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Building buddies: helping kids navigate friendships

by Anna-Bet Stemmet
Reading Time: 3 minutes
We explore the positive ways of helping children navigate tricky conflicts in their friendships at various ages. By Anna-Bet Stemmet
 As children grow and develop, friendships play a vital role in their social and emotional well-being. However, conflicts among friends are also natural part of childhood and adolescence. So, what should you do if your child is having trouble relating to their peer group, or having recurring disagreements with particular friends?

“Every child is different, and what works for one might not necessarily work for another, but there are certain underlying principles that parents can apply when they need to address friction among their children and their friends. The key lies in being compassionate, and working with your child to find a strategy that works for them, and their particular circumstances,” says Anina Hardcastle, long-time teacher and after-care professional at Kammaland in Malmesbury, Western Cape.

Here are a few strategies that have proven useful across various age groups as well as a few important emotional tools she highlighted for parents to use at home.

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3-5 years old

Teach communication skills

Encourage your child to use words to express their feelings and needs. Help them understand the concept of sharing, taking turns, and listening to others. Role-play situations to demonstrate appropriate ways to resolve conflicts, such as using “I” statements and asking for help from a trusted adult.

Offer guidance

Stay nearby during playdates or social interactions to supervise and intervene if needed. Teach problem-solving strategies, like finding compromises or suggesting alternative activities, to help them navigate disagreements.

Teach empathy

Help your child understand and recognise emotions in themselves and others. Encourage empathy by asking how they would feel in someone else’s shoes. This helps develop their understanding of others’ perspectives and fosters compassion.

6-9 years old

Encourage perspective-taking

Teach your child to consider different viewpoints. Encourage open communication and active listening. Help them understand that everyone’s feelings and opinions are valid.

Promote problem solving

Teach conflict resolution skills, such as brainstorming solutions and evaluating their consequences. Encourage compromise and negotiation. Encourage them to find win-win solutions where both parties feel heard and satisfied.

Encourage mediation

Teach your child to involve a neutral party, like a teacher or parent, to help mediate conflicts when necessary. Guide them on how to express their concerns and listen actively during mediation sessions.

10-13 years old

Foster independence

Allow your child to take more responsibility for resolving conflicts. Encourage them to express their needs and concerns directly to their friends, teaching them to communicate assertively while respecting others’ boundaries.

Teach conflict resolution strategies

Help your child develop problem-solving skills, such as compromising, finding common ground, or seeking alternative solutions. Encourage them to consider long-term consequences and practice empathy towards others.

Encourage self-reflection

Guide your child to reflect on their own behaviours and emotions. Encourage them to consider how their actions may have contributed to the conflict and explore ways to make amends or apologise if necessary.

14-18 years old

Promote open communication

Encourage your teenager to express their feelings and concerns openly with their friends. Encourage active listening and respect for differing opinions. Teach them to communicate assertively while being mindful of others’ perspectives.

Encourage conflict resolution skills

Help your teen develop problem-solving strategies like negotiation, compromise, and finding win-win solutions. Encourage them to seek adult guidance when needed but allow them to take the lead in resolving their conflicts.

Foster emotional regulation

Teach your teenager healthy ways to manage their emotions during conflicts, such as taking a break, deep breathing, or journaling. Encourage them to seek support from trusted adults or counsellors to navigate complex friendship dynamics.

General tips for all ages

Model positive behaviour

Be a role model for your child by demonstrating effective communication, empathy, and problem-solving skills in your own relationships.

Provide emotional support

Be available to listen and validate your child’s feelings. Offer guidance without taking sides and encourage them to find their own solutions.

Teach that conflict is normal

Help your child understand that conflicts are a natural part of relationships. Assure them that disagreements can be resolved with patience, understanding, