Tips for Dealing with Friendship Challenges

by Annie Fox, M.Ed

Just as we did when they were toddlers, we need to continue teaching our middle and high school kids what it means to be a good friend (on both sides of the equation). We also need to encourage them to stand up for themselves when they’re not being treated with respect. These tips can help you help your son/daughter navigate through a friendship challenge.

  1. Show that you get it. Acknowledge that it hurts when someone betrays you—especially when a trusted friend turns against you. Reflect back what you hear, “You sound really hurt, angry, and confused.” Share a “hurt by a friend” story from your own teen years. Hopefully you can also share what you learned from that situation and how you used it to become a stronger, more thoughtful person. This models empathy and also reassures your child that (s)he will survive.
  2. Calm down. Before moving toward the conflict resolution steps (3 and 4) your child needs to de-stress and you may need to also. No matter what awful thing someone has done to your kid, calming down first makes it easier to get through the upset.
  3. What can/can’t you control? Point out the reality: You can’t control a friend’s behavior or feelings, but you can get a handle on your own. When talking about the choices other people make, one very wise 12-year at one of my events said, “My grandma says that stuff is just out of your hands.” Exactly right. And if you try to control things that you can’t control, it’s only going to stress you out more. Don’t let your kid go there!
  4. Your child has options! Even after a fight, (s)he’s far from powerless. If, for example, a friend has turned into an enemy, your child’s options for dealing with the situation might include:
    1. Talk to another trusted friend about the situation and get her opinion/advice
    2. Talk directly to the wayward friend and tell her how what she did makes you feel
    3. Don’t ever talk to that friend again
    4. Get back at her by getting other people to turn against her
    5. Forget about the hurt and act like it didn’t bother you
    6. Find some new friends
    Brainstorming at this point should be open-ended. Even though you might hear an option that immediately smacks as a “terrible” idea, don’t say anything.
  5. Evaluate the choices. Only after your child lists several options is it time for him/her (not you) to evaluate them.
    You: Take option D, for example. What’s likely to happen as a result of choosing that one?
    Teen (thinking aloud): The whole grade will probably take sides. Then things will turn into this huge mess.
    You: Will that help heal the friendship? Will it create more or less stress for you and others?
    Teen: Uh… not really, and more.
    You: I agree. Now, what about Option E? What might happen if you go with that one?
    Teen: My friend might think that because I didn’t say anything that I didn’t mind. Which is so not true!
    You: Will that build more trust in the friendship? Help you get more respect?
    Teen: Obviously not.
    Thinking about potential consequences is incredibly valuable to adolescents because they often react without first reflecting. Even discussing the worst, retaliatory knee-jerk options offer great (and totally safe) learning opportunities.

With your support in considering options (and without worrying that you’ll rush in and try to “fix” her problem) her thinking process will be accelerated. Hopefully, she’ll also move closer to the time when she no longer tolerates disrespectful behavior from any friend or so-called friend.

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