Were you ever told as a child to 'just ignore them', when you sought help with friendship issues? How helpful were those words?
Childhood friendships can seem trivial to adults. Arguments over small things or differences of opinion can cause big problems for little people who are developing social skills, and it's tempting to roll our eyes or take the attitude of letting it blow over.
But when other children confuse, hurt or upset your child, you are presented with an opportunity to teach them some important lessons and help them grow emotionally. Let's look at how we, as a parents, can use friendship issues in a positive way:
1. We can teach our kids that people see things differently.
It is human nature to experience the same event differently to another person. Our past experiences affect how we react emotionally in the present, so a friend who reacts defensively during a playground game may look like they are simply spoiling the game to other children. But it is quite possible they are reacting to a negative associated memory. For example, take a child who is tagged but refuses to be 'it' during a game of Tag. This is confusing for other children who are playing by the rules as, after all, being tagged is the name of the game! But this defensive child is probably reacting to more than just being tagged. They may have been teased in a previous game, they may perceive being tagged as 'losing' or maybe they're struggling with a sense of isolation that being tagged gives them! Helping your child understand that there are reasons behind the behaviour of others not only helps them develop empathy, but can also help stop cycles of emotional reactions and misunderstandings between friends, meaning they can essentially lessen the intensity of conflicts. It's not about justifying the behaviour of other children. It's about teaching our own children that we experience life differently.
2. We can protect our child's self-esteem.
Many children will find it difficult to identify why a friend reacts emotionally and in a way that impacts their own feelings. But it's a skill we need to be continuously teaching and one that some children are capable of from a young age. My own 9 year old daughter can easily identify attention seeking behaviour in peers and understands that often it originates from a lack of confidence. She's naturally observant, but through our conversations and questions around friendship challenges, she is developing a valuable ability to spot a friend who is struggling with an emotion. Here's a perfect example:
Her: Jessie acts differently and can be a bit mean around Sadie.
Me: I wonder why she does that?
Her: I think she wants to impress Sadie.
Just a simple question had her thinking from her friend's perspective. It led to a conversation about confidence, how some people try and find it in the wrong places and what a good friendship is really about. She saw straight to the centre of the actions that were hurting her feelings and was able to surmise that it wasn't something she needed to let affect her because it simply about her.
Self-Esteem is affected by so many things but when a child begins to understand why their friends may be behaving a certain way, their own self esteem and view of themselves is protected a little. When children view themselves positively, they have a good relationship with themselves which translates into their relationships with others. With the quality of our relationships being so crucial to overall happiness, giving children insight in to the behaviour of others becomes so valuable.
3. We can empower our children with confidence to be their own person.
Overpowering friends or frenemies usually compensate for a lack of confidence or self esteem in the way they act or treat others. Other children with the same issues may be the opposite and be painful shy or socially anxious. Some children can be easily influenced by overwhelming characters, but we can empower them to be their own person! Teaching kids that those who overpower or bully look to control for validation can make a huge difference. By teaching our children the reality, which is that they are in control and can decide not to give power to another child, we can show them a way that protects them but also forces a frenemy or bully to face their own insecurities. Our children should know that it's not OK to make someone else feel bad so they can pretend their insecurities or issues don't exist. The sooner we teach our children to take power away from the overwhelming characters, bullies and frenemies, the better for their long term confidence. The more incidents of bullying or controlling behaviour that occur, the more evidence our children have for believing negative self talk. So start teaching them young!
Hey! I'm the founder, creator and voice of Ink and Scribbles. Sharing thoughts on child well-being and parenting that are based on my teaching and parenting experience, and NLP learning.