Originally published: February 2023
Healthy friendships are important to your child’s growth and development. Kids learn how to socialize with others by spending time with their peers. Friendships build their confidence, resilience, and sense of belonging. But even healthy friendships can have troubles, and your child might need your support to figure out the way forward. Here’s what you can do to help your child navigate friendship challenges.
Lead by example
Your child learns about healthy relationships by watching you and other adults they care about. When it comes to relationships, think about the values that matter most to you and your family. Try to demonstrate these values in your day-to-day interactions with others. For example, your actions show your child how to:
- Treat people with respect
- Communicate assertively
- Solve problems
- Negotiate and compromise
- Manage emotions in a healthy way
Talk about healthy relationships
Talk with your child about what it means to be a good friend. Encourage them to look for friends that share similar values, like respect, trust, honesty, loyalty, and kindness. Teach them that it’s just as important to be a good friend as it is to have a good friend. Try chatting about how they might feel if someone was unkind to them. Remind them to think about this feeling if they see their friends being unkind to others. This can help your child stick to their values in challenging situations.
Talk with your child about the differences between healthy, unhealthy, and abusive relationships. For example, these relationships vary in the ways that people talk to each other, spend time together, and trust each other. Learning more about these types of differences will help your child recognize challenging friendships at school, in the community, and online.
Practice skills for handling peer influence
As your child gets older, it's likely that their friends will have more influence. Most peer relationships are healthy and positive, but sometimes friends might pressure your child to do things that make them uncomfortable. Teach your child how to say no and still be a good friend. The phrase “no thanks, I don’t want to” is often all they need to say. If that doesn’t work, these strategies may help:
- Repeat “No thanks, I don’t want to” as often as needed.
- Flip the conversation by asking “Why is it so important to you that I do that?”
- Put a stop to the convincing by saying “That sounds like a good time, but no thanks."
- Leave the situation by saying “Sorry, I have to leave” and then walk away.
Help your child practice these skills at home so they feel more confident using them at school, on the playground, and in other situations.
Support positive peer connections
It’s common for kids and young teens to change friend groups over time. Younger children may say that they’re friends with someone one week, then ‘enemies’ the next. These rapid changes may go back-and-forth several times. Older children may notice a more gradual change in friend groups. They might feel like their friends no longer like things they do or share the same interests.
Reassure your child that it’s okay to leave a friend group that makes them feel uneasy, then help them plan for more positive peer connections. For example, they can:
- Join a group, club, sports team, or faith community
- Look for volunteer opportunities
- Connect with new friends who share the same hobbies and interests
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