Social Life, The Happy Student Podcast

Helping Your Kid Make Friends with Dr. Emily Anastasio

School is a safer, happier place when you have friends. It’s no wonder that parents worry if their child is making friends. When their child seems to be overly pushy, constantly texting friends, or perhaps wants to be friends with someone who doesn’t seem to want to be friends with them, that can be really difficult for parents as they try to figure out how to best help their child. Neuropsychologist Dr. Emily Anastasio joins Fireborn to talk about how to help your child with these friendship dilemmas.

making friends

making friends




Friends are super important to a happy academic and social life. School is a much safer, happier place when you have friends, making it much easier to thrive there. So it’s no wonder that parents worry about how their child is doing making friends.

It’s important to consider the stage of development the child is in to know how much you need to do.

  • At 3 years old children are transitioning from parallel play when they play alongside other kids to interactive play with the other children. These children are in the preoperational stage of cognitive development as they develop imagination and the ability to think about things symbolically. They aren’t really thinking logically yet.
    • If you don’t want your 3-year-old playing with a certain child, keep it simple. Suggest that your child asks to play the game he/she likes with another friend.
    • It’s a good learning experience at the age of 3. It’s all a matter of exploration at this age.
  • With an older child, you can talk to the child more about what they like about this other child. Talk about it in a nonjudgmental, curious way. Children are exploring friendships all the way into high school and will be in and out of relationships with other children, and that’s normal.
    • There’s always the possibility that your child can be the good role model for another child.

Are there specific things parents should do to help their children make friends?

  • First, ask yourself do I need to help my child make friends because children make friends naturally as long as they are around other children.
  • It’s often best if social skills instruction comes from a therapist or a social skills group leader rather than the parent because it can have a negative impact on the parent-child relationship.

Should parents push their kids to make playdates?

  • It’s best to simply encourage it as an option that you support. You can recommend that your child hang out with some friends.
    • The difference between pushing your child and encouraging your child to make playdates is that encouraging your child is more open-ended and nonjudgmental.
  • It is a good idea to invite friends from different aspects of your child’s life to gather and play at the same time.

What do you do if your child doesn’t seem to want to hang out with friends?

  • It depends on the age of the child.
    • Children who are in the preoperational stage are still somewhat young to seek out playdates. At this age a more casual meetup is ideal.
    • For older children have a more in-depth discussion to try to see if they can articulate something that’s holding them back. Otherwise, seek professional help.

What if your child is texting his/her friend too much and being too pushy about hanging out, can you help in this situation?

  • Before you start worrying about the need to address this, make sure your child is actually texting too much and it’s negatively affecting their social life.
    • Your child’s frequent messaging may be the new normal.
      • According to research, 1 in 3 teenagers reported texting over 100 text messages per day.
        • This roughly estimates to 10 minutes of verbal conversation.
      • Create phone free zones at home like the dinner table to establish reasonable, but firm limits on cell phone usage.
        • This helps foster more mindful phone usage.

Should you direct your child towards good influencers?

(This is really a matter of opinion.)

  • Don’t try to push your child towards good influencers. Children are very intuitive about things like this and know that it is not genuine.
  • This can also send the wrong message to your child that certain people are more preferable to friends because of grades, parental status, etc. You can’t assume that they understand your reasons for doing so.
  • It’s not likely to work because that’s not how real relationships work.
  • Try to give your child plenty of opportunities to meet as many different people as possible and learn from them. It’s great to have a diverse group of friends.

The moral of the story is we mostly have to let kids figure this friendship stuff out on their own even though it is really tough. Some things parents can do that aren’t too pushy or intrusive are talking about what kinds of games you could invite your friends to play with you, organizing informal meetups at the playground, teaching kids how to be mindful with their technology, and just giving them as many opportunities as possible to interact with as many other kids as possible so they can determine who they want to be friends with. If your kid asks for help definitely discuss it with him open-mindedly, but if he doesn’t, remember to encourage instead of push!


I would love to hear your thoughts on this episode!


