How to Help Our Children with Social and Friendship Challenges
BY LIZ HAYMAN
It is normal and expected that as children mature and develop, they run into difficulties in friendships and social dynamics. Sometimes kids can be excluded or sometimes they can be the ones doing the excluding. It is very important that kids have support and guidance as they navigate the increasing complexity of relationships and friendships as they grow up. Learning skills of assertive and direct communication, self esteem, and self awareness take years to build, and are skills all of us as adults navigate and can struggle with at times. Here are some ideas for ways to help your child manage their social world.
Listen and Empathize
The first place to start when your child comes home upset is with listening and empathy. Of course, it is never easy to see your child sad or in pain, but if you can pause to really listen, your child will feel seen, heard, validated, and valued. This will also help them gain the ability to empathize with others, which will take them very far in social situations. What your child may need to hear initially is something like- "Wow, it sounds like you've had a really tough day, and you're feeling upset and sad. I can see how you might feel that way from what you're sharing with me."
Model Social Skills
Think about what your children might be picking up on from how you show up in your own friendships. It may be easy to talk badly about a friend or text them something that is probably better said in person. Kids watch this and take cues from you on how to be in friendships. Also, be careful of bad mouthing the other children that may be a part of their social challenges. This sends them the message that is it okay to talk badly about others rather than looking at a situation from multiple perspectives or working toward a win-win solution. Your children do not have to like or get along perfectly with every other child or classmate, but they do need to learn how to contribute to a respectful and harmonious community.
Role Play- Watch the Desire to "Fix"
It is so important that children feel empowered to address social struggles on their own. One way we as adults can support kids behind the scenes is to role play situations with them. You might pretend to be the challenging friend and have your child practice how they could try to assertively say something like, "Please stop that, it’s hurting my feelings." If as adults, we immediately go into "fix it" mode, children can get the message that they are not capable of working through these issues on their own, and they may avoid coming to us in the future with their struggles.
Encourage Multiple Friendships and Social Contexts
Whether or not in-school friendships are going well, kids need a variety of types of friendships and social situations. School social dynamics can sometimes begin to feel like a bit of a bubble, so it’s very helpful if your child has some social contact and opportunities to build friendships in places outside of school whether in groups, clubs, classes, or with local neighborhood friends. This can help build self esteem, especially in times when things at school are tough. Help encourage your child to think about branching out, including others, and practice interacting with a variety of children.
Here are a few other articles on this topic. Please feel free to reach out to me to talk about friendship challenges.