The middle school years are arguably the most challenging time for children, mainly due to friendship struggles. Friendships can change from day to day, sometimes even from hour to hour. This can be so confusing and frustrating for preteens who have always relied on their friends for camaraderie throughout their school day.
When your child feels like his friendships are at risk, it can make him distracted with worry about his role in the conflict and that he may end up losing friends. If these conflicts continue, it can negatively effect how he feels about school. In order to prevent this from happening and alleviate these stressors, it’s important to understand some common friendship struggles and how you can support your child through them.
When conflicts occur within a group of friends, these friends may ask your child to pick a side.
Picking sides is usually a lose-lose situation but statements like, “I can’t believe you’d wanna be friends with her after what she did to me!” or “You really like him?” are enough to make most children wonder if staying neutral means they’re disloyal. Your child may end up feeling guilty for wanting to be friends with everyone. In order to deal with situations like this, it’s important for your child to specify the characteristics she values in her friends, if only to herself. Maybe she’s decided she wants her friends to be trustworthy and kind. If she’s questioned about a friendship, she can evaluate it by asking herself, “Has this friend acted in a trustworthy and kind way?” Based on the answer, she’ll know if there’s a reason to be upset. Without establishing the character traits she finds important, it would be easy for your child to be swayed toward picking a side. The next step in dealing with this conflict, is for your child to articulate that she is not choosing sides, so her friends don’t keep asking her to do so. Practice a few phrases she can say in situations like this, so she’s prepared and doesn’t get drawn into unnecessary drama. These phrases will be different, based on your child’s personality. But, something as simple as, “I’m friends with all of you,” or “I’m not in this,” will show her stance on picking sides.
Sometimes, kids will make up lies about your child.
This is especially frustrating for preteens. It feels so unfair to get in trouble for something you didn’t do! How does your child prove they didn’t do something? It often comes down to one child’s word against another’s. There’s so many reasons kids choose to lie; sometimes to help prove a point, sometimes to get themselves out of trouble, or to get another kid in trouble, (maybe a kid they’re jealous of or don’t like). When children lie about your child, it’s best for your child to calmly state that he didn’t do what he’s being accused of and continue to state this same message without placing blame on another child. This situation usually takes time to be resolved because there is often no proof one way or the other. Tell your child to trust that the truth will come out in the end. If one of your child’s friends are spreading lies, that situation involves additional conversations and support. Educate your child about the traits of a true friend. Encourage your child to find friends who treat him well. And, tell him he doesn’t have to fit in with everyone. It’s okay to only have a few friends. This is an important lesson that Eva learns in Am I Weird?
If any of these situations are not resolved through the support you can offer and your child continues to struggle, call the school to ask for assistance, starting with your child’s teacher or school counselor. It is especially important to reach out to the school if any of these negative behaviors start to affect your child’s self-esteem or turn into a bullying situation.
Check back next week for Navigating Middle School Friendships: Part 2 - Changing Friendships.