Q: You may not think this is so important, but I'm worried to death, writes a mother from Falls Church.
We moved here three months ago, and our 10-year-old son (an only child) just stays by himself. He hardly talks to me; I don't think he trusts me any more. This is our seventh move in five years. All he said about it was, "Last time you said we wouldn't move any more."
Since we've been here not one child has asked him over to play, and he won't invite anyone either. Every time I mention some child, he finds something wrong with him. He won't join the Scouts; he won't join another soccer team. He just hangs around the house. It makes me cry just to write about it.
A: We don't blame you. You're right to be so worried, and you know why. So far as your child can see, you've broken your word, and when a 10-year-old thinks he can't depend on his parents, he is bereft.
Moving is especially hard on a child, but lack of trust is a lot worse.
We suggest a number of steps:
Have many long talks with your son, which you will have to initiate. He may not answer you at first, but talk about why you have moved so often and that you have hated it, too. Explain that in a move, the parents feel as lost as the child and each of you must help each other find friends. When you share your pain he will feel the right to say what he thinks -- and having gotten that far, he will admit just how angry he is. Let him. He has the right to blow up about it, and with luck, he will, many times. It's the only way for him to get rid of his resentment.
Whatever he says, listen well, without trying to defend yourself, and repeat what he says almost verbatim. You don't change his meaning when you answer like that, and it lets him dare to go further.
Visit your child in his room at night -- just to sit on his bed, squeeze his hand and say goodnight. This will reassure your child and you too; it's hard to stay mad in the dark.
Meet with the teacher. Be frank and ask her which boys (forget girls; he's not there yet) your son might like best in the class and how to get in touch with their parents.
Call these women and ask them what after-school lessons in the neighborhood are best and what else is going on. You may think you already know -- and you probably do -- but this is a shorthand another mother will recognize without your having to tell her how lonely your child really is. If you were direct about it, she would tell her son and pretty soon the whole class would know.
When you talk with these mothers, you will find out what kind of people they are, and with luck you may have enough in common with one of them to invite her and her family for a fall picnic at the zoo. Your child needs a camouflage now to make new friends. Besides, while neighbors, large and small, may welcome you once as a newcomer, the rest is entirely up to you.
Get active in the PTA, whether you want to or not, for this is another way to meet parents and get to know the families involved.
Get your son's name to the soccer coach, either by calling him yourself or by having someone else do it, so he will ask your child to join. It takes a lot of chutzpah for a 10-year-old to offer his services, and right now he just doesn't have it.
Call the parents of the best friend he left behind -- unless it's a long way away -- and ask if you can send him a bus ticket to visit. This is better than letting your child go home so soon, because he would just feel out of step in both places.
If after another three months he is still withdrawn, still sad, still keeping his anger inside -- depression is usually anger turned inward -- then it's silly to waste more time. Get him to the mental health clinic, or to a psychiatrist, a psychologist or a psychiatric social worker for therapy. It may take only a few sessions to reach your child, or it may take longer, but it's better than years of isolation.
In the process of this therapy, you and your husband probably will be asked to go to some sessions. When a family works out a problem together, it usually is solved much sooner. In the process, you may find you needn't keep moving. We hope so. There are very few things more important than the quality of life.