Hi Anne, my daughter is eight and is having friendship problems which she is finding quite upsetting. I don’t know what I can do to help. Do you have any tips?
This is one question which often comes up and it is always difficult to know what we, as parents, can do. Actually, the answer is we really don’t need to do anything.
Learning how to handle personal relationships is a very important part of growing up and child development.
As we go through life we engage with other people in many different settings, and we need to be equipped with the skills to understand and handle those relationships.
One of the best pieces of advice I can give to parents is to learn “how to listen.” This may seem easy but how often do we feel we need to have “the answer?” We often feel we need to fix situations, to say something, to fill the gap. But learning “how to listen” is very important. The more we listen, the more your child will talk.
Allow space for your child to talk and to tell you her feelings. Show that you are really listening, put down your phone, stop whatever you are doing, turn off the car radio. This shows that you are placing importance on what she has to say.
It also shows her that you love her and are there to support her. You do not need to respond at this stage, perhaps a nod or “mmm,” Allow your child to think over what she wants to say, give her time to find the words – do not finish her sentences for her.
She may become emotional, which she may also not really know how to deal with, so you can hug her or comfort her, but still do not talk.
If she asks you to respond you can do so by saying, “I am thinking about what you are telling me, what else can you tell me?”
By allowing your child to express her feelings, she is also internalising her feelings. This experience is an essential part of child development.
If you interrupt, finish her sentences or try to fix her problems for her, she will not learn to “own” her feelings or more importantly learn how to handle them.
You may be surprised that by giving her the space to talk, she will actually begin to find the answer to her problem herself.
She may begin to use words which show that she is examining her own behaviour or taking some responsibility for the chain of events.
If she begins to show that she is doing this – again just let her continue to “think out loud.” You may wish to use encouraging words such as “that is very mature thinking” or “I like the way you are thinking” which will show you are paying attention and being supportive.
If the problem is not resolved, suggest that you both have a think about it and set a time to sit and talk about it later, then make sure you do. This will allow you both some more thinking time and will remove any heated emotion.
When you return to the topic ask her for her thoughts first and then you will tell her yours. If she is still confused you can help her to find a solution.
Acting out a scenario is often a fun way to do this. You play the friend but give your child tools to use. These tools may be words or actions. Make this a fun activity and hopefully you will have a happier little girl.
Send your questions to email@example.com. Anne Revell is a special education, behaviour and parenting consultant who is a part-time Revelstoke resident.