Fostering my 13-year-old niece with no local friends and no outside interests. Help!

Trish - posted on 03/16/2015 ( 2 moms have responded )




I'm hoping someone out there can help me figure out how to encourage my niece Alex to make friends. She's smart and a sweet girl but is not very sociable, probably because she's been to 13 schools and is just now finishing 7th grade. She's making As and Bs and just got accepted into a better school for next year; the school she's in now is full of kids that don't try and/or don't care.

The problem is, she doesn't seem interested in making new friends. She was raised in an only child environment where her mother discouraged her from having friends over or visiting her friends' homes. Due to family circumstances she cannot visit with ANY members of the family without me supervising. I'm applying to be her foster mother and hope to eventually adopt her, but right now I'm the only in-person "friend" she has. This isn't a healthy situation for either of us but I don't know what to do about it. She has friends on social media but seems completely uninterested in doing anything but hanging around the house talking to me. I love her dearly but she needs friends her own age (and I need some "me" time back).

I never had children; I love them but was always happy being an aunt. However, I love Alex and want to help her. As summer approaches I'm wondering what I can do to encourage her to get out and meet people and prepare for a new school year. Unfortunately I'm not a religious person and do not attend church, and there are no kids her age in my inner-city neighborhood of small old Tudor homes. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!


Rebekah - posted on 03/16/2015




It sounds like she has had so many transitions, that it is probably hard for her to even want to put the effort into new social relationships, or trusting others. Everything has been so temporary. I suspect it will take time for her to come around to this... but it is important for you to continue to role model healthy relationships for her and encourage her to build her own. She is lucky to have you.

Do you visit with YOUR friends on a regular basis? Show her how you benefit from having those connections, and how you invest yourself in those relationships to keep them going. Model for her how to do that. Do you have any friends with daughters her age that you could help her to network with?

Can you invite some of her social media friends (or friends from former schools) to come over and spend real time? (if they are decent friends, of course)

Although you are not religious, is Alex? If she has had some background there, would you support that, if she would be interested in attending a church youth group, for example?

Is there somewhere that you could volunteer together that would get her out of the house and interacting with others, where she might be able to form new social connections? My son and I volunteer at a local animal shelter once a week, and there are always other kids there of various ages. There are a lot of various places that utilize volunteers... you'd have to find something you are both interested in. And if she's willing to do one on her own, that's great too. Summer is coming...there are a lot of day camps out there that need help (as a junior staff, kind of thing). Does she like kids, or have a certain skill that she could share in a setting like that?

Are there any extracurricular clubs at school that appeal to her?

The other thing that I'm thinking is that she might benefit from counseling, if she isn't already receiving it. I don't know the circumstances, but it sounds like she has been through a lot... and has lost a lot. She seems to be hanging on to you because you are her sole family and support... and you feel "safe" to her. And while its awesome that she wants this bond with you, she may need extra help processing the emotions she may be having, and need some professional guidance in how to trust again, and be open to seeking out new relationships. She needs to know, also, that you can't be her only source of support... it is healthy and necessary to have a variety of supports and relationships. She needs strength to get there.

good luck... and blessings to you for being there for her when she needed you.


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Trish - posted on 03/17/2015




Rebekah, thank you so much for your reply; you made some excellent observations and suggestions, including just how much Alex has been (and still is) going through. Your reply made me realize that although she needs friends and outside interests and I should encourage that however I can, I just have to be patient with her.

She has a great counselor that comes to the house, and is making progress. She has a lot of anger, but we've been working out together almost every night and I think the physical activity and time to talk is helping. I think she's starting to believe me when I tell her I'm in this for the long haul, I accept her for who she is, and I want to help her reach her goals. We've made a lot of progress in the last four months so I should be focusing more on that. She used to attend church but had some bad experiences and stopped wanting to go after she attended an over-the-top church camp where they studied Revelation and scared all the poor kids into being saved so they wouldn't burn in the fiery pits of Hell for all eternity (sigh). I think the right church might eventually be helpful but she's pretty resistant right now. As far as my friends go, only one has children and they're college age. I'm one of those people with only a few close friends and I think she's probably a bit like me in that area, but the friendships I have are lifelong and I thank you for reminding me that I can set an example for her.

Your idea of volunteering is a great one; I wish I mad more time to do something like that with her, but am seizing chances as they arise. I live in a diverse but close-knit neighborhood full of caring people and we'll be cleaning up the creek that runs through our area this Sunday so she'll get to meet more of our neighbors and who knows, some of them might bring some helpers her age. She loves all animals, so I've signed her up for a week of camp at the zoo this summer, one that organizes activities by grade level and gets rave reviews from kids of all ages.

She loves to sing, write poetry and can be cajoled into performing if she's comfortable. We found out last week that she got approved for a hardship transfer to the only high-rated middle school in our area—one that also just happens to be a performing arts magnet. Everyone said it was almost impossible to get a transfer there but I met with the principal earlier in the year and Alex wrote him a letter in January telling him why she wanted to go there. We weren't optimistic but he said YES! So she's very excited about going to school next year. Unlike her current school, it's even within walking distance so she can sign up for extracurricular activities (I work M-F and don't leave the office until 5:30). She's working on the defensive "force field" she puts up when she goes to school and she's getting more comfortable with just being herself so hopefully next year will get off to a good start.

All things considered, things are actually going well. I think I just needed to vent and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for putting things into a much-needed better perspective. Your reply has helped me more than you know. Thank you.


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