Dealing with our own friendship issues is one thing – seeing our child go through them, and being confused about the best way to help, is a whole other issue.
As parents, what can we do to help ease the stress of friendship dramas for our kids? How involved should we get? How much should we even stay in the loop?
Not every child is naturally outgoing or makes friends easily, be it due to shyness or standoffishness. This can make forming, and maintaining, friendships really tough, and it’s hard to know how much of a role you should be playing as a parent.
Regardless of how old they are, an inability to make friends can be really tough on a kids’ self-esteem. Friendships bring confidence, camaraderie and belonging, and if your child sees everyone else forming good friendships but doesn’t get to experience them themselves, it can be heartbreaking – for you as the parent, too.
Encourage your kids to spend one-on-one tie with others, and try to facilitate this time by getting in touch with the parents of your child’s peers. Reach out to their school or kindergarten to help you make contact with other parents, and for ongoing support when your child is at school. Teachers have seen it all before, and they no doubt know what to do to help.
Enrol your children in extra-curricular activities that fit their interests, whether it’s a sport, a cultural activity like drama or dance, or a club or day camp that will get them out of their shell.
Finally, observe how your child interacts with other children – are they shy, or do they come across as disinterested when they meet someone new? Encourage your kids to develop friendly behaviours, which they won’t just need for their first few years at school, but for the rest of their lives.
Rebecca Sparrow is an expert on all things tweens, teens and friendships. She recently shared the following tips with her Facebook audience, after receiving an email from a school who needed help with a ‘meanness culture’ in their year eight cohort. Sorry, we should clarify – it was the seventh email of its kind that Rebecca had received this year, and it was only February.
“I’m not an expert but here’s some advice from me on how to move forward if you have a year level of girls (in particular) who are behaving badly towards one another,” Rebecca says.
- Conflict in a friendship is normal.
All friendships have conflict! Don’t throw away a friendship because of a fight. If you’re not sure if you should forgive your friend, ask “Is our friendship bigger than this fight?” (advice from my friend writer Deborah Disney who wrote the novel Up & In). Step back and look at the friendship. Is it a great friendship? Then maybe be willing to apologise or reach out if you want to keep the friendship. However if you step back and see that it’s actually not a great friendship and it has been full of conflict — it may be time to walk away.
- Boundaries are EVERYTHING.
School friendships are a great time for all our kids to learn the important lesson of boundaries – this lesson will carry them through school friendships, romantic relationships and even workplace dynamics. Maya Angelou said, “You teach people how to treat you.” What are your friendship deal-breakers? When someone treats you badly — you can call them out on it. “I really like hanging out with you but I’m not prepared to be spoken to like that.” or “When you make fun of me like that – I feel humiliated. So I’m asking you to stop.” I don’t recommend doing this publicly and making a scene (this is not Real Housewives). Take the person aside and talk to them privately. NOT OVER TEXT. Big conversations have no place online — do it in person. But if your best friend at school routinely puts you down and makes fun of you or excludes you — I would moonwalk outta there. That’s not friendship. Don’t be so desperate to be part of a group that you’re willing to be treated like dirt to be a member. That is too high a price to pay!
- Don’t create a drama cyclone.
If someone upsets you — don’t discuss it with everyone else or punish them. That’s called CREATING A DRAMA CYCLONE. You do not need the stress in your life of more drama at school. If someone upsets you — talk to the person about it. And let’s be clear, if someone hurts your feelings or annoys you — you have two choices. You either get over it (it’s entirely possible the person did not intend to hurt your feelings!) OR talk to them about it. The pressure on girls to be “NICE ALL THE TIME” means we often take our anger out in covert ways. This is called relational aggression. We are smiling assassins – freezing people out. Excluding them. Talking about them behind their back. THIS IS CREATING A DRAMA CYCLONE. (C’mon. You have so much going on at school. You do not need MORE DRAMA). Instead — let it go. OR talk to the person privately. Rosalind Wiseman talks about the SEAL method (google it) which is a strategy for addressing conflict.
- You don’t own your friends. Being possessive is a HUGE TURN OFF and makes you look needy.
Your friends are allowed to be friends with other people!! Try to be chilled out about it. It’s not a rejection of you. There are different levels of friendship — you can be friends/friendly with people in your class or after school activities because you have that class/activity in common. Often the friendship doesn’t go further. You’re friendly when you’re in that class or activity together — that’s normal! Let your friends explore other friendships without feeling scared they are “replacing” you. You can do the same! Allow other friendships into your life knowing they don’t all have to be your BFF.
- Friends with some, kind to all – Glennon Doyle
You don’t have to be friends with everyone at school. But you need to be kind. Why? Because school is so much easier and more enjoyable when you make the decision to have a cohort that sticks together. Have each other’s backs. Look out for one another. I call this having a #TeamGirls attitude. Girls supporting girls. Because at some point at school (just like in life) — YOU are going to be the person who suffers a humiliating moment and you will want those kids around you to treat you with compassion and kindness not use your moment of vulnerability against you.
“Learning how to navigate friendships is a tricky road and often a lifelong process. I’m 46 and still screw up. We all make bad judgement calls at times. We make decisions based on fear rather than kindness. I get it. But tomorrow is a new day.”