Afrikaans — Nee (nee-yuh)
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You can’t choose your children’s friends, but here’s how you can help them manage five frustrating friendship pitfalls.
Your child doesn’t want to ‘share’ a friend
“Say, ‘It’s understandable that you want your friend to yourself,’ then explain that being an octopus friend will backfire. If they squeeze too tightly, the friend will want to get away.”
Encourage your children to befriend their friend’s friend. If they resist, point out that if their friend likes the person, this companion probably has some redeeming qualities.
“Or stop playing tug of war and expand the triangle,” Kennedy-Moore added. “When you bring a fourth or fifth friend into the group, you lower the tension.”
A friendship is confusing or painful
How you can help: Ask them, ” ‘What do you think are the qualities of a friend, an acquaintance, and a stranger?’ ” DeLapp said. Once you understand what they expect from a friend, say, ” ‘Based on what you just said, how would you categorize this friendship?’ “
Your child may realize that a friend is only an acquaintance. If that’s disappointing, help your child process the emotion. Ask, ” ‘How does it feel to say that what you want and what it really is are not matching up? What do they have to do to demonstrate to you that you’re their friend?’ ” DeLapp said. “The idea is to help them understand that ( true ) friendships are bidirectional.”
Share the concept of a “hot and cold” friend, too. “Sometimes they’re a lot of fun, and sometimes they’re definitely not,” Kennedy-Moore said. “When they’re running hot, say, ‘Great, enjoy them.’ When they’re running cold, they have a couple of options. One is to say, ‘This isn’t fun for me,’ and see if the other kid changes direction. Or they can use those good ‘I’ statements — ‘I don’t like it when you call me that.’ “
Parents want to help, but they need to give their kids some leeway to pick their friends and battles.
If a friendship is truly unhealthy, “frame the conflict as being within your own kid rather than between you and your child,” said psychologist Lisa Damour, author of “The Emotional Lives of Teenagers: Raising Connected, Capable, and Compassionate Adolescents.” Otherwise, they might “dig in their heels, as opposed to reflecting on why they’re pursuing a painful interaction.”
Help them reflect by saying, ” ‘Clearly, part of you wants to hang out with that classmate, but another part of you knows that every time you do, you walk away feeling lousy. Help me understand this,’ ” Damour said.
At the same time, “recognize how much children grow and change, and that a child who may be unkind at one point can readily turn into an incredibly warm and decent classmate,” she added.
Your children want to be part of a group that rejects them
How parents can help: A seventh-grade girl told Damour that she couldn’t understand why the girls in a clique would hang out with her individually but wouldn’t invite her to sit with them at lunch. Damour shared a metaphor that can “help kids make better sense of data and move forward when they get mixed messages.”
She explained that kids’ friendships are like chemical compounds, with each child being an atom that makes bonds with other atoms. “Once kids are in compounds, they’re happy and won’t risk destabilizing that compound.” Damour told the girl she had two options — “Find other free-floating atoms or look for a compound open to new atoms.”
You can’t talk your children out of wanting to be part of a group, but you can try to understand their motivation, said Jennifer Fink, author of “Building Boys: Raising Great Guys in a World That Misunderstands Males.” For instance, “boys’ social world tends to be very hierarchical,” she said. “Everyone knows who the top dog is, and some kids try to get some of that power and frankly protection that comes from being part of that circle.”
“The hardest thing for parents is realizing we can’t solve this for our kids or make them stop caring,” Fink added. “But we can make observations like, ‘(Those boys) didn’t seem too interested when you were talking.’ ”
Your child can’t let go of a grudge
How parents can help: Two fifth-grade girls came to my counseling office for help resolving a conflict. “When did it start?” I asked them. “Five years ago,” one replied.
Five years is a long time to nurse a grudge.
“We don’t want kids collecting grievances like beads on a string,” Kennedy-Moore noted. “Learning how to get past these friendship rough spots is crucial for learning how to have strong relationships.”
Learning how to let go of past grievances can be crucial for children to build strong relationships.
If your child fixates on something petty, play “the maybe game,” she added. Ask, ” ‘What are some possible reasons your friend did this other than deliberate meanness?’ “
She shares forgiveness guidelines with kids: “If it only happened once and is unlikely to happen again, let it go. If a friend is genuinely sorry, let it go. If it was an accident or a misunderstanding, let it go. If it happened more than a month ago, let it go.”
Your child frequently fights with friends
How parents can help: If your children are triggered, ask them what the incident means and why it’s happening. “They may be uncomfortable in a dynamic, but that doesn’t mean someone is mistreating them. Change the thought, change the feeling.” That can make them less reactive.
Then ask, ” ‘What can you do that’s most likely to get the kind of response you want?’ ” Kennedy-Moore said. The best solution might simply be to give one another space. As she noted, “Research says that kids are more likely to solve disagreements by separating for a bit and then coming back together and just being nice to one another.”