Friendship problems can spark a lot of worry and anxiety for parents – they’re a fundamental aspect of a child’s emotional maturity and self-confidence. But problems with friendships are normal from time to time, whether it’s feeling excluded from a social group or having arguments with close friends. Here are some tips for parents to help their little ones navigate problems with friends as they grow up.
Listen to their worries
The first tip for helping your children navigate friendship problems is to listen to their worries. Let them know that you’re taking their concerns seriously and that you’re supporting them. The chances are that your kid is feeling very lonely and isolated at the moment, so having you on their side can help them feel less alone. When listening to what they have to say, don’t downplay their fears or worries – validate them instead.
Your child might be quiet and experiencing a personality clash with a friend who is more outgoing and boisterous but try to avoid using labels like shy or bossy, as these can force your kids into categories that they’ll feel trapped by. However, if it seems like they’re being bullied by someone, it’s important to step in and speak to a teacher or someone who can act as a mediator between you and the child’s parents.
Remember to empathise
Empathising with your kids is key to strengthening your relationship and ensuring that your child feels understood. We’ve all experienced the devastation of being ditched by a friend or having someone gossip about us behind our backs, and it can be hard to cope with at any age, but especially when you’re young. By putting yourself in their shoes and empathising, you’ll be better equipped to make them feel heard and see things from their perspective, without judgement or criticism.
Communicate your insights
Providing your child with a framework for resolving relationship issues can help them as they mature, so find ways to communicate your own experiences and insights without lecturing them about what you think they should do. It would be best if you struck a balance between educating your children and telling them what to do – they need to be able to make their own choices and learn from their own actions.
To provide your child with a framework for these types of issues, which they’ll repeatedly face throughout their lifetime, instil the importance of clear communication and patience versus rushing into decisions or blurting out thoughts without taking time to think. Inform them that it’s OK to take a break to think things over and let emotions settle before saying things they might regret, as well as expressing feelings from their perspective rather than accusing friends of things.
Practice with role play
Kids often learn best through experience, so it can help find more effective ways to deal with friendship problems. It ensures that children are better equipped to cope in anxiety-inducing situations and will ensure they can face these problems confidently. For example, you can role-play responses to refusal or acceptance of requests or teach them how to compromise to minimise the risk of arguments or conflict.
Many children feel left out of group activities or social situations, which can be difficult for them to deal with. As a child, feeling included and part of the larger group is incredibly important, and whether it’s being left out at playtime or not being invited to parties, it can be hard for kids to feel like they’re being singled out. Roleplay can help teach them how to approach other children and interact with confidence by sharpening their social skills.
Friendships are vital to kids, especially at school, when feeling included and being part of a group is important. But we’ve all experienced the worry and sadness that can come from a friendship gone awry, whether it’s a friendship break-up, feeling left out of groups or having a friend mistreat you. As a parent, you may be inclined to overprotect your kids to prevent them from getting hurt, but this can sometimes do more harm than good. Your children need to be able to deal with relationship problems confidently and independently.
So, instead of putting them on a pedestal when it comes to friendship problems, help them deal with the realities of these relationships more effectively. Teach them how to communicate clearly, tell them your own experiences and how you dealt with them, and be there to listen to them without judgement.