Wow, sometimes being a kid can be tough and as a parent, it’s hard to stand on the sidelines when things just aren’t going right for your child.
But what happens when the tough time your child is experiencing comes down to dramas within their friendship group? Should you stand back or step in?
Hmm, well apparently it depends on their age and the circumstances involved.
Naturally, there are some obvious times when you have to step in as a parent, including any occasion where bullying might be involved, your child is in danger, or they are being influenced to break the law.
But, when it comes to minor dramas, such as friendship disputes, cliques, or someone simply being mean to someone else, experts suggest it’s probably better to allow your child to handle that for themself in a bid to learn the essential skills of navigating the social world.
This depends on their age, of course, with parents needing to let go a whole lot more as their children move beyond the primary years and into the tough territory that is the teen phase.
Although it might be tempting to offer a word to the wise on who your child should hang out with, experts note stating this outright isn’t the best move.
As children develop and find their independence, telling them they can’t or shouldn’t hang out with someone might actually have the opposite effect.
It’s also important not to get involved in their social dramas, roping in other parents.
From the end of primary school onwards, unless it’s major (think social media bullying, physical violence, or intimidation) then parents should be arming their children with the skills to work through issues themselves.
So, what should you do if your child’s having a rough time with their friends, or, to put it bluntly, you simply don’t like them?
The most important thing you can give your child is a willingness to listen and perspective.
The reality is, we all have good and bad days with friends and sometimes our children just need a sounding board to sort through the issue at hand.
That means there are a series of dos and don’ts that parents should weigh carefully.
Listen – As we mentioned, it’s important to just hear your child out, giving them undivided attention and listening to what’s going on in their world.
Ask questions – In order to gain a full perspective of what’s happening, take the time to gently ask questions that might help you (and them) understand the full picture.
Acknowledge the hurt – We’ve all encountered the hurt that comes from fractured friendships. Do acknowledge that it’s painful to be spoken to or about badly. Then help them re-instill their sense of self-worth by helping them find their own attributes to feel positive about.
Brainstorm together – Without going all Oprah on you here, problems with friends offer a ‘teachable moment’ so work together to come up with ways that they could handle the issue or approach it a little differently.
Provide perspective – It can help to point out why your child’s friend or friends might be behaving the way they are. Could it have been a misunderstanding? Were they feeling tired or stressed?
This is not about dismissing your child’s feelings or excusing poor behaviour. In the right situation, it involves instilling empathy and alerting your child to the fact everyone has things going on in their world.
Empathise – It’s critical to let your child know they are far from alone in struggling to navigate the social world. Do discuss similar stories from your childhood or teens that they may relate to and let them know you understand how they feel.
Assume your child is the victim – It’s easy to see the apple of your eye as the wronged party in a social situation. But resist the urge to assume they are the victim. Like adult friendships, childhood ones can be complex, and there may be more to the matter than your child’s telling you.
Bad mouth their friends – Sure, you may want to nod, agree with them and offer some choice adjectives about their friends. Don’t. Chances are the issue will be resolved soon enough if you let the parties involved work through it.
Brush it aside – The matter might be small from an adult perspective but in your child’s world issues with friends can feel monumental. Don’t tell them it’s nothing or simply suggest they ‘get over it’.
Force your child to stay with or split from a friend – It has to be your child’s choice to walk away from or stay with a friend. As parents, our job is to give them the tools and support they need to make a ‘good’ decision when they’re ready.
Weigh the pros and cons of the friendship with your child and empower them to decide what they want to do.
Permit bullying – If you think your child or others is involved in bullying, you need to speak up. Discuss what constitutes bullying with your child, talk through how that makes people feel, and if they’ve been a party to it, encourage them to make amends.
Got any tips or strategies for handling the thorny issues that come with children’s friendships? Share them here.