So…we’re one month into school and hopefully feeling more comfortable with the transition back. By about now your kids know where their classroom is, know what time recess begins, know who their teacher is and know who their friends are…or do they??
The summer break, the start of a new school year and being placed in different classrooms can all promote shifts among old friendships – hierarchies, cliques, popularity, bullying, growing apart etc. Lately in my practice, a lot of parents have questioned how best to support their children through their transitioning friendships without crossing boundaries.
The ending and/or shifting that occurs among friendships is an inevitable part of children’s social and emotional development. It defines their character by teaching them valuable lessons about others and about themselves. So…the agenda here is not how to help children avoid such instances (that would be utterly impossible!!) but rather how to support them through it.
It is often natural and common for parents to react to their children’s suffering by being defensive, enraged, offended, embarrassed and to respond with bad-mouthing and anger (channeled at the friend), comparisons, tears and rescuing.
STOP THIS NOW!!!
First off, promote the emotional expression of your child by actively listening (NOT judging) as they share their sadness. Begin by stopping what you are doing, making eye-contact, nodding and giving affection (rubbing back, sitting close, etc.). Your child must feel safe in order to share with you.
Next, avoid all negative comments of the other child. We don’t want to promote resentment or retaliation. Give your child encouragement by mentioning their many positive attributes and then mention the many positive attributes about the friendship that once existed. Explain that friendships are always changing.
Many parents try to rescue their child by calling the other parents. Don’t respond right away – sleep on it! Often (not always) it’s best to let your children deal with it themselves. Request that your child write their friend a letter stating how much they miss them and that they are sad the friendship is over. Whether they give it or not is their choice.
Encourage out-of-school friendships as they eliminate the social hierarchies created among school peers. Extra-curricular activities lead to the development of friendships among those with similar interests. This will reaffirm your child’s sense of social competence and promote peer diversification which will broaden your child’s character.
Lastly, you can regularly promote your child’s sense of worth and value through nurturance. Slip a note in their lunch telling them how proud they make you; measure their success by their achievements and never their friends’; and tell them very, very, very often that you love them.
Remember changes in friendships are an inevitable part of development. Reacting and supporting appropriately is essential. For a good read on the subject try ‘Best Friends, Worst Enemies – Understanding the Social Lives of Children’ by Michael Thompson, Ph.D.
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I had to comment on this one. It is torture watching your child get left out and picked on. It is so hard to bite your tongue and not scream at everyone – kids or parents – who are involved or seem to condone this behaviour. However, it is much, much worse if you take it upon yourself. Believe me because I did just that. Now my son is “defensive” and “over reacts” according to his peers and to the school and he is often left out. Maybe this is true but everything is so mixed up. My emotions, his, our expectations, dissappointment, fear.
If I could go back I would change it all. I would be the strong, wise mom who hugs her kids and hides her own tears. I would embrace the school of hard knocks knowing that the shunning and teasing is only worse if mommy gets involved.
One of his peers once said to me when I was trying to defend him, “you do realize you’re not helping because you can’t always be here to save him”. Ah, if only I’d listened! Now his nickname is Momma’s Boy and his pre-teen peers call him pathetic.
I sometimes wonder if I hadn’t gotten involved whether it would have simply resolved itself. Maybe it would have been hard and different then he wanted but at least it would have been him and I would be part of the solution instead of the problem.
Great advice, Kyla. I am definitely going to check out that book.
I loved this book, Kyla. I find some parents can’t see the forest for the trees and forget that what they hear from their child is one version of an emotionally charged situation. As hard as it is it is our job as parents to stay calm and neutral. Be supportive while helping them put it in perspective. I made the mistake once of getting sucked in and long after my daughter and her friend had worked things out the friend’s mom and I barely speak.
My philosophy: Help them help themselves.
It is SO heartwrenching when your child is the one being left out. I know because it is happening to my daughter. Some days she is in, some days she is not. She is so confused. Her best friend for the last 4 years is a very popular girl with tons of friends. She is a great athlete and student and is a natural beauty. My daughter adores her but things are changing. Her friend is branching out and my daughter, for whatever reason, is not moving in the same direction. She is desperate to have things the way they were and desperate to be a part of her friend’s new group.
Luckily, I remember what this was like as a girl and know that it is just a matter of time before the sadness and loss she feels will be gone and the excitement over a new “best friend” will bloom. Some days I feel like lashing out at this other girl (mama bear!) but I don’t because I know that it is simply the natural evolution of children’s relationships and she has found others who better reflect the young woman she is becoming.
When my daughter comes home crying or feeling rejected she knows that she can count on me. It has shown me how important a strong family foundation is for a child attempting to navigate complex and sometimes cruel social lives. I try really hard to bite my tongue because what my daughter needs is my strength and love not more fear and sadness.
Take it from someone who knows, be strong for your child and find your husband or a friend’s shoulder to cry on!
Oh, and great book reco too! I have read parts of this book OVER and OVER.
Thank you for this, Kyla. My son has moved into grade 7 and is starting to make new friends. He has been good friends with my friend’s son since kindergarten but my son has been moving away from this relationship for a while. Now with the new school and a whole new group of kids he has little time for his old pal. This has been extremely difficult for everyone. My friend is constantly worried because her son is “devastated” and she is angry and me and my son for not doing more, I am trying to stay out of it and see all sides, my son resents his friend and his friend’s mother for holding him back from this exciting new world.
It is so hard not to personalize everything! Although we can mourn these relationships and help our children to be kind and diplomatic that is all we can do and many parents end up making situations worse for their children and themselves by getting too emotionally involved. It is like breaking up with your very first boyfriend – heartbreaking but you learn from it and move on and even sometimes you meet again later and reconnect.
Btw, thanks for the tip on the book. I just went and ordered it from Indigo!