Maybe you were that child, the one who couldn’t seem to make friends easily, or who always said the wrong thing in a group. Maybe you have that child, the one who seems to always be at the fringe but never included fully in the gang, the one who makes social mistakes that are painful to watch.
As parents, we want our children to succeed, to be liked, to have friends and confidants, to have soaring academic and social lives. But the reality is, most of our children will stumble socially, will miss vital cues, will have friends betray them and will sometimes be the ones who hurt someone else.
Before we jump in and try to fix the problem, we should stop to consider what is our role in all of this. Is it to continue arranging play dates long past preschool? Is it to initiate parties or gatherings at our home? Or do we step back and let our children lead the way, even if there’s no leading forthcoming from our offspring?
It’s hard to know the right thing to do when it comes to our children finding their way in friendships and society, but here are a few guidelines that will help us not overstep too much into their world.
|Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici|
Push, but back off. Children do need a gentle nudge in the right direction, a reminder that they should pick up the phone and call a friend sometimes rather than waiting for someone to call them. But after making suggestions from time to time, we also need to wait and let our child figure out what’s best for him. He might spend some lonely time because he didn’t want to call, but then again, he might discover his inner social butterfly and take off into the social stratosphere. You won’t know this—and he won’t, either—unless you give him the space to figure it out.
Listen, then suggest. It’s hard sometimes to just hear what our kids are saying, and it’s doubly hard when you can see a solution to their problem. Yet, there are times to suggest how they can change things and times to listen—this is especially true when it comes to friend troubles. Learn to listen first, then make a suggestion. Sometimes, it’s best to ask leading questions so that the child will come to a solution on her own.
Empathize but don’t dramatize. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the drama of the incident, especially related to friendships. But while we need to let our children know we feel their pain, we also don’t want to feed the drama machine and turn encounters into bigger mountains than warranted. In other words, be empathetic without overly encouraging complaining. It’s not healthy for a child to dwell too long on an incident, either, so help him move on if he gets stuck on repeating it over and over again.
Overall, we need to remember that we can’t be our children’s social directors and we can’t make friends for them. Some of our children will be very popular with other kids at various times in their lives, while others will muddle through with only a handful of friends. Our main concern is helping our children be friend material by honing the characteristics that make a good friend: helpful, honest, loyal, steadfast, empathetic. Also reminding our children to reach out to others who might not be perceived as great friend material—the loners, the outcasts, the “others.” Being a friend to the popular student is easy; being a friend to the newcomer is harder.
As parents, our goal shouldn’t be to help our kids become popular, to have lots of friends, to fit in with the “right” crowd. Rather, we should focus instead on helping our children be a friend to those who need one, to show kindness even in the face of derision, to stand up for the weak. That might not get them elected to student council or homecoming court, but it will develop their character into men and women of integrity.
Until next time,