In this month of celebrating love and friendship, I can honestly say that navigating my kids’ friendships is wearing me out. The shifting tides of affections and aversions has me both captivated and exhausted. It’s like having a front-row seat at a pint-sized soap opera.
My kids are school-aged, and I confess that I ride the roller coaster of their friendships with them. When Sally is the BFF of the moment, I celebrate her (and her love of squishies and unicorns) too. And when Sally becomes Enemy #1 because she insulted my daughter’s highly-skilled drawing of a magical cheeseburger, I rage right alongside my daughter.
Likewise, when Timmy comes over to play (and raids the pantry), I welcome him with open arms, feeding him literally and figuratively. When Timmy mysteriously stops coming around, I miss him. What happened to Timmy? I ask. Usually, no one answers.
I notice that some kids are mean and say and do terrible things. Girls are verbally aggressive; boys are just plain aggressive. Name-calling is routine; bullying is the buzzword. My kids have been called names; had pencils jammed into their hands; given wedgies; been slapped in the face; trampled on the playground; and kicked in the you-know-whats.
Worse yet, my kids are coming to me for advice on how to handle these sticky situations, as if I have the foggiest idea. I feel like I need a PhD, or an individualized parenting manual to field these questions. Oh, Suzy won’t talk to you on the bus anymore and Jimmy will only play with you at recess on Fridays? Let’s flip to page 47 of the Manual for some spot-on guidance.
Instead of standing there slack-jawed and stuttering when these relationship issues arise, I’ve come up with a few go-to pieces of advice. Based on my ten measly years of experience as a parent and 42 years of experience as an awkward human, here are some tips to help kids plot a course through the rough-and-tumble world of school-aged friendships:
- Arm’s Length, people.
No matter what you do or try, some kids need to be kept at arm’s length. This is for the friends who are a bit hot and cold, or kids who exhibit the dreaded mean behavior. There are just some kids who are not allowed into the inner chambers of your heart. They can have a few niblets of your time and personality, but the buck stops there. You can share some laughs and have a good time without throwing all your hopes and dreams of BFF’ness onto them. Be kind and proceed with caution.
- Seriously, stand up for yourself
You’re worth it! Don’t let anyone talk to you like you’re a piece of garbage. Straighten your spine, look that person in the eye, and let them know from Day 1 that you are not hip to that jive. (Definitely don’t use that phrase or the bullying will get worse). Help your kids with what tone of voice they should use and exactly what they can say to let other kids know they will not be a target.
Also, keep in mind that these are skills our kids will learn over time, so be patient and keep saying the same thing over and over again. Successful parenting is all about annoyingly repeating everything 164 times until it finally lodges into their psyches.
- Good friends are like gold
When you find a good friend, hang on to him or her like you would a bag of chocolate gold coins. There is truly nothing better than a good friend. Treat that friend with love and respect. Value that buddy. Take her some emoji stickers when she’s sick. Stand up for him and be loyal. Bring him some brownies for no reason.
Our kids need to be taught how to recognize a true friendship and also what it means to be a good friend to someone else. Brownies and emoji stickers are key components here.
- You got this. This is me, letting go
For me, this is by far the hardest part. As kids get older, we as parents have to let go and let them chart their own friendships. We can’t live it for them despite the fact that we would do it SO MUCH BETTER. At some point, we have to get off the emotional roller coaster and let them sink or swim on their own.
They’re going to have their little hearts broken and their eyes are going to be opened to the beauty and despair of human relationships. They will learn their own lessons, and we just hope we’ve given them enough of a springboard to make good decisions and not need years of therapy in their 40’s.
Parents, exit stage left. Feel free to whisper I love you’s at all the crucial moments.
Friendships make life infinitely more sweet. True friends bring out the best in us and allow us to be who we truly are. Here’s hoping our kids find that sweet spot and we as parents survive the journey there.