all the pressure on him or her to include your dc, ie so that the 'inviting' dc doesn't become your dd!

Out of school clubs are good because they create a quasi social life, i think - even if your dc doesn't necessarily make friends there she or he 'goes to something'. At the very least gives him or her something to talk about at school!

Finally, my sympathies - these things can be so gruelling! Your dc are very lucky to have you helping them..

mumslife Sun 26-May-13 21:38:49

Imo i would say thischild could well have AS and i am speaking as the parent of a child who has AS and will willbe going to seniors in sept. Thereare so many on thespectrum these days tovarying degrees and notall presenting the same. What my sons future senior school is doing is running compolsery lessons about the conditiontohelp conditiontohelp inclusion rather than exclusion. my sixteenyearold daughter is incredible with kids in heryear thathave it and i am soproud of her. She was fab even in year seven she gets it because of her brother. Now she is in year eleven she is not the only one who understands their differences. I know at that age it is important to fit in but if this child has a problem then i feel deeply sorry that it looks like she may may soon be be excluded. That is not the way forwarded promoting everyone isdifferent is

Mendi Mon 27-May-13 11:03:36

It's a difficult situation but I think worth encouraging your DD to be nice to this child. Or at least, neutral.

In my year at school there was a girl who was 'that kid'. The one no one liked. She was just a bit odd. She also had a very unhappy home life - father had remarried and the stepmother wouldn't have this girl in her home. Anyway, most people were horrible to her. Just social exclusion really. I tried to be neutral and not join in, but I could have extended the branch of friendship and didn't (I'd been bullied at my last school and was desperate to fit in at the new one). Whenever I think of her now I feel terrible that I could have done something to make her school days happier, and didn't. As a parent of a child the same age now, I really can't bear it.

We all have to get on with people we don't really like in adult life; it's just as well for kids to start learning to do the same. As a minimum, I think of it as base-level manners.

alpinemeadow Mon 27-May-13 11:20:22

Mendi good point, and in fact i think that dcs themselves gain hugely by being kind and by extending a hand to the unpopular ones - definitely boosts the self- esteem to do a good turn and be considerate (hence debates about whether altruism exists blah blah but that is for another thread entirely!). fatsia's dd sounds as though she already is kind and prepared to look after x, which is lovely.
For fatsia and her dd the challenge is to be kind and friendly to x without it jeopardising her ability to develop her other friendships - not having to spend every minute with her, but having some breaks and lunchtimes away from her as well. School could be intervening, maybe, to suggest x goes to particular lunchtime clubs so that she is not wholly reliant on dd and her group- and maybe meets someone she really gels with?

WouldBeHarrietVane Mon 27-May-13 16:56:50

Mendi I think you are right, but I wanted to say please don't feel bad - sounds like you will do what you can to help other dc who don't fit in going forward.

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