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How to Help Your Child With Friendship Issues


Navigating friendship issues can be challenging for children. Learn how to support your child's friendships today.

Across generations, establishing quality, reciprocal friendships are vital to building a child’s self-worth. But young children just beginning to socialize have plenty of challenges to contend with. These can depend on age, social setting, and personal attributes like introversion. They can also be influenced by entirely modern trends, like the internet.

For parents, deciding to intervene to help process and resolve problems with friends poses its own challenges. If you’re not sure where to start, a gentle roadmap can give you some insight into what your child might be going through and how to best support them as they navigate their friendships and social situations.

The Pillars of Navigating Friendship Issues

When a child comes home and shares a story of conflict with a friend, it’s common for caregivers to focus on the details of a situation in an attempt to:

    Come to an objective conclusion about what happened Identify who (if anyone) is to blame Determine how the issue can be resolved

But this process often skips over how a child is feeling. Those surfacing emotions—and learning how to process them—are often as significant in a child’s growth as resolving the conflict itself.

Rather than trying to arbitrate a conflict, it can help to embrace a three-pillar framework for navigating it:

  • Believe - Acknowledge the reality of the situation as your child experiences it and the emotions they have about it.
  • Equip - Support your child with the emotional processing and problem-solving skills to navigate the conflict with resilience.
  • Trust - Trust that with time, patience, and kindness they will not only reach the other side of the conflict, but they’ll build empathy in the process.

Friendships, like all relationships, can be messy and difficult to see objectively. But they can nevertheless have significant effects in areas of a child’s life that are empirically visible, like school performance or developing a robust sense of identity.1

For this reason, it’s valuable for caregivers to learn a variety of approaches to helping children problem-solve. While issues that arise among friendship for kids can depend on different factors, there are certain approaches that can help them deal with said problems. This can help them build an arsenal of skills to maintain healthier relationships and deal with conflicts in the future.

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#1 Ask Them To Walk You Through What Happened

If you pick up your child from school or arrive home to find them upset, it’s best to try to maintain your own composure so that you can be a steady presence for them to rely on.

Then, ask them to tell you what happened, step by step.

If your child is sensitive or their emotions seem to have stolen the show, it can be difficult to get an objective feel for what occurred. In these cases, it may be helpful to use visualization tools like mind maps, which help in several ways, like:2

    Externalizing information, which may free up mental and emotional “space” for you and your child
    Creating a shared map that shows the situation, and possible places where you can problem-solve together
    Using a creative outlet to give them a sense of agency in a situation where they may feel like they don’t have control

#2 Exercise Patient Listening

As your child is telling you (or perhaps illustrating) what happened, it can be tempting to jump in and try to steer the conversation as quickly as possible to a resolution point. To help develop healthy parenting habits, do your best to resist that urge, and instead:

    Try not to interrupt Let them know it’s safe to share their point of view When they’re finished, ask questions that spur reflection, rather than interrupt with advice

When you can remain supportive and non-reactive, it can also help them see the situation more calmly. This can also teach important social skills for kids, like being good listeners, as they navigate building a healthy friendship

#3 Show Empathy and Support

Loneliness is common to feel in moments of conflict. This is often true whether the friendship issues your child is going through involve a single individual or a group of friends.

For a little while, it can help to try and focus on your connection with your child, rather than acting as their disciplinarian. Even if you suspect your child did something to violate another child’s boundary, saying kind things like “I understand how that must have felt” can help reinforce their sense that they’re supported and help them feel less isolated. While trying to offer parenting advice can feel natural, it's important to also display what a healthy friendship or a good friend should look like.

#4 Try Problem-Solving Together

Once you’ve ironed out the key details of what occurred, you can begin to help your child take a problem-solving approach to the conflict. In general, taking a restorative, rather than retributive, approach is optimal for helping your child build resilience and empathy for others.3

In the process of problem-solving, you may find it helpful to guide your child toward:

    Taking responsibility for their part in the situation Apologizing to their friend(s) or affected parties Verbally identifying their values to themselves Establishing new boundaries for behavior (e.g. being willing to share for 15 minutes)

Depending on the situation, you may need to communicate with other parents about how you’re handling the friendship issues at home. This can be difficult for many caregivers, particularly if they don’t know the other child’s family very well.

In these cases, try remembering that you ultimately both want the same thing for your child: a strong sense of self, compassion for others, and healthy, enduring relationships.

Learn more about problem-solving activities for kids.

#5 Encourage Them With Affirmations To Help Rebuild Confidence

No matter the outcome of the conflict, your priority as a caregiver is to help children come home to a feeling of safety. Safety can exist both externally, in the home environment, and internally, within themselves.

Affirmations for kids can be a wonderful way of rebuilding this sense of inner security. In those days and weeks after a conflict, you might encourage your child to say things like:

    I am a wonderful friend I am loved I can overcome difficult things

Getting The Dialogue Started

If you’re wondering how to help your child navigate friendship issues and not sure where to start, try using this light roadmap to get the conversation started:

    I see you’re upset. Try to remember that these feelings won’t last forever. In your own words, can you tell me what happened?
    If you had had your way, how would you have wanted the situation to go?
    Why do you think [child’s name] felt the way they did?
    What do you need from [child’s name]? Can you tell me what you think would be a good way to make sure both you and [child’s name] feel respected?
    I’m so glad you are trying to work this out!.

Work Through Conflict Supported with Slumberkins

Friendship problems can occur for many different reasons and between best friends and acquaintances. Many of us still carry experiences from our earliest days of socializing and creating peer relationships that continue to dwell inside and affect us. These can be joyful, painful, or both—and often, one of the toughest parts about parenting is watching our children go through experiences that mirrored our own.

Friction with others is an inevitable part of life, but it can help to equip your child with resources that can help them grow from the experience. Whether it’s cuddly snugglers that can assist with how to explain friendship to a child or a story about conflict resolution, explore Slumberkins’ social emotional learning books and tools to help your family lead with compassion and connection through it all.



Sources:

  1. Maunder, Rachel, and Claire P Monks. “Friendships in middle childhood: Links to peer and school identification, and general self-worth.” The British journal of developmental psychology vol. 37,2 (2019): 211-229. doi:10.1111/bjdp.12268
  2. Tanguay, Matt. "How to Mind Map to Visualize Ideas (With Mind Map Examples)." LifeHack. 13 June, 2022. https://www.lifehack.org/articles/work/how-to-mind-map-in-three-small-steps.html
  3. Wenzel, Michael et al. “Retributive and restorative justice.” Law and human behavior vol. 32,5 (2008): 375-89. doi:10.1007/s10979-007-9116-6

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