Helping Your Child Navigate Friendships At School
In addition to learning English, math, and science, students also learn how to make friends, be a friend, cooperate with peers and teachers, and navigate disagreements in school. Children look to parents and other caregivers as models on how to navigate this aspect of school.
The most impactful interactions to guide children on how to socialize are between the child and their parent or caregiver. Over time children inherently use these interactions and responses from their parents and caregivers as a model on how to navigate their social interactions at school. For example, when a child is having a tantrum, parents are likely having feelings of frustration or anger, but when parents are able to regulate their emotions and remain calm in these situations, parents are demonstrating emotional regulation that children will inherently use as a model when they are feeling frustrated at school with their peers. Similarly, when a parent and child have a difference about them, whether of opinion, need or even appearance, when parents regulate their own anger or judgement about this difference and reflect an appreciation for their child’s perspective, children experience a model of respect. This respect between parent and child becomes a model for navigating inevitable differences that come up between children and their peers.
Learning how to navigate changing friendships takes all of childhood and the process can be bumpy along the way. Children can feel a wide range of emotions during a time of conflict with their friends including anger, sadness, disappointment, and loneliness. When parents are able to provide an environment in which children are given the opportunity to express all of their feeling without fear of punishment or judgement, children are better able to process their feelings, cope with the losses, and move forward.
When your child informs you that they are having a conflict with a peer, really listen to what they have to say. It is important to avoid saying anything negative about the other child. Instead, focus on how your child is feeling and help them to identify their emotions. Phrases like, "I can hear how frustrated you are" or "I understand why you might be feeling angry" bring the focus back to your child and help them begin to identify some of their feelings.
Let your child know that it was great that they could tell you about this conflict and how they feel about it. You can say something like, "I know this may have been difficult to talk about, but it's great that you were able to tell me about what's going on between you and your friend."
It may be tempting to try and offer solutions to help your child feel better. But in these moments what is most helpful for children is when parents are able to simply listen and offer a compassionate response. Conversations that foster a connection between you and your child nurture their self-esteem and gives them the foundation to withstand the ups and downs of school and navigating friendships.