How parents can help kids overcome five common friendship hurdles

The author gives five tips for helping children manage frustrating friendship pitfalls.

How parents can help kids overcome five common friendship hurdles

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The girl in eighth grade told psychologist Ryan DeLapp her friend would only interact with her if she needed help on an assignment.

DeLapp, the director of the Ross Center's REACH program in New York City, said that this person would sit beside her in class, but not at lunch. She felt used but it took her several months to distance herself from the girl because she was afraid that she would be called mean.

As a school counsellor, I am aware that parents are often confused by the social dynamics of their children, which is understandable, since these relationships are complex.

Here's a guide to help your child avoid five common friendship problems.

Pitfall No.

How to help: Eileen Kennedy Moore, psychologist and coauthor of Growing Friendships and Growing Feelings, says that you should start with empathy.

Say, "It's okay that you want to keep your friend all to yourself," then explain how being an octopus will backfire. If they squeeze the friend too tight, he will want to escape.

Encourage your child to become friends with the friend of their friend. Tell them that their friend probably likes this person and it is likely to have some redeeming characteristics.

Kennedy-Moore continued, 'Or you can stop playing tug of War and expand the Triangle'. When you add a fourth or a fifth friend to the group, tension is reduced.

Pitfall No. 2: A friend is confused or painful

What you can do to help: ask them if they know what qualities make a good friend, acquaintance, or stranger. DeLapp said. After you have figured out what they want from a friend you can ask them, "Based on what you said, how would classify this friendship?" '

Your child might realize that a person is just an acquaintance. Help your child deal with the disappointment. How does it feel when you are told that your wants and needs don't match up with reality? What can they do to prove to you that you are their friend? DeLapp stated. The idea is to make them realize that friendships (true ones) are reciprocal.

Also, share the idea of a "hot and cold" friend. Kennedy-Moore stated that sometimes, they are a lot fun and other times, they are not. When they are running hot, tell them, "Great! Enjoy them." They have two options when they are running cold. You can say to the other child, "This isn’t fun for you," and watch if they change their direction. They can also use the good 'I" statements, such as 'I don’t like when you call me this.' '

Lisa Damour is the author of "The Emotional lives of Teenagers": Raising connected, capable, and compassionate adolescents. If they don't, they may 'dig their heels in, instead of reflecting on why they are pursuing the painful interaction.

You can help them by telling them, "Clearly, there is a part of you that wants to hang out, but the other part knows that you will feel lousy every time. Damour asked, "Help me understand this."

She added that, at the same time, "recognize children's growth and changes, and how a child may have been unkind in one moment can easily turn into a warm and decent classmate."

Pitfall No.

Parents can help. A girl in seventh grade told Damour she didn't understand why girls from a certain clique would hangout with her but not invite her to join them for lunch. Damour gave a metaphor to help kids'make better sense of data' and move forward if they receive mixed messages.

She explained that children's friendships are similar to chemical compounds. Each child is an atom which bonds with other atoms. Once kids are in compounds they will be happy and not risk destabilizing the compound. Damour gave the girl two options: 'Find atoms that are free-floating or find a compound that is open to new atoms.

Jennifer Fink, the author of "Building Boys: Raising Great Guys In a World that Misunderstands Men", said you cannot talk your child out of wanting to join a group. However, you can try and understand their motivation. She said that 'boys social world is very hierarchical'. "Everyone knows who is the top dog, and some children try to get some power and frankly protection from being in that circle."

Fink said that the hardest part for parents was to realize they couldn't fix this problem for their children or stop them caring. We can observe that (those boys) did not seem interested in what you said. '

Pitfall No.

Parents can help: I was asked to help two fifth-grade girls resolve a conflict. When did the conflict begin? They replied. One replied, "Five years ago."

Five years can be a long time for a grudge to fester.

Kennedy-Moore said, 'We do not want children to collect grievances on a thread like beads'. Learning how to overcome these friendship bumps is essential for building strong relationships.

She added that if your child is fixated on something small, you can play the "maybe game". Ask: 'What other reasons could your friend have done this besides deliberate meanness'? '

She gives kids forgiveness guidelines: "If it happened only once, and it is unlikely to occur again, let go." Let it go if a friend truly apologizes. Let it go if it was an accident, misunderstanding or miscommunication. Let it go if it was more than one month ago.

Pitfall No. 5: Your child is frequently fighting with friends

Parents can help by asking their children what it means when they are triggered. Kennedy-Moore explained that 'they may feel uncomfortable, but it doesn't necessarily mean they are being mistreated.' Change the thought and change the feeling. This can help them become less reactive.

It might be best to give each other space. She noted that 'Research shows that children are more likely than adults to resolve disagreements through a period of separation, followed by a return to each other and being kind to one another.

Peter Gray, professor of psychology at Boston College, author of "Free to Learn: How Unleashing The Instinct To Play Will Make Our Kids Happier, Self-Reliant and Better Students For Life", added that children should be allowed to play on their own to practice conflict resolution.

Gray explained that this is how children 'learn how to deal with conflict in all its forms -- disruptions and disagreements as well as minor bullying'. Gray said that we spend too much of our time protecting children from conflict, and not enough on letting them interact with other kids. This is how they will learn to solve their problems.

Give your kids a lot more freedom to choose their friends and fights. Kennedy-Moore says that it's easy to jump in and protect your child like a mother, but the other child is also a child.

Damour said that parents should not take their child's discomfort seriously, as it is merely a signal of something wrong. Our emotions are our navigation system. Tuning in to our feelings when we're around different people gives us valuable feedback on who we might want to spend more time with.