When You Are Worried About Your Child's Friendships (or lack thereof)
It doesn't matter if your child is barely toddling in the nursery or if she is in her last semester of junior year in college, all good parents wonder...
"Does my kid have friends?" Good friends?"
A mother who was in her late sixties told me with a shaky voice and tears in her eyes,
"Since my daughter's divorce, she has lost a lot of her friends. Most of them sided with him. I think she is lonely but she won't say. I can't sleep at night because I am so worried."
I thought to myself as I watched her pull a tissue from her pocketbook to dab her eyes: "Whoa. We never stop caring about our kid's social well-being...even when they are full-fledged adults with children of their own..."
Any parent who has been at this "raising kids" thing for at least a handful years will attest that:
There is nothing more infuriating and heart-breaking when you find out your child is sitting by themselves at lunch or is wandering the playground alone... looking for a friend.
You will want to punch holes into the walls when your child with special needs is once again not invited to the birthday party that the rest of the class is attending.
Nothing will make you want to scream when you discover that your child's friend is really your child's bully... constantly putting them down and making them feel small.
You will feel a sick knot in your stomach after getting off the phone with your sobbing freshmen in college who begs you to let her come home because she has no friends.
Parenting is emotionally messy especially as we navigate our child's social life. My mother once said to me, "Parenting hurts." I thought she was just being dramatic when she said it, but now I get it:
Parenting hurts like a mother. (no pun intended)
Why? Because we hurt when our kids hurt. One of the main things in life that is going to sting our children's precious little hearts is friendship or lack thereof. So, what can we do? How can we keep ourselves from becoming a mamazilla or daddazilla when our kids get burned by their peers? How do you navigate this pain well for the sake our child?
1. Acknowledge what is going on.
The worst thing we can do as a parent is to pretend that there is "nothing wrong". It is important that we are paying attention and that we are willing to have a conversation with our children about their friendships. Denial is worse form of the defense when in comes to protecting our kid. It is okay to acknowledge reality. In fact, it's the first step in help our child take positive actions to combat loneliness and friendship pain.
2. Deal with your child first and not the offending children.
If Little Sally is fat shaming your daughter, you may be tempted to call her mother and her let know a thing or two. Don't let this be your first course of action. Tend to your kid's heart before you start swinging fists at the kid-culprits involved. Remember, they are not your responsibility to reprimand. Make sure your kid feels secure and loved first and then contact the appropriate authority... guidance counselor, teacher, principal and yes... if necessary... the police. These platforms of third-party authority will be able to contact the parents of the offending child for you. You may be asking ...
"Why not go straight to the parents of these little jerks?"
It's rarely effective. Like all parents, adults tend to be defensive of the little humans beings they have brought into the world. One time a child mocked the way my hearing impaired child spoke. I witnessed this with my own eyes. When I approached the mother of the child about her child's actions she laughed and said, "You are too sensitive." I have found a third party is the best way forward if there is serious concern. The opportunity for things to actually be a) documented and b) dealt with is more likely when you don't go directly to the parents.
3. Brainstorm with your child on fun ways to make better friendship connections.
A friend of mine told me that he daughter confessed that some of her friends are “mean jokers”. She explained that their “sense of humor” was to make fun of their other kids in the class and she was feeling bad about it. My friend told her daughter, “You will become like the people you most hang out with. Sounds to me like you might be wanting nicer friends.”
Together, my friend and her daughter sat down and made a list of some other girls in the class she would like to get to know. Every Friday she would event one of these girls over for a playdate. Over time she built better friendship connections with different girls who were not “mean jokers” and was able to quietly pull away from the friends that were not so nice.
As parents, we have the unique privilege of helping our kids come up with solutions. We offer our resources, our time, our experience, and our love to help them form healthy friendships. If we see our kid socially struggling, it our responsibility to help them out. So…
1) Acknowledge the problem
2) Tend to your child’s heart first
3) Help them find a healthy solution
Life is full of social pain. It stinks but the wonderful thing is that we don’t have to deal with alone.
You got this.