Learning how to navigate the social world starts early for kids. In elementary school, social groups start forming, and conflicts within the groups often lead to ‘friend drama.’ It is tempting to step in and take action to resolve the issue quickly. However, trying to resolve the issue for your child could actually make the situation worse and will not help your child learn how to address conflict on her own.
Listen and Guide, but Do Not Solve
Have an in-depth conversation with your child. Listening carefully will help you better understand the situation. Make sure you send the signal to your child that you are fully engaged in the conversation by eliminating any distractions, such as a phone or the TV. Ask her to describe what happened and let her finish before asking more questions.
Next, ask open-ended questions to clarify missing details, which will help maximize the amount of information you can collect.
For some issues, such as a ‘mean friend’ incident at school, it may be helpful to also contact your child’s teacher to get her perspective, especially if you suspect bullying is involved.
Coach Your Child On a Course of Action
Resolving conflict is a crucial skill when it comes to maintaining relationships and this skill is best developed through experience. Provide any guidance needed as your child brainstorms all the possible paths she could take to resolve her issue, but do not select a resolution for her.
Instead, kick off the problem-solving session by asking questions that help your child discern how she will work out the friend drama. For example, ask her to tell you how good friends should treat each other and what she values most in a close friendship.
Role-playing can be a helpful tool, especially if the friend drama is a result of your child hurting her friend’s feelings without realizing it. It can help your child understand the incident from her friend’s perspective and see that she may not completely be the victim in this incident. Role-playing is also a good opportunity for your child to practice having a difficult conversation, such as telling her best friend she cannot be friends anymore if she does not stop breaking her trust.
Help Your Child Move Forward
Wait until you listen to all her proposed paths before making any suggestions. Depending on the circumstances, your discussion may need to include the observation that sometimes things change and it is best not to try to mend a broken relationship.
However, leave it to your child to select her friends. It can be difficult to watch your child struggle with hurtful ‘friend drama,’ but don’t try to force her to end a relationship if she decides to try to mend it. The exception to this is when you suspect your child’s circle of friends may be involved in bullying. Bullying incidents are unacceptable and require immediate intervention.
Help your child become more resilient by signing her up for activities in the community. Even if she does walk away from a broken friendship, she will still have the love and support of her other circle of friends.