Maudlin and Associates ™
Karen Maudlin
Psy.D., CPCC
Kenneth Davison
Cindy Takiguchi
Manette Galván Turner
Robert Gregory
Daniel Doebler
Trevor Simpson

"My 10-year old has a hard time making friends. She is a very serious child who acts mature for her age, even though she's the youngest child in her class. She enjoys being in Girl Scouts, Awana, and many other activities, but she doesn't seem to connect with the other children. They try to get her involved, but she tends to hang back. She doesn't smile and she gets easily frustrated. I really don't know how to help her if she won't help herself."

A. Your daughter does sound very serious for a child her age. She also sounds pretty tense. Could she be over-scheduled? Our culture pushes families to be so frenetic with activity. It could be that your daughter is doing too much and therefore feels too overwhelmed or exhausted to enjoy her activities. If this is the case, have her choose the two activities she most wants to be involved with, then cut out the others. Help her find time each day for quiet play so she can rest mentally and physically.

It is best if this time is not spent in front of the television—studies show that even though kids seem to "veg out" in front of the TV, their brains are being hyper-stimulated by all the color and sound. Instead, have her read, work on puzzles, or do an art project. If she seems restless, go for a walk or a bike ride together.

You might also want to add more fun to your family life. Encourage spontaneous family time by getting everyone together for bowling, roller blading, biking, hiking, or board games. This extra bonding time can be relaxing for your daughter, but it can also give her more confidence in her ability to talk and play with others.

If you have other children, I would also suggest watching the way your daughter interacts with them. Sibling relationships often serve as a testing ground for developing social skills. If your daughter has a hard time relating to her siblings, she may be unsure of how to approach her peers.

Even if she is an only child, try role playing a few social settings with your daughter so that she can get ideas for meeting new people or joining a group of peers. Have her practice initiating a conversation, asking friendly questions, and showing interest in what someone says or does. Praise her for the things she does well, and check in with her after an activity where she's had the chance to try out her new skills.

If none of these suggestions seem to help, your daughter could be experiencing a childhood depression. Irritability and the flat expression you mentioned are two characteristics of depression and could signal a need for professional help. Ask your daughter how she has been feeling lately, what she is enjoying about her life, what she is struggling with. Ask her how she feels about her friendships.

If she says she doesn't need close friends, take that as a sign that there is something deeper going on. Children her age need to have one or more close friends and it is unusual for a 10-year-old to resist relationships. If her answers concern you, have her assessed by a professional Christian counselor who can check her for depression and help her develop more appropriate social skills.