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am i being a bad parent?

Am I being a bad parent... by pushing my shy son to make friends?

Our four experts have their say.

EACH WEEK, WE hear from a reader who can’t figure out what to do about a tricky parenting situation. To get a balanced take on the dilemma, we ask four Irish parenting experts to weigh in.

From childhood to adulthood, making friends and interacting in social situations is a pivotal part of life. However, it isn’t always easy. 

This week, one parent is wondering if she’s doing the right thing by pushing her shy four-year-old son to make friends – or if she should be content with the social connections he’s already made.

Have a parenting dilemma you’re struggling with? Let us know anonymously here and we’ll share it with our panel of experts.

This week’s dilemma

My five-year-old has no interest in making friends. He’s a funny, outgoing kid but when it comes to being around other children, he just clams up. He has a good group of cousins in and around his age, and our friends’ kids too, and if they approach him he’ll willingly play with them, but he’ll never make the first move. I really want him to make friends and develop confidence as he’s starting school in September. Am I being unreasonable by pushing him to make friends?

What the experts have to say…

You’re not being unreasonable. It’s very natural for us parents to want our children to settle into making friends, however it’s not always as easy for some children as it is for others. The fact that he has the opportunities to practice these early social skills with family is a real bonus – maybe more so than you realize. Something you can do to help him along the way to building friendships is to encourage positive playtime.

For your child to build confidence in his friendships, it’s important to set up the experience as best you can beforehand. Firstly, tune in to see who he appears to get on well with and suggest making a time to play together. Plan with him the kind of activities or toys he might like to play with. Structure it so that there is plenty to do, with snacks and some free time outside for fresh air. Keep the playdate short and sweet – children manage shorter periods for play better.

 - Aoife Lee, Parent Coach at @parentsupport.

You’re being a bit unreasonable. The skill of making friends isn’t always one that comes naturally to everyone. I personally wouldn’t push this as it’s adding further pressure to a situation he is already uncomfortable in. I’d also take consolation in that he isn’t “antisocial”, as you feel he is engaging appropriately when he is engaged with.

If you are still concerned and feel the need to be proactive I’d recommend practicing some social skills at home. Such as; how to greet people, starting conversations, how to “join in” and what being a food friend means. You can do this through; books mirroring these scenarios, role play, drawing/colouring and small world play. Then have faith that the skills you’ve taught and practiced will naturally transfer when he needs them. Good luck.

- Deirdre Holland Hannon, Behaviour Specialist at @deehollhan.

It’s unreasonable to try to force these things into being. Every parent wants their child to have friends, to belong to a nice peer group, to be invited to playdates, to have a good sense of their own self esteem and to be confident in themselves. However, some children are just a little more shy than others – as are some adults. It doesn’t mean they don’t make good companions or won’t be included in group play.

Social skills are learnt gradually through trial and error and he’ll have many opportunities to explore friendships during his school career and his extra curricular activities. Allow your son the time and space to be his own man and to find his own way. Realistically, any human being only needs a few good friends and it sounds like he already has those!

 - Krysia Lynch, Maternity Care Expert at

Yes, you are being unreasonable. You say your son is outgoing and has a good group that he is familiar with, so we know he can make friends. Maybe he just takes longer to feel comfortable around new children. Starting school is a big challenge for most children – don’t push him to make friends. Support him to ensure he is enjoying and liking school.

 - Brian Purcell, Occupational Therapist.

So what’s the final tally? Is this reader being unreasonable?

Yes – 3

No – 1

Tell us your thoughts in the comments!

Have a parenting question you want answered? Let us know anonymously in our survey here or email us on and we’ll put it to the experts. 

More: Am I being a bad parent… by pushing my four-year-old to face her fear of the water?

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