Life and relationships are not always easy and we learn our skills as children, watching the interactions of our parents and other adults in our lives. What we learn as children then sets our patterns of relating in adulthood.
Falling out with friends is normal during childhood and it is through struggling with friendship challenges that our children learn about themselves, relationships and how best to interact with others. Through experience, children also learn how to set boundaries - what they will or will not accept in a friendship. We cannot make these decisions for our children but we can guide them gently and encourage them to use their instinct, intuition and intellect.
Falling out with their friends can feel like the worse thing in the world. Saying anything negative about their friends at this point will only cause your child to withdraw and can create further emotional confusion for them. Gently encouraging your child to talk about their feelings can help to identify areas of conflict, disagreement or unfairness which may have led to the fall out.
Ask what they think went wrong. Do they think they could have reacted differently? Do they feel that they did nothing wrong? When friends fall out, it doesn’t necessarily mean any of the children in the mix did anything wrong. Fall outs just happen and they can happen all the time! Girls especially can change friends quickly, moving from one to another in succession. There is an important lesson here too - that friendships grow and change and sometimes come to an end. Children are still developing and so must their friendships.
As we grow up, it is healthy that our friendship groups grow and diversify. Our needs change and different people provide different things. Learning how to be a friend is like learning anything else. Sharing your own stories of your own friendship experiences can be helpful, showing your children that friendships can hit a rocky patch which has to be worked through.
Help your children to understand the importance of sharing, taking someone else’s feelings into account and listening to each other. It’s important that children learn about allowing their friends the privilege of sharing their feelings without being judged. Teach your children that their friends should also allow them this privilege too.
We can teach our children to decide whether a friendship is worth persevering with or whether it’s best to just walk away. Don’t be afraid to talk about the differences between healthy and toxic relationships. It’s important to help children understand that there are different kinds of friends too – best, great, good and casual friends - and that new people are constantly coming into our lives. As we navigate life we can’t expect to get everything we need from one friendship, which is why we need quite a few to fulfil our needs.
Gently reflect back to them using clear language how they are feeling and what happened. Try a bit of role play around a friendship challenge which can help your child see what is happening more objectively. If you think your child’s behaviour was the catalyst for a fall out, role play can help them learn how to be a better friend in the future. It can also help them see more clearly whether they were at fault.
Always take an interest in your child’s friendships and if you sense something out of the ordinary, be there as a buffer. But avoid taking sides, actively interfering or taking decisions for your child about their friendships. Working through their experiences is an extremely important part of growing up and a learning curve for adulthood and taking this away from them robs them of the chance to learn valuable life lessons. Equally, do not make them feel like victim in a relationship as this can prevent them from taking responsibility in relationships later in life. Encouraging new activities and providing arenas for new friendships can give your child confidence in their ability to make new friends and be a good friend.
Studies show that children who have healthy relationships with the adults in their lives are more likely to make sound decisions about friendship, because they understand things like empathy and mutual respect, and they have better problem-solving skills. So above all, nurture your own relationship with your children and others in your family.
This article was written by Lianna Champ and has previously been published by Families magazine.
Lianna Champ has over 40 years’ experience in bereavement and grief recovery. Her new book How to Grieve Like a Champ is out now priced £9.99. More information at www.champfunerals.com