How do I Help My Daughter/Son Develop Healthy Friendships?

Just like girls develop physically and mentally, they also develop socially. (Boys do, too although their social development looks a little different…) than girls. We’ll let David tackle that one!)

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As they develop, I believe there are a few important truths to instill in them across the ages. But, keep in mind, it is normal for their focus to shift from you…to having a best friend…to having a “group” to find a sense of belonging. And, then, yes, the focus will likely shift to the opposite sex—but that is WAY down the road, so we sure don’t want to borrow trouble for now!

For now, she’s starting the progression of developing friendships with other girls. In doing so, we want her to learn a few important truths to undergird her relationships. One is that there are ALWAYS two sides of the street. She will come home from school having hard her feelings hurt by some friend or even teacher countless times over her school-age years. You want to start by listening. She longs to feel heard and understood. It can even help to reflect her feelings back with empathy. “That sounds really hard.” “Yes, it makes so much sense that would make you sad” kinds of comments. 

Second, ask her questions. What does she want to do about it. What does she think would help the situation. Every time we ask kids questions, we not only prompt their problem-solving skills, but we also remind them that we believe in their problem-solving capabilities. It reinforces in them that we believe in them—both who they are now and who they’re becoming.

Finally, help her learn boundaries. Every time I speak at a parenting seminar about girls, I talk about the combination of strength and kindness. We want her to learn boundaries that not only are kind to others, but are strong. “I want to play with you, but not when you treat me like that.”

I may be going out on a limb, but I have a hunch, that all of us women who are reading (or writing) this article, would have significantly healthier relationships had we learned these important truths at eight or eighteen—rather than in our adulthood.

How can I coach my son in friendships?

Generally speaking, navigating the maze of friendships isn’t as hurdled or complicated for boys as girls.  Unfortunately, boys don’t know how to be as supportive in their friendships as girls. The bottom line - both genders can learn something from the other.

Boys tend to have an ability to forgive and move on. They don’t linger and harbor resentment.  They can be angry with a friend in the morning, and happy to hang out by afternoon.  It’s a gift, and we want to support and call out this strength.

In terms of challenge, boys (and males of all ages) are highly competitive creatures.  Unless we’re aware, competition can become a relational strategy.  As valuable a context as sports are, it can’t be the only context.  Otherwise, he can get stuck in a pattern of being only against and not for someone.  Similarly, competitive talk can become a pattern within conversation.  Every time a friend names a success, a boy’s instinct becomes “one upping.”  Role-play is a useful, experiential tool to help boys practice being supportive and loyal.

Boys also need coaching in how to go deeper. Males have a tendency to stay on the surface in relationships, whereas females go deeper.  Boys benefit from practicing one or two questions that allow them to swim below the surface. This training prepares boys to be adult males who know how to share life honestly with a few close friends.

This article was originally published in Parent Life magazine.