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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