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You're Feelings Aren't You
Difficult Topics, Self-Advocacy, The Happy Student Podcast

The Happy Student #73: Your Feelings Aren’t You

Language matters. How we describe ourselves affects how we think of ourselves. If we say “I am sad”, that starts to define us as a sad person. But if you say, “I feel sad” that helps you realize that the feeling is temporary. There is an important distinction between saying “I am” and “I feel”. Saying “I am” is permanent and saying “I feel” is temporary. Saying “I feel” empowers you to take action. “I feel” helps you persevere and move forward and not become that feeling. Saying “I am” can do the opposite.

You Are Not Your Feelings




Instead of saying, “I am sad” and defining yourself as a sad or depressed person, if you say, “I feel sad” that helps you realize that the feeling is temporary.

Feelings are fleeting and we want to ride the waves of those feelings – feel the feelings, but also realize that they are not permanent. Feelings come and go. They do not define us. When we view our feelings that way, it adjusts our mindset and it can help us to have a more positive outlook and help us persevere through tough times.

So saying “I am” is permanent and saying “I feel” is temporary. Saying “I feel” empowers you to take action. “I feel” helps you persevere and move forward and not become that feeling. Saying “I am” can do the opposite.

How can you empower your kids to use “I feel” over “I am”?

  1. Use “I feel” language yourself. Model it for your children.
  2. Have specific conversations with your children about the difference between saying “I am” and “I feel”.
  3. Brainstorm a plan together for what to do when someone in the house says “I am” when they should say “I feel”. This gets them involved in enforcing the new language structure and they will love correcting you. Encourage them to correct you/embrace it. Your kid will love that they are affecting your behavior.
  4. Do some guided meditation. The app “Calm” has guided meditations for kids. The book Sitting Still like a Frog is specifically written for kids. Meditation really helps you focus on feeling your feelings, but also letting them go and realizing that they are fleeting.
  5. Help your kids find the language to use to describe how they are feeling. The more language kids have, the better able they will be to describe what they are feeling and recognize it as a feeling. Read books like Today I Feel… and work on expanding your own feeling vocabulary and bring those words into everyday conversations.

It’s amazing how much what you say can affect how you feel, what you believe, how you act, and who you become. The story you tell about yourself matters. So think about the story you are telling about yourself as well as what that tells your kids. Help them tell a motivating story about themselves by focusing on “I feel”


I would love to hear your thoughts on this episode!


Want to be the first to know when a new episode is released? Click here to subscribe to The Happy Student on iTunes!

Podcast reviews are important to iTunes and the more reviews we can receive, the more likely we will be able to get our podcast and important messages in front of more parents! I would greatly appreciate if you clicked here and left a review letting me know your thoughts on this episode!

social life
Difficult Topics, Social Life

Is Your Kid a Future Olympian?

With the Olympics finally in full swing, we watch as athletes perform tasks that we could only dream of imitating. They can swim across a pool in under half a minute, jump higher than a giraffe with only the help of a pole, or run the length of a soccer field in under ten seconds. These athletes have dedicated their lives to their sports to earn the privilege of representing their country in the Olympics. It is hard to imagine now, but most of these athletes started their craft as a child. The parents of these athletes enrolled their children in their respective sports not knowing that years later they would be watching their children on the Olympic stage.

75% of families have at least one child participating in sports. Parents will enroll their children into sports with high hopes that perhaps their children can be the next Gabby Douglas or Missy Franklin. However, studies show that this is highly unlikely. Only 2% of young athletes will receive the highest ranking in their sports. In fact, parents may be harming their children when enlisting them in a sport. Research has found that although sports can have a plethora of benefits for children, there are also negative impacts that parents need to be aware of.

Organized sports provide many health benefits that are not only physically beneficial, but are also psychologically beneficial. Teenage athletes are less likely to have suicidal thoughts, smoke, and use drugs. First Lady Michelle Obama also understood the effects that physical activity can have for children, which is why she began her “Let’s Move!” campaign. She urged every child to exercise for sixty minutes a day for at least five days a week, six out of eight weeks, which is slim in comparison to the average of seven and a half hours per day children spend in front of an electronic device. However, only 42% of elementary-aged children engage in this amount of physical activity. The First Lady’s mission was to help end the childhood obesity epidemic sweeping the country. One in every three children will be affected by obesity. Obesity can cause health risks, academic difficulties, and self-image issues. The Centers for Disease Control found that physical activity can prevent many of these issues. Additionally, those who participate in sports are also more likely to eat healthier.


