Has your child (or even you) been in a situation where one wants to be friends while another doesn’t? Maybe it is causing conflict? This can become emotionally charged territory for parents.
On one hand, we teach children about inclusion, being a good friend and not hurting another’s feelings. On the other, we teach them about developing a strong inner voice about who to befriend, being empowered and making independent choices. This can create confusion for the child.
The truth is – people don’t always want to be friends.
We all have unique personalities and interests, that naturally attract us to certain people. Past histories make us want to avoid others. Even how we feel day to day can steer us to someone in particular.
Furthermore, there are some good reasons for avoiding someone. Wise decisions, based on how others treat us or behaviours/interests we are not comfortable being around, can serve us well in life.
It is OK to not want to hang out with someone. It is not OK to be unkind. So, how do teach our children to honour their feelings while also knowing what to do with them?
The key to this dilemma lies in relationship, skills and a culture shift.
Start with relationship. Calmly hear your child’s story, feelings and needs. Remain supportive and open while resisting the temptation to jump to conclusions or label.
- Underlying reasons are important to understand. Something may have happened that the children don’t know how to resolve. Here, parents can help to mend feelings and relationships. Other times, there are reasons that we need to respect. We may never know the true motivations or details, but, where possible, speak to the other parents/children. More pieces can help tell the story and resolve the issue.
- Explore the possibility that, what feels like exclusion, may be unintended. Perhaps it is simply about other friendships or interests.
- Learning is an on-going process for all humans, so until a problem is big, keep it small. Accusations and labelling assume we know intention while ignoring other aspects of a person. Furthermore, internalized labels can bring unnecessary damage. Also, unintended payoff can result from punishment while straining relationships and squashing communication.
- Be curious and role-play what they would like to say to the other child. Shifting from “I don’t like you’ to ‘I don’t feel like playing that game today’ or ‘I was excluded’ to ‘we have different interests’ moves away from something personal to something still truthful yet more about the activity than the person.
- Before involving another person, ensure your child has a say. They came to you, so unless it is warranted, protect their confidence. This is an opportunity to tell them how much you appreciate the open and honest relationship they are building with you.
Next, turn to skills. Focus on what is really important – kindness, compassion and self-worth. Learning how to say what we feel and want is a life skill. Saying it in a kind and respectful way is critical.
- Explore what skills your child is using to communicate that ‘I just don’t want to friends’. What skills do they need to handle feelings of rejection? Learning how to communicate wants and needs, build new friendships, maintain multiple friendships and feel their own sense of worth can help. Handling conflict, having a supportive network and keeping hurt feelings as just that (rather than affecting their self-worth) are qualities that last a lifetime.
Be the culture shift. Instead of what is not great about others, look at what is great. Teach your children to do the same.
- Children are not just one behaviour and this understanding is not the same as accepting a bad one. Children need to learn positive social skills with peers. ‘Rejecting’ and being ‘rejected’ can be feelings loaded with underlying ripple effects so we need to navigate it carefully. Whenever possible, reflect back to children the actions they are taking and the qualities they are showing like kindness and compassion. Notice when they stand up for themselves and others appropriately. Tell them when you see them handling an upsetting event with strength and resilience. Show children the irrefutable truth of their greatness time and time again until it becomes their truth. The more they believe they are capable of navigating the situations they are in and expressing their thoughts and feelings in a healthy way, the more they will.
- Be clear on what behaviour is acceptable and not, then align your energy to support that. When we shift focus and amp up our energy around positive behaviours, we clearly communicate what we value. Conversely, energy directed to behavior we don’t want, leaves less for behavior we do.
Just to clarify, ‘rejecting’ is not the same as bullying. The latter is targeted, repetitive, aggressive and intended to harm, cause distress or fear. http://www.education.vic.gov.au/about/programs/bullystoppers/Pages/what.aspx. It is real and is unacceptable. Social exclusion can be a form of bullying – again – when it is targeted, intended to harm etc. Not wanting to be friends, while hurtful, has different roots, dynamics and intentions.
The good news is, that while not wanting to hang with you and bullying are VERY different, they can be handled in similar ways.
This article (written by a student) about bullying (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/izzy-baird/bullying_b_5591930.html) rang so true to me. The revelation that ‘… we need to shift our focus away from bullying behaviors and concentrate on building the inner-strength of all students’, reinforces these notions. Helping people focus on and build a strong inner reservoir of emotional health is a growing and effective action.
To handle stressful social situations, children need
- communication skills based in kindness and respect
- positive core beliefs about themselves and their abilities
- Inner Wealth® (which includes resilience) to protect their self-esteem from the opinions and behaviors of others, cope with life’s challenges and form healthy relationships
- trust in themselves and you
Including all children in the solution is key. Through healthy relationships, skills building and creating a culture that sees everyone as valuable, we focus on prevention. The day we can drive our interactions from that place is the day we communicate with truth, handle others with care and set boundaries with grace. We re-bound from emotional hurt and move forward, still feeling strong on the inside.
Marny Elliott is a Nurtured Heart Approach® (NHA) Trainer, Coach and Emotional Health Therapist. She empowers parents, educators etc. to use this effective, heart centered approach to transform behaviour, build relationships and grow the Inner Wealth® of children. In addition, she provides holistic counselling to adults seeking to address defeating patterns and improve their emotional health. Please visit www.joywithin.ca, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250.218.8702.