CHILDREN WITHOUT FRIENDS, PART 3:
LEARNING ABOUT A CHILD'S STRENGHTS AND WEAKNESSES
There are many different reasons why children are disliked by
their peers. When trying to find ways to help these children,
it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking about what they do
that bothers others. For example, "Nick starts fights all
the time," or "Sue whines whenever she is disappointed."
This focuses only on reducing these behavior problems, but as
we discussed in our last article, most rejected children also
lack important skills. They may not cooperate, or be responsive
to others, or they may not know how to respond in certain social
situations. Teaching a child the missing skills is often more
effective in improving peer relationships than working only on
reducing negative behavior.
How can you find out which skills a child needs to learn? One
way is to carefully observe the child when he or she is with other
children. While observing, ask yourself these questions:
- What skills does the child already have? (e.g., Is the child
kind and helpful to others?)
- What skills does the child lack? (e.g., Does the child not know
how to deal with frustration or disappointment?)
Your observations can be organized under the six "core questions"
we discussed in our last article [Children without friends, Part
2: The reasons for peer rejection. *Day Care Center Connections*,
3(1), pp. 3-5.]. These are the questions children consciously
or unconsciously ask themselves when deciding whether to be friends
Is this child fun to be with?
Is this child trustworthy?
Do we influence each other in ways I like?
Does this child help me achieve my goals?
Does this child make me feel good about myself?
Is this child similar to me?
As you make your observations, pay close attention to the kinds
of social situations you are observing. What is going on? Is the
child's "social task" to join a group, to maintain a
conversation, to compete in a game, or to deal with a dispute?
Figure 1 lists some everyday social tasks that are important in
children's peer relationships. As you observe a child, think about
which situations go well for the child, and which are especially
Let's illustrate this approach by considering Nick, a third-grade
boy who was disliked by many of his peers. The staff in his program
decided to observe him for a week and then meet to discuss the
observations and to develop a plan for helping him. The observations
were made by all the staff who had frequent contact with Nick.
They jotted down brief notes whenever they saw Nick with others,
and wrote longer descriptions later in the day after the children
One brief note about Nick was "tetherball." The longer
description was, "Nick waited his turn well and told jokes
while waiting. But once playing, he seemed to think only of winning.
Also, he didn't do well at the game - he hit hard but wildly at
the ball. When he lost, he stormed off, complaining about the
other player and insulting him." Another brief note was,
"teasing - hat." This was expanded to, "Bill took
Nick's hat and said 'Try and get it!' Nick screamed and jumped
for the hat. Bill threw the hat to another kid, Nick ran screaming
after it, and soon four kids were tossing Nick's hat around. Nick
insulted them and punched Bill. A big fight resulted." A
third note was, "injury," with the longer note saying,
"Darryl and Nick were shooting baskets. Darryl landed funny
and hurt his right ankle. Nick ran over, gave Darryl a hand, and
helped him sit. Nick was sympathetic, and got help."
At the end of the week, the staff used the six core questions
and the positive characteristics associated with them (listed
in our last article) to summarize their observations. Here are
their notes for the first core question:
IS THIS CHILD FUN TO BE WITH?
SENSE OF HUMOR - Nick makes good jokes and laughs at others'
RESOURCEFUL/SKILLFUL - Nick often has good ideas for things
to do. Also, his skills in some areas are fine (e.g., cooking,
crafts), but his sports skills are very weak.
PARTICIPATORY/READILY INVOLVED - Nick joins in willingly.
He stays involved during noncompetitive activities. But when losing
a competitive game, he often leaves.
COOPERATIVE - Nick cooperates well in noncompetitive activities.
In competitive games, he argues a lot and insults others when
he's losing. This sometimes leads to fights. During games, Nick
is a poor team member, caring only about his own performance.
The staff also went through each of the social tasks listed in
Figure 1. They noted that Nick had considerable trouble coping
with teasing. They were surprised to find out that he was skilled
at most of the other tasks, as long as he was involved in cooperative
activities. In competitive games, however, Nick had particular
trouble with maintaining participation, managing conflict, and
coping with failure.
Overall, it seems that Nick had more strengths than the staff
had previously recognized. His main problems, besides handling
teasing, centered on competitive activities. His basic games and
sports skills (e.g., ball handling, strategy, and rule knowledge)
were poor, which meant he usually lost. He was also a poor team
member. In sports, Nick paid attention only to winning. When he
started to do poorly, Nick argued, became insulting, started fights,
and often quit. Not surprisingly, other children were wary of
Nick and were reluctant to play with him even though he was a
good companion in noncompetitive activities. In the next article,
these observations will be used to develop a plan to help Nick.
FIGURE 1: SOME OF THE SOCIAL TASKS INVOLVED IN PEER RELATIONSHIPS
Joining a group or activity
Coping with success
Dealing with conflict
Coping with failure
Making a friend
Sticking up for a friend
Coping with rejection
Responding to requests
Maintaining a conversation
Coping with teasing
Being supportive of others
National Network for Child Care - NNCC. Part of CYFERNET, the National Extension Service
Children Youth and Family Educational Research Network. Permission is granted to reproduce
these materials in whole or in part for educational purposes only (not for profit beyond the cost of
reproduction) provided that the author and Network receive acknowledgment and this notice is
Reprinted with permission from the National Network for Child Care - NNCC. Williams, G. A. & Asher, S. R. (1993). Children without friends, Part 3: Learning about a child's strengths and weaknesses. In Todd, C.M. (Ed.), *Day care center connections*, 3(2), pp. 3-4. Urbana-Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service.
FORMAT AVAILABLE:: Internet
DOCUMENT REVIEW:: Level 3 - National Peer Review
ENTRY DATE:: February 1996