Navigating the emotional minefield of playground politics is challenging for kids of all ages. Here, Kids First founder and teacher Sonja Walker, shares some practical ways to encourage your child to have healthy friendships and avoid the complicated world of cliques.
Teaching kids how to have good friends and be a good friend in return starts when they are very young. As a parent, you can encourage positive attitudes in your child by modelling problem-solving behaviour that is respectful and pro-active.
Things to say to your child when friendship issues arise
Don’t just fit in with others – Find the right fit for yourself
Encourage your child to think about the things they value and are interested in, and how those things fit in with the group of friends that they are, or want to be, part of. Ask questions like:
* What’s the main reason you want to be part of the group?
* What compromises will you have to make?
* Is what you have to do and say to be part of the group worth it?
* What would you do if the group leader insisted you treat another kid in a mean way or do something you don’t want to do?
* When does that kind of behaviour change from being fun and ‘just a joke’, to teasing and bullying?
You deserve to keep doing what you have always enjoyed
If the power of a clique causes your child to suddenly want to give up on an activity they’ve always enjoyed or been good at, find a way around it. Ask questions like:
* Can the other kids in the group do what you can do?
* Why are you worried about what they think?
* What’s “not cool” about your interest, sport or activity?
* Do you think you could find another activity that you enjoy as much or are as good at? What would that be?
It’s okay to have friends in different places and spaces
Having a positive approach to your own social interactions and modelling inclusive behaviour to your child is important. When kids see that their parents are friendly with people from different settings, backgrounds, ages, and interests this shows them that it’s okay to have all kinds of friends. Give your child as many opportunities as possible to have a broad range of social experiences, for example:
* Join a sporting team that is not associated with the school. This is a great way to find local, like-minded friends and helps broaden your child’s social horizons beyond the playground.
* Involve your child in cultural activities that are part of your community. In this way, your child will gain confidence from an increased sense of connection with their heritage and family.
* Encourage your child to engage in community service activities, such as supporting a local charity, visiting lonely residents in local nursing homes or helping a neighbour who needs a hand. The affirmation kids get from these experiences help them to develop confidence and self-esteem as well as compassion and good citizenship skills.
* Allow your child to have a part-time job. For your older child, there’s nothing quite like the step up to taking responsibility and marching to the beat of an employer’s drum when it comes to encouraging maturity and self-reliance. Workplaces also give kids a new group to which they can belong.
Stand up and speak out
Promoting a pro-active responses to behaviour that your child knows to be wrong is something that you can foster in your family from a young age. Encourage your child to step away from negative behaviour and let them know that you expect them to make good choices.
As your child gets older, talk frequently about the power they have to refuse to participate in anything that feels wrong, regardless of whether it’s a practical joke or talking about people behind their backs.
If your child is feeling worried or pressured by what’s happening in a clique, encourage them to stand up for themselves or others who are being excluded or bullied, and to seek help from adults if they feel that their actions are not enough to change the situation.
Take responsibility for your own actions
Sensitivity to others and the strength to not just go along with a group is a value that you can teach your child from a young age. While it can be difficult to be different, it’s important that your child knows that he or she is ultimately responsible for what they say and do. Talk with your child about what a true friend really is.
* Ask them what they look for in a friend
* Find out what they expect from a friend in return
* Talk about the idea that a true and loyal friend respects the opinions, interests, and choices of their mates, no matter how different they are from their own
Friends for reasons and for seasons
When helping your child to build healthy friendships, it’s helpful to provide your child with ‘the big picture’.
Friendships come and go. We’ve all experienced it and it’s okay for your child to occasionally decide that it’s time to move on from other kids when a friendship doesn’t feel right anymore.
As hard as cliques might be to deal with now, things can change quickly…and often for the better.
Through the example you set, you can help your child understand that having true friends… people they can confide in, laugh with, and trust is the most important thing.
I often tell kids that Harry Potter didn’t need a big gang of mates to hang with…he just need Ron and Hermione, who always had his back.
Because, you see the real secret to being “popular”, in the truest sense of the word, is for your child to be liked by the kind of friend he or she would like to have: A friend who is respectful, fair, supportive, caring, trustworthy, and kind.
It might take time, but by encouraging your child to hold true to positive values, they will eventually find their ‘tribe’… and it won’t matter if that’s a tribe of 2 or 20, as long as they belong and gain strength from one another.
© 2015 Sonja Walker
Does your child need help to find healthy friendships?
Kids First’s child psychologists have years of experience in supporting children as they find ways to navigate the complex childhood relationships.
We are located in Sydney’s northern beaches and have helped hundreds of kids of all ages to develop confidence and resilience.
In addition to the one-to-one counselling and support we provide, Kids First also offers popular small group programs which support children aged 6-10.
If you live in or near Sydney’ northern beaches, our caring and highly qualified psychologists can help your child to build better social and friendship skills.
Click on the link below or contact us on (02) 9938 5419 today find out how we can support your family