My 10-year-old daughter is having trouble with some friends in school. It centres on her relationship with one girl who she expects to be a much closer friend than she actually is (this girl has lots of other friends and does not want to see my daughter as much as my daughter wants to see her). My daughter feels very hurt by it all and I wonder how best to help her cope. In earlier years, there was a focus in school on the importance of friends (part of an anti-bullying initiative). We worry this has given our daughter too high an expectation of what friendship can deliver. Should we try to rebalance things? Should we encourage her to focus more on the family? How else can we build her resilience?
My daughter feels very hurt by it all and I wonder how best to help her cope. In earlier years, there was a focus in school on the importance of friends (part of an anti-bullying initiative). We worry this has given our daughter too high an expectation of what friendship can deliver. Should we try to rebalance things? Should we encourage her to focus more on the family? How else can we build her resilience?
As children grow older, forming friendships outside the family generally becomes very important to them. This is a natural drive in children that is part and parcel of growing up. In fact, learning to make and keep friends in primary school represents some of the most important social skills children can learn. However, peer groups and friendships are fraught with problems and there is great potential for being hurt or sometimes feeling excluded.
Gender is very significant and boys and girls tend to approach friendships quite differently. From my clinical experience, friendship challenges tend to peak for girls at about the age of 10 or 11, when the interest in friendships can be at its greatest, yet the girls have still not learnt all the necessary social skills or the ability to put things in perspective.
I believe it is a good thing that modern teachers and schools are proactively trying to help children learn the skills of friendship with a view to preventing exclusion and bullying, though these supports need to be ongoing, and supportive parents are crucial. Below are some ideas on helping your daughter.
Support and listen to your daughter
As a parent it can be hard to hear your child describe how they are hurt or upset about things, such as friendships, that you have no control over. Remember though, that it is far better for your daughter to be talking to you about her upset and hurt than her keeping her feelings bottled up. The fact that she is talking to you means you can help her.
While it might be tempting to try to jump in and solve her problems, at 10 years of age it is much more important to be there as a good listener and to support her in learning to think through and sort these problems out for herself. The goal is to be a patient listener and travel the emotional journey with your daughter as she experiences the ups and downs of making, losing and keeping friends.
Creating a happy family home
You are absolutely right to provide a happy family home as a counterbalance to the challenges of friendships. Ensuring that she has lots of opportunities for enjoyable family experiences and plenty of quality one-to-one time with you as her parents, will provide her with a secure base in the home that will help her deal with any challenges outside. If things are tough in school for a period or elsewhere, knowing that she can come home and be listened to will be a great resource to her.
Encourage her to problem solve
It is important to encourage her to solve the friendship problems she is dealing with. Help her think out the best way to deal with the hurt she is experiencing. Asking her gentle questions can be a good way to approach this.
For example, you could ask her what she thinks a good friend should be. What different idea of friendship does this girl have? What would help her feel a bit better about what is happening? Would it be better to develop a few friendships in the class rather than depending on one? Who else in the class could she be friendly with?
Sometimes it is helpful to get her to describe the specifics of a situation in detail (what the girl said and how she responded, and so on) and to coach her in good strategies and communication. It also may be helpful to speak to the teacher who might be able to give a good insight into what is happening between the two girls and also to intervene subtly to help your daughter resolve things.
Offer her some new ways of thinking
Once you have listened to her, it can be helpful to offer her new ways to think about friendships and what is going on for her such as “it is very normal to feel hurt sometimes in friendships . . . but you can get through it”. “Sometimes, you can learn a lot from these experiences . . . even though it can feel hard” or “sometimes it is best to have a good few friends so you can depend on different people” or “different friends give you different things”, and so on.
Building her resilience
There are different ways in which children learn to be resilient when dealing with social situations. Firstly, help them to create many sources of self-esteem and good social relationships. Encouraging your daughter to concentrate on friendships with other girls in the class, or on hobbies and interests that she enjoys and which bring her into other social groups can all give her other places to feel supported while she works things out in school.
Resilience is also created by helping your daughter get through the challenge she is dealing with, and to learn from what happened. This will stand her in good stead as she approaches her adolescence.
John Sharry, Irish Times Newspaper, December 2015. John writes in the Irish Times Health+ every Tuesday.
For information on John’s courses for parents see www.solutiontalk.ie