Tips for Helping Tweens with Friendship Drama
By the time we finished praying we both were in tears. You see, my daughter and I had spent almost an hour working through the first chapter of a book on godly friendship for tweens (10 to 12-year olds). Unintentionally, the book ended up revealing that my daughter doesn’t have the kind of friendships she wants. We finished our time together by praying that not only would God provide the kind of friends she desires, but that she would be that same kind of friend to others.
Friendships can be hard
It’s been a rough year in the friendship department for her. She’s not alone. Many other tweens feel this way. And to be honest, friendship and relationship issues don’t really ever go away. The realities of dealing with difficult people, handling harsh words, feelings of being left out, being made fun of, and being excluded because a new or better friend comes along – these follow us into adulthood.
Helping our young and maturing children through these tough friendship-waters is important. And tricky. Many times we're only hearing our own child’s perspective of what took place at the lunch table or at recess, and seeing the hurt in their eyes as they retell the event. And since I’m right in the middle of it, I thought I’d share a few things I'm learning about helping my child through “typical” tween relationship challenges.
- This is normal. Developmentally your child, and my child, is not alone. Many kids feel like they don’t fit in during the tween years. Even the most popular and seemingly relationally-sound individuals often express feelings of loneliness, feeling left out, and being hurt or offended by even their closest friends. It's important to tell our children that--even though it's painful--what they're experiencing is normal and others feel it too.
- Get the facts. When our children share a relational issue with us that's causing them anxiety or sadness, try to empathize and gather facts before getting riled up. Simply let them know that it’s okay to feel confused that their best friend asked a different kid to be their work partner in History class. Or if they share that no one made room for them at the lunch table at school, let them know that would make you feel sad, too. Before making harsh statements or rash conclusions, ask clarifying questions to gather as many facts as possible.
- If there's conflict with a friend (not a bully situation), help your child assume the best, not the worst. If the behavior is not a pattern then offer grace to the friend and continue to validate the emotion your child is feeling. During these years, tweens are insecure and emotionally fragile some days more than others. A comment or action done by a friend that wouldn’t have bothered them yesterday is suddenly offensive and hurtful today. Help level the emotions by being calm yourself and reminding them of the good times with the friend.
- Pray! Pray for and with your child about their friends. Pray that God would help your child to be the kind of friend that others want to be around--a friend that speaks kind words, loves others, can have fun, is trustworthy, and more. In fact, help your child make a list of qualities they want in a friend and then pray those things for your own child as well as for those qualities in a friend.
- Be positive and encourage positivity. For one of our daughters, asking the question, “Who did you play with at lunch today?” often set her off into a negative dialogue of how she felt left out or who she didn’t get to play with her. The reality was she was well liked and when we observed her at school, she was always playing with friends. She was having some friendship challenges but there were also good things happening in relationships, too. So I had to learn to ask a different question to get a different response. I started saying things like, “Tell me something funny that happened at lunch today,” or “What was something that someone said or did today that made you smile?” We were still able to talk about the hard friendship issues but asking a different question often set the tone for positivity.
Hang in there! This parenting thing isn’t easy and helping our children navigate their relationships has its ups and downs. "Cast your cares on the Lord, because He cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7). And He cares about our kids too!