If there’s one parenting goal that I want to consistently crush, it’s to be relentlessly vigilant when it comes to my kids’ friendships.
If you follow this blog, you know that we talk a lot about the importance of community and friendship – about widening the circle. We value diversity. We value wisdom. We value building an on-purpose support system for our families because we know that life is better, together.
But we also know something else.
Friendships help determine the direction and quality of a person’s life.
It’s true for adults, and it’s also true for children and for students.
Yes, every kid needs tribes over time to give them a sense of belonging. But what happens when a member of your kid’s tribe needs to be voted off the proverbial island? What happens when your kid encounters a “mean girl (or boy),” or someone who just isn’t a good influence?
We spend so much time teaching our kids to share. To use kind words. To forgive one another. But how do we teach them one of life’s most simple lessons—you don’t have to be friends with everyone.
Take my 5-year-old, for example. Ezzy wants—no, needs—everyone to like her. (I’m rolling my eyes at you, genetics.) When I ask her about her day at school, she responds by telling me who she sat with at lunch, who she played with at recess, and who laughed at her jokes during centers.
OF COURSE EVERYONE LOVES YOU, MY PERFECT ANGEL. YOU CAN DO NO WRONG, AND ALL SHOULD BOW TO YOUR SUPERIOR WIT AND INTELLECT.
This, my friends, is the blessing and curse of parenthood. Love is most definitely blind.
Back to the point of this blog—Ezzy loved school, but then something changed. She stopped wanting to go. When we asked her why she said there was a mean girl giving her a hard time.
(We’ll call this little girl Beatrice.)
According to Ezzy, Beatrice wouldn’t play with her on the playground, called Ezzy names we don’t use in our home, and participated in other mild forms of bully-ery.
I could have called the principal*. I could have emailed Beatrice’s mother. I could have requested a seat change, a class a change—withdrawn her from the school, even. And in some instances, those measures would have been appropriate. But in this case, my husband and I decided to do something different**.
We decided to teach Ezzy a few ways to deal with friends who make us sad.
1. Ask yourself, “What could I have done differently?”
There are three sides to every conflict. In this example, Ezzy’s side, Beatrice’s side, and the truth. Even if we’re completely convinced our kid has done nothing wrong, it’s important to teach them a healthy level of introspection.
2. Remove yourself from the situation.
I’ll never forget when I told Ezzy to find someone else to play with.
“Invite another friend to play a game with you. And if Beatrice calls you a name, just walk away. If she ever touches you or scares you, tell your teacher immediately. But you have our permission to ignore her.”
Ezzy looked so confused – like the idea had never crossed her mind.
This concept is true for older kids, too. Even adults! There are some relationships where the chemistry is just “off.” The severity of which can range from two people having a hard time getting along, to two people being truly toxic for each other. Whatever the case, it’s okay to quietly and calmly remove yourself from the situation.
For your kid, that may mean . . .
- staying off social media (or at the very least, unfriending someone)
- sitting somewhere different at lunch
- skipping someone’s party
- trying new clubs or activities to meet different people
- being sad because friendships change through the phases
3. Continue to make wise choices.
In Ezzy’s situation, the wise choice was to find other friends and keep talking to her dad and I about it every day. The wise choice was to be polite, but to seek out other friends who like the same things Ezzy likes.
In most situations, the NOT wise choice is . . .
- to retaliate
- to instigate
- to stir up controversy
- to continue to build a case
Do you want to know what happened? Ezzy got over it. It was like having a defined course of action diffused the tension. She found safety in knowing she didn’t have to be a victim without recourse.
Now. Is this the case anytime our kids get hurt, rejected, or angry because of a friend? No, of course not. As Ezzy gets older, the stakes will get higher and the hurt will get deeper.
But it was a starting point in learning how to deal with challenging friendships. It’s a lesson I wish I had learned earlier, and one I’m sure I’ll be unpacking over and over for years to come.
What about you? How have you helped your child navigate a conflict with a friend?
*CONFESSION: I did send Ezzy’s teacher an email, just to make her aware of the situation.
**DISCLAIMER: This is not a manifesto on bullying. It’s a blog post about a single incident where my husband and I made a decision based on contextual factors too lengthy to outline. I’m only bringing up this specific example as a baseline for discussion. Each child, conflict, and response is unique. Bullying is a serious issue, and I’m not nearly intelligent enough to comment on the topic holistically.