Helping Your Child Navigate Friendships

Helping Your Child Navigate Friendships

By Maia Poling, General Studies Director

During the elementary and middle schools years friendships become more important to children, but parents often feel less in control. These years are a period of social learning for children and parents. Below are some things to keep in mind when supporting your children.

Show interest in your children's friendships. Ask them questions without interrogating them. Open ended questions are the best.  "What did you play at recess?" " What do you enjoy most about Riley?" When your children feel you care about their social lives, they will be more willing to share the joys and the struggles.

Model inclusivity. Be open and inviting to the parents of your children's friends and peers. Our kids watch us. When they see us including others, even when they are not our best friends, we are modeling inclusive interactions, and your children will hopefully be more willing to reach out as well.

Foster empathy. Healthy friendships require that both friends are able to put their own emotions aside and respond appropriately to the other person’s emotional needs. Empathy isn’t simple. In fact, it requires fairly sophisticated skills like distinguishing your feelings from someone else’s, understanding another person’s perspective and regulating your own emotional response. 

Try helping your child focus on naming their own feelings, identifying other people’s feelings and exploring how people can have different perspectives.

Role play through tricky situations. Almost all friendships hit a rocky patch every now and then. What defines healthy friendships is the ability to manage through the hurt feelings and get back on track. When your children hit a rough patch with their friends, there will be hurt feelings on both sides. Helping your child break-down what has happened, how (s)he is feeling and how to make amends will make the friendship mending process go more smoothly. Our kids don’t always have the right words or the emotional regulation to do this naturally, so let them practice with you. 

  • Friendships
  • Maia Poling
  • Parents

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