Wait! Don’t stop reading just because this sounds so simple! It’s crucial to notice when your child is having trouble making, keeping or getting on with her friends, and find a calm time to ask her what she thinks about it. Once she starts to open up to you about her friendships: not only are you being a good friendship role model to your child, if you gain her trust in this, you’ll be able to give her another perspective. Don’t belittle how she feels, tell her you understand and give her the space to talk about the small things which bother her. Sometimes it’s enough just to talk about it. Sharing her problem, she might be able to deal with it better the next day at school because you've given her strenght.
- What to say: “You seem upset. What’s going on? Is it something to do with your friends”
Watch and Learn
Seeing how she acts with her friends can really help you give her constructive advice on how to deal with difficult situations. Remember, don’t jump in straight away, give her time to deal with tricky moments and with her own mistakes. When you’re on your own again, praise her with specific examples of her good friendship and pull her up on things she could have said differently.
With younger girls, a supervised playdate might be less threatening way to work through shyness or bossiness. Invite one of her peers round (who’s a good example for your child, of course!) and set up an activity they’ll both love, but which is well structured. Praise them when they’re working together, reaching compromises, sharing and being patient with each other. Step in and help if your child is obviously finding it hard to cope. Keep it short, end it on a high note, and talk about the playdate together once her visitor has gone home.
- What to say: “I heard what you were saying to Mary when she was upset and I thought it was a really nice thing to say. She must be pleased to have a friend like you.”
‘Best friends? No way, that was yesterday!’
Young girls can be fiercely loyal, but also heartbreakingly fickle. The mini social dramas that they play out, changing friends and re-forming little groups, are all immature practise for more complicated social set-ups later on. When she falls out with her friends, listen to what’s happened and reassure her that it happens to everyone at some time or other. Tell her about your own experiences and talk to her about how she’s going to handle it the next day at school. Remember, you’re not giving her the solutions when you talk though this – unfortunately it’s not that easy. Instead you’re giving her time to calm down and consider her own motives and actions, plus the all important confidence to deal with the situation her way, on her own.
- What to say: “I think I see what’s going on now. Here’s what I would do if that happened to me.”
‘If you’re my friend, you can’t be hers!’
Jealousy can be a really destructive force in the playground, and this is particularly true for girls. Teach your child that jealousy can be a kind of flattery, and it’s just the fear of losing the friendship that makes some girls turn nasty. But also teach them to not get drawn in, to walk away, keep their cool, and put a bit of distance between her and her jealous friend for a couple of days. Meantime, work on boosting her confidence so if there is a show-down, she’s ready for it.
- What to say: “I can see she’s really hurt you by talking to you that way. Is there someone else you can play with tomorrow, so she doesn’t get the chance to hurt you again?”
Join a group!
If you’ve moved somewhere new or your child is obviously lonely, a quick fix is to make the most of the things she already loves to put her into new social situations and meet new friends. Does she love dancing, music, horses or art? Is she into sport or reading? Ask around and you’ll find there are all sorts of local social activities suitable for young girls. Scouts or girl guides will be great if she has no specific hobby, just having a common activity with her peers could be what she needs to make open up.
- What to say: “I still feel nervous and uncomfortable with new people sometimes, but it helps to have something to talk about together.”