Physical activity including sports tends to have an impact on athletes’ mental health. Male athletes are less likely to carry guns compared to males who were non-athletes. Girls that engage in sports are less likely to be depressed, more likely to excel academically, and exude more self-confidence. Multiple studies prove that when teenagers are engaged in sports they are happier, have higher self-esteem, and are less anxious. Physical activity including sports is highly beneficial for young children’s development.

Being on a team can affect children’s social behavior. It is a perfect opportunity for children to interact with others in their age group. A team can be a support group for those dealing with issues. Study shows that athletes on a close knit team are less likely to show symptoms of suicidal behavior. Teams can help instill life values. Children can learn how to cooperate with others because “there is no ‘I’ in team.” Losing a game or making a mistake while playing helps teach children what to do in situations when things do not go as planned. Teammates can help each other in ways that parents and teachers cannot.

Surprisingly, sports have negative effects that not many people focus on. Studies have concluded that when children overspecialize in a sport they tend to drop out of that sport  in their adolescent years. By the time a child is fifteen years old, between 70% and 80% have dropped out of sports.

Continue reading “Is Your Kid a Future Olympian?”

Toxic Social Situations
Difficult Topics, Middle School, Self-Advocacy, Social Life, Stress Management

Toxic Social Situations

Middle school, as we all know, is an awkward time in kids’ lives, particularly with peers. And high school is not known for being a walk in the park socially either. Kids worry about being popular, being left out, saying the wrong thing, wearing the wrong outfit – the list goes on…

Imagine the following scenario:

You (well, middle school version of you) walks up to a couple of girls, who then turn their back on you. You maybe try to say hi, but then they walk away from you. So you walk away and try to be friendly again later, only for the same story to play out. Sound familiar?

As middle schoolers, we naturally internalize this behavior as indicating that something is wrong with us. And then we dwell on it and put ourselves down and enter this terrible feedback loop because we approach the next social situation with trepidation instead of confidence.

As parents of children who are going through this situation, and dealing with issues we did not have to (namely cyberbullying), we need to teach our children that it really “isn’t you (your child), it’s them (the bullies).”

That is hard when ‘everyone’ (in the eyes of your child) thinks this other person is amazing. But I suggest talking to your child about:

  • how this other student may be a bully,
  • how your child is wonderful (in specific and sincere ways, as usual),
  • how this other person behaved badly,
  • how upset you are that someone else made your wonderful child feel so bad,
  • how it was wrong of that person to behave in such a manner,
  • how your child should act in the future. 

And how should your child act in the future?

According to Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, one of the best ways to manage stress is “Active avoidance of triggers” (2015). In this situation, the other student(s) is the trigger of the bad feelings and social anxiety. Therefore, one of the best ways to deal with it is to avoid that person. Stop trying to hang out with her. Find other people who treat you well. When your friends want to hang out with that person, you can find something else to do (or give a second chance – just not too many second chances). 

Another strategy to try at the same time is to help your child find something he is really good at: a sport, school, a specific subject in school, playing an instrument, coding, drawing, building robots, volunteering, and so on… It is even better if you can help him pursue this skill with others. As Dr. Ginsburg explains, people feel better and less stressed when they contribute to the world, when they feel as though they have a sense of meaning, and when they are “surrounded with thank yous rather than condemnation” (2015). Helping your child find that sense of meaning through an after-school activity will help him find other friends and feel confident and maintain his self-esteem during those uncomfortable, and perhaps toxic, social situations.

My favorite activity is volunteering because it helps solidify a sense of self: I am a good person. Which can then help your child when confronted by “mean girls” because she can say to herself, “They just hurt my feelings by turning away from me. That is not something a good person does. I will go find other people like me to hang out with.” But all of the activities help your child define herself, can bolster self-esteem, and help your child deal with the hardships associated with growing up.


Davis, P. (2016). Personal communication.

Ginsburg, K. (2015). Building resilience: Preparing children and adolescents to THRIVE. Learning and the Brain Conference: Boston.