You know the routine. You pick your child up from school, and they have steam coming out of their ears. “I had a fight at school today!” your child says, between sobs. “No one likes me!”
The parenting books did not prepare you for this moment. Now what?
(1) Soothe. Do not skip over this step. This is the time to really lean into hugs and cuddles and water and cookies. You will not be able to have any sort of conversation about what happened until your child has calmed down.
(2) Empathize. Just acknowledge your child’s feelings. Try to say as little as possible so that you can really get the whole story, and try to understand what happened. This is not the time to present another view, or try to be rational. This is the moment to ask a few questions (“What else happened?” or “And then what did she say?”) and label feelings (“Oh, that must have made you so angry!” or “I understand why you’re so sad.”). When in doubt, just saying “Oh, I see.” or “I understand.” can go a long way.
No matter how ridiculous your child’s story seems to be (“she looked at you in a weird way during science?!”), it is imperative that you take this very seriously. Pointing out how petty this drama is will only upset your child more.
(3) Take a deep breath. These dramas can stir up all of the unresolved angst that we’re carrying around from our own history of friendship troubles. What your child is saying may make you angry or sad or protective. It’s normal to feel triggered, but, as adults, we need to try to keep these feelings in check and keep the focus on your child.
(4) Problem solve with your child. As a parent, you have so many amazing ideas. And you have the wisdom of having lived through this messiness and come out on the other side. However, it is very important that you empower your child to solve this problem with your support. How does your child want to handle it? Do they want you to call the teacher or the other child’s parents? Do they want you to give them a script for what they can say next time it happens? Talk out the various choices, and follow your child’s lead.
(5) Explore other options for friendships. Sometimes kids get stuck trying to become friends with a group that just isn’t into them. Make a list of the other kids that your child interacts with (classmates, peers from after school activities, neighbors). Who could they meet at the playground? Who would they like to get a piece of pizza with? Plan a short get together with this potential friend and see if they hit it off. Look at the activities and clubs that are offered at school, and see what might pique your child’s interest while introducing them to new kids.
The thing about friendships is that they often go in waves. Your child will seem impossibly tight with one child or a group, and then suddenly they’ve drifted apart or they’re fighting all the time. This is a normal part of growing up and to be expected.
These are not easy times, and there are no easy solutions. However, partnering with your child and making sure that they feel supported by you will go a long way to easing the pain of these trying times.