In BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends)? A Girls Guide to Happy Friendships, I share nine “friendship truths.” These truths help preteens and teens (and adults) navigate relationships with more social awareness. I’m diving into the Friendship Truths in this series of posts. Here are the posts about truths #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6 and #7 if you missed them. Now, let’s explore Friendship Truth #8.
Friendship Truth #8: When things get tough in friendship, it’s important to respond in a way that feels right to you.
Imagine that your child or student feels hurt by a friend’s behavior. As caregivers, it’s hard to see those we care about navigating uncomfortable emotions or situations. Our instinct to protect and problem solve is strong.
Conflict, mistakes, and misunderstandings are inevitable in relationships. And there is no “right” way to respond. Every situation is different, just as every person is different. We all have different temperaments, skills, experiences, and needs. Because of these differences, it makes sense that two people in the same conflict may respond differently.
As kids and teens develop social-emotional skills, they learn how to navigate and manage their emotions. They also learn how to resolve conflict, set/respect boundaries, and connect with others. It’s a process of trial and error as they learn about themselves and their world.
Friendship Truth #8 = Exploring Choices & Building Confidence
So let’s get back to the child that feels hurt by their friend. Something important happens when this child thinks through their options in this situation. First, they realize that they have choices. Second, they build a sense of confidence that they are capable of navigating conflict and struggles.
Maybe they will choose to speak up and talk to their friend about what happened. Perhaps they will decide to let it go and see if it happens again. Or maybe they will choose another option.
Regret Shapes Future Behavior
Even if they respond in a way they later regret, that experience will guide their choices in the future. At any given moment, people tend to do their best given their skills and circumstances.
That leads us to Friendship Truth #8: When things get tough in a friendship, it’s important to respond in a way that feels right to you.
Here’s how caregivers can support kids navigating conflict and tricky social stuff.
- Listen deeply and validate emotions – Allow kids to share their experiences without jumping in to fix or judge the situation. By listening deeply, caregivers give space for kids to process their experiences, thoughts, and emotions. Naming emotions is key to taming emotions.
- Let kids take the lead on possible responses – Once the child feels calmer (which may take time), caregivers can ask them to identify a few ways they might respond if they feel a response is necessary. If they decide to speak up, caregivers can offer to role-play or help them figure out what to say, so they feel ready.
- Check-in Later Without “Digging for Pain” – When the time is right, check in to see how things went. Regarding conflict, kids often move past struggles faster than adults. If the child is no longer bothered, try to let it go yourself. However, if a struggle is ongoing and beginning to impact the child’s wellbeing, be sure to get additional support from the school counselor or other resources.
About Jessica Speer
Jessica Speer is the award-winning author of BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends)? A Girls Guide to Happy Friendships (2021) and Middle School – Safety Goggles Advised (2022). She has a master’s degree in social sciences and explores social-emotional topics in ways that connect with kids. For more information, visit JessicaSpeer.com