friendship challenges: what parents can do

We had the opportunity to speak at Trinity School today on the topic of "Parenting Through Friendship Changes and Challenges," and received such thoughtful feedback, questions and comments from the parents participating. Most children will struggle in some way with friendships: losing a friend, feeling excluded, changing peer groups, not knowing how to react in a challenging social situation. Parents struggle with knowing how to respond, and sometimes have to fight the urge to step in and take over. Here are some tips for what to do when you see your child struggling in her friendships.

  • Normalize change.Friendships change frequently and the enemy of today might be the best friend of tomorrow. Interests change over time, and friendship groups will change with them.
  • Label the behavior, not the child. At some point, all children will experience participating in, and being on the receiving end of, relational aggression and other red light friendship behaviors. Avoid labels like bully & mean girl, but address the behavior. Help your child identify when they or their peer group engage in red light behavior and identify positive alternatives.
  • Know when (not) to intervene. Start with helping your child problem solve on her own. If problems escalate, engage with teachers and parents to collaborate on problem solving. This is a learning process and we want to empower kids to navigate challenges.  Help your child set boundaries  and navigate uncomfortable social situations on her own as much as possible.
  • Encourage self-compassion over self-esteem. Self-esteem is contingent on external validation (grades, compliments) while self-compassion teaches us that we have inherent self-worth, even when we feel bad, make a mistake or experience conflict. Help her be kind and forgiving of herself and others,  remember that everyone has bad days and that emotions are temporary.
  • Create space for down time, independent play and creative pursuits. Honor differences in social needs and help your child set limits on social time.
  • Redefine the goals. Instead of eliminating social challenges, the goal is to help your child develop the skills to navigate them, build pro-social behavior and exercise his brain for healthy development. Resilience is developed when you learn from experience and get stronger.

Speak Up!

With school letting out for winter break in just a couple weeks, now is a good time to get the most out of these last few school days before the holiday fun! Although excited about the break, oftentimes teachers and students fear they will fall behind during the break because of the fact that they are away from schoolwork and the structure of school. In order to lessen any possible effects, students would benefit from getting the most out of the next few weeks. A good way to do this is by participating in class lectures and discussions. Speaking up in class enhances a student's relationship with their peers and teachers. It also allows for students to grow academically and socially.

Rachel Simmons discusses the thoughts students feel when faced with chances to speak up in class and how they often prevent students from engaging in the classroom. Her article provides a frank examination on the workings of the education system and how it can be intimidating for youth to speak up. However, she argues that the classroom is a good place for students to practice voicing their thoughts and having discussions with those who may disagree. It may seem easier to keep quiet, but speaking up can go a long way.

Rachel Simmons has authored many books on the subject of relational aggression in the circle of female relationships. In her book, "The Curse of the Good Girl," she explores the difficulty that many girls have in speaking up for themselves, inside and outside of the classroom. Here's an interesting article touching on the subject of encouraging young girls to speak up in the classroom. We believe that it is important for all kids to feel comfortable talking in class, asking questions and bringing up their opinions for discussion!

changing friendships


During the transition from girlhood to adolescence, teens find themselves in and out of many friendship groups. Sometimes friendships are formed from being in the same club or sports team; other times friendships emerge as girls explore new identities. Teens are trying to figure out a lot of things during adolescence. One of the most important questions girls are exploring is simply “Who am I?” In pursuit of an answer to this question, girls may experiment with friend groups, clothing styles, interests and more. Many parents worry when watching their young teen begin this process of identity exploration, uncertain about the implications of all these new choices and influences. What do you do when you see your teen enter into friendships that you have reservations about?

The Los Angeles Times offers parents a starting guide for understanding their teen’s friendships and what to do if you are unsure about them. Independence-seeking and developing an identity separate from one's family is an important part of adolescence, and friendship groups are a key part of this process. Perhaps nothing seems more important to a teen than her friendships. When parents are concerned about a particular friendship or friend group, guidance and dialogue are often much more effective than attempting to end a friendship. Setting reasonable guidelines for when, where and how social interactions take place help you set parameters around friendships without infringing on your teen's desire to foster new relationships.

Collaborating with your teen to monitor emerging friendships allows you to stay involved and informed while granting your teen increasing autonomy to make her own choices in social relationships, which is a skill she will need as she grows up in our social world.