I was a school counselor for many years, the main type of situations I always found myself mediating was friendships gone awry.
Giving our kids the tools so they can navigate their friendships is vital. School friendships can make or break a child. I’ve seen kids who are always at the school nurse’s office because their tummies hurt as a result of the stress from a friendship fiasco. Children who were terribly distraught because a friend stopped talking to them. I’ve watched “quirky” children sit alone at recess because their peers don’t know how to deal with their randomness.
Unfortunately, this subject also hits home because my children have also experienced the tragic loss of a friend who decided that my child wasn’t good enough for their “group” or friends who excluded them at recess for whatever reason.
Kid Friendship Dilemmas: I’m Not Your Friend Anymore
One of the many things, I always come back to when coaching kids about friendship situations are the following:
- It’s important to give your friend a chance to change their behavior.
- Think about what else maybe going on and if you don’t know, ask them.
- It doesn’t always have to be about you.
Sometimes it’s about a kid who is still navigating social skills (aren’t they all at this age) or at times kids have a hard time reading others social cues. Helping our kids see the other child’s perspective is helpful. “You know what buddy, I think he kept messing up your game because he wanted to play but he didn’t know how to tell you because he kind of felt excluded. Does he do this a lot? If so, maybe next time you can ask him, if he wants to join your game and tell him–it would be much more helpful if you just asked to play instead of messing up your game.”
Obviously, this kind of conversation would not come out of the mouth of a 3 year old but the younger we model this to our kids the more they are able to navigate these types of situations on their own. For example, at home when your toddler hits his older sibling you can say to your toddler, “I see that you’re hitting your sister while she’s playing. Are you trying to tell her something? (Don’t wait for his response b/c he may not know what to say.) Do you want to play with her?” See Sue he just wants to play with you. Ask him if he wants to play? And tell him next time to just ask you if he can play.”
Now here’s a similar situation but this time it’s between friends and at school.
- Junior says: Chad was tackling me at recess and I don’t like that. I don’t want to be his friend anymore.
- Me: I can understand why you wouldn’t want to be friends with someone who is tackling you. It’s no fun to be tackled.
- Junior: It hurts.
- Me: Did you ask him to stop?
- Junior: No, but he knows I don’t like to be tackled.
- Me: Hmmm, how does he know?
- Junior: Because last time he did it, I stopped talking to him for the day.
- Me: You know I’ve seen you and Chad hangout and you seem like you have a lot of fun. So I’m willing to bet that you do want to be his friend but you just want him to stop tackling you.
- Junior: Yea, we have fun.
- Me: Guess what? Sometimes people don’t realize what they’re doing is not fun or uncomfortable for others. Other times they have things going on at home. It can be as simple as they didn’t get enough sleep so being irritating is what’s coming natural to them at the moment. Which is why we have to tell them what it is we don’t like. You can even ask them if they are okay? After you tell him how you feel, let him know that it’s his choice to stop if he wants to keep playing with you. So, why don’t you go to him and say, “You know how you were tackling me at recess? I don’t like that. Please don’t tackle me anymore, it’s not fun for me.” When we tell someone to stop it should be followed with what you want them to stop doing.
- Next session:
- Junior: I told him what you said and he stopped but then he forgot and did it again when I was over at his house. But my mom said that she thinks he forgot because we were in a different setting. I think so too. So I told him, “If you want to keep playing with me, I need you to stop or I’m going to go home, if you do it again.” He didn’t do it again and we had fun building Legos and we even “pushed” each other around when we were laughing so hard. I didn’t mind that.
Do you see what happened in the scenario above?
Our kids, sometimes for good reasons are ready to give up a possibly life-long friendship over something silly or a minor spat. But if we model empathy (we are showing them empathy when we respond to their concern) and give our kids the tools to stand up for themselves, we empower them to navigate the web of friendships. Also, in the process they learn empathy for their friends around them and how to give them a second chance.
Sometimes we feel like what our friend is doing is on purpose. Or they are out to get us. Or they’re just mean. But sometimes our friend is unaware that their behavior is annoying or hurtful. As I mentioned above, kids as well as adults, need to be reminded that not everything has to do with them. It can be as simple as they’ve been staying up late at night and aren’t capable of dealing with their emotions in a healthy way. At times they may realize it’s annoying or frustrating but the child needs to hear someone say stop.
What usually happens is our child (or even adult) chooses to ignore it because they don’t want to say something to their friend. They just don’t want to make a big deal about it but then one day they’ve reached their limit and want to end the friendship. Or they think they are saying stop it with their body language and in their mind it’s enough to communicate their frustration, but it’s not.
No matter what the reason for the friend’s behavior let your child know they can always tell their friend what they don’t appreciate them doing that’s harmful, rude or inappropriate to them.
The same happens to us as adults. So, let’s give our children at a young age the words to conquer these small battles so when they are older and their co-worker interrupts them for the 5th time in the meeting they can say something in a respectful way instead of trying to avoid them at work all day long because they are so upset with them.