Friendship drama is a training ground for your child.
Communicate your expectations for your child as a friend, often and simply. “It is important to our family that you are kind to others.”
A parent’s role is to give their child the tools to manage the times when their friends let them down.
If you do decide to intervene on behalf of your child, keep your child at the center of your strategy. This is not about relieving your feelings, but about helping your child.
If your child is in a relationship with someone you find problematic, maintain a balance between pointing out negative behavior and finding good qualities about them that your child likes. Acknowledging some positive traits does not condone behavior, but only being critical will drive your child away.
Help your child to realize that a friend is supposed to be someone who is nice to you ALL of the time, in school and outside, online and in person, when you’re alone and in a group. Help them to resist excusing mean behavior because someone is a “friend.”
Start talking about feelings early – theirs, yours and others! Having a good vocabulary around feelings helps to improve communication skills in the future and develop early perspective taking.
Connect facial expressions to feelings. Help your little one begin to read faces and pick-up on social cues about how others are feeling.
Model healthy friendships in your own life. Showing your baby how many people can love and nurture them helps them to value relationships that are reciprocal and fulfilling.
Play dates! Give your child the opportunity to play with peers of a variety of ages and skill levels. Adjust, or monitor, toys or activities to foster cooperation, not conflict. Offer observations about what you notice and role play anything that they need to practice.
Give your child plenty of space to play pretend! It is one of the best ways to build perspective-taking skills and understand how other people think and feel. When your child plays pretend, they often work out many of the scenarios that they struggle with in real life, like making friends and taking turns.
Try to let your toddler navigate some of the normal squabbles with friends on their own. If everyone is safe, don’t rush in to rescue, but make suggestions on what they can do or say to get along with friends.
Talk about family values, like being kind, whenever possible. Help your child to learn that it is important to your family for them to be kind, treat others the way they wish to be treated, and show respect for the thoughts and feelings of those around them.
Practice conversation skills like making eye-contact, introducing yourself, and trading information back and forth.
Make kindness a priority in your household. Talk about it often, have a value statement about it for your family, and model kindness to those around you.
Help your child recognize stop signals and become attuned to how others react to them.
Practice winning and losing. Build up a tolerance for losing at home, practice being a gracious winner, and emphasize fun over victory in our own house.
Keep your discussions around friendship drama brief. Give just enough empathy to make them feel heard, but don’t get sucked into giving too much sunlight to any one problem.
Tweens and Teens:
Show your tween/teen warmth and respect. Don’t try and control their friendships from the outside.
Lead with curiosity, acknowledge your child’s feelings, and ask them to weigh in. Don’t resort to your own monologue or judgement.
Talk about your own experiences with friends, what you gain and need in a friendship, and relate to any positive or negative experiences they may be having.
Encourage forgiveness. Model it for your child and help them to forgive their own mistakes.
Teach your child how to make amends with a healthy apology.
Help your child to practice telling others how they feel. Try it in front of a mirror, to the family pet, or to you before heading out. Help them to stick to their feelings on what they need, and avoid name calling or blame.