Dr Richard C. Woolfson
Friendships are very important to children at this age. They want to have pals, to be popular, and to be surrounded by friends in the playground. Friendships are often volatile, however, perhaps leaving your eight-year-old feeling distressed and isolated at times. You can see she is upset and you want to help, but you wonder if it’s best to let her sort the social problem out by herself. And even if you try to get involved, she might not want to talk to you about it anyway.
In virtually all instances, the most positive parenting strategy is to provide support to your child when she has a difficult emotional or psychological challenge, particularly when it has to do with social relationships. Of course, you want her to be able to stand on her own two feet, to find solutions for herself, but there is no harm in giving her a helping hand along the way.
The real dilemma you face is how to support her sufficiently so that she regains her social confidence, but how do you do this in such a way that she doesn’t become reliant on you?
A PROBLEM SHARED
Sharing her friendship worries with you helps your child aged seven to nine years in a number of ways. The basic act of discussing it with you has a number of benefits:
1. She doesn’t feel so alone Knowing that you are on her side, caring for her, giving her sympathy and understanding, makes her feel better about the situation. Your involvement reduces the sense of isolation she feels from falling out with her pal.
2. She clarifies her thoughts Putting her ideas into words helps your child sort out what she thinks about her friendships, what matters to her and how they fell out in the first place. Things seem clearer to her after a chat with you.
3. She expresses her feelings Talking to you about her social concerns can only benefit her emotionally. Certainly, that’s a lot better than bottling up all her anxieties and distress, which will only result in more frustration.
4. She develops new possibilities Through discussion with you, she begins to identify possible solutions to her current social predicament. You can encourage your child to consider new strategies that have not already occurred to her.
Try to discuss without taking over her thinking process. Listen to your child’s concerns and her explanation of the friendship difficulty. Ask questions that make her think more deeply, but without making her feel guilty. For instance, did she expect this to happen? How might she herself have behaved differently to avoid this disagreement with her friend? How could she alter her behaviour so that this is unlikely to occur again in the future? What could she change now so that her relationship with her friend could improve?
Treat your child with respect, avoid creating any sense of blame for what has taken place, and work with her to find a solution. If you lead your child gently through such discussions, instead of giving her all the answers, her independence will increase, and she’ll be better able to cope on her own the next time.
If your child indicates clearly that she doesn’t want to talk to you about her friendship predicament, that’s her choice. Give her space to work it out on her own, should that be her preference. Even then, however, let her know that you are there for her if she ever feels she wants to share her worries. As long as she knows you are ready to support her at all times, she will ask for your opinion when she is ready.
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