My shy son hides dur­ing break-times

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Family - John Sharry Send your queries to health@irish­times.com John Sharry is founder of the Par­ents Plus Char­ity and an ad­junct pro­fes­sor at the UCD School of Psy­chol­ogy. He will de­liver a num­ber of par­ent­ing work­shops in Dublin, Cork and Gal­way in Oc­to­ber and N

QI am won­der­ing if you can help me. We have a 13-year-old son who started se­condary school in Septem­ber. He has ab­so­lutely no con­fi­dence in him­self.

Last night, he told me he hides in the locker room in school for some breaks as he hasn’t the con­fi­dence to go out and sit with his class­mates.

He said noth­ing about this be­fore and was cry­ing and up­set when he fi­nally told me.

At home he is a very kind boy, though he has al­ways been quiet in com­pany. Lots of his friends from pri­mary school started in other se­condary schools and the ones that are there seem to be in dif­fer­ent classes.

He says he has not made friends in school with any­one and what re­ally up­set me was when he said he feels of “no value” in school.

I feel re­ally up­set for him. How can I help him?

AThe first thing that I would say to you is it is great that he has con­fided in you about his dis­tress in school. It sounds like he was bot­tling up his feel­ings for a while, so it is good that he has got them off his ch­est and told you what is go­ing on. He will likely feel great relief as a re­sult of telling you. A prob­lem shared is def­i­nitely a prob­lem halved so, though it is hard to hear, I would see it as a break­through that he has fi­nally told you.

Of­ten, chil­dren avoid telling their par­ents when they have prob­lems in case they up­set them or bur­den them, so it is im­por­tant to re­as­sure him that you want to hear the prob­lems he is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing and that you are glad he has told you what is go­ing on be­cause you are there to help him.

Help your son to think through what to do

Now that your son has told you what is go­ing on, the next step is to help him solve his prob­lem and de­cide what to do. Don’t rush in with giv­ing ad­vice or so­lu­tions. The goal is to lis­ten care­fully and help him de­cide what he can do for him­self.

It can help to put things in per­spec­tive for him. When start­ing se­condary school lots of chil­dren strug­gle to find friends and fit in. It is usu­ally a pe­riod of great change and it takes a pe­riod of time for ev­ery­one to set­tle.

Help him iden­tify po­ten­tial friends

It is par­tic­u­larly hard for chil­dren to start se­condary school when many of their pre­vi­ous class­mates and friends have started in other schools, and they are likely to ini­tially feel lonely. They can eas­ily feel iso­lated from the pre­vi­ously formed groups who know each other and it can be hard to break in.

Usu­ally, the best ap­proach is to try to iden­tify other chil­dren in the school who are in the same boat as him. In first year in se­condary school there are usu­ally a few chil­dren who are start­ing new like your son with­out a pre-ex­ist­ing so­cial group – and most of these chil­dren are open and keen to make friends (like your son might be). Ask your son ques­tions about who is in his class, who he might have some­thing in com­mon with and who he might talk to.

While you can’t in­ter­vene as a par­ent of a teenager, you can of­fer prac­ti­cal sup­ports that might help him make friends, such as be­ing open to po­ten­tial friends com­ing to the home, tak­ing them to and from events, sup­port­ing him to take part in ex­tra-cur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties.

En­cour­age your son to take part in ex­tra-cur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties

Of­ten the best place to make friends is by tak­ing part in ex­tra-cur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties, and par­tic­u­larly ones that your son re­ally likes and is good at. In such ac­tiv­i­ties he is likely to have more con­fi­dence and to be more so­cial, and in these con­texts he is more likely to chat and make friends.

Ex­plore with your son what ac­tiv­i­ties there are in the school that he could take part in that will help.

Some­times there are lunchtime ac­tiv­i­ties that he could get in­volved in which will help him man­age the break time.

Con­sider con­tact­ing the school

Do con­sider hav­ing a quiet word with his year head or the school coun­sel­lor. The school staff are likely to be used to chil­dren who are find­ing the first year hard from a so­cial/con­fi­dence point of view and may have help­ful sug­ges­tions as to how he can man­age. There may be sup­ports they could put in place (such as set­ting up some break-time ac­tiv­i­ties) that don’t draw any at­ten­tion to your son but help him man­age and struc­ture the day. If things con­tinue to be dif­fi­cult for him, they may be able to of­fer him some di­rect sup­port such as coun­selling if it is help­ful.

Fi­nally, it is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber things are likely to set­tle over the course of the year. Qui­eter and more in­tro­verted kids like your son might take a bit longer to make friends, but of­ten make more en­dur­ing friend­ships once they do.

A prob­lem shared is def­i­nitely a prob­lem halved so, though it is hard to hear, I would see it as a break­through that he has fi­nally told you

Qui­eter and more in­tro­verted kids like your son might take a bit longer to make friends, but of­ten make more en­dur­ing friend­ships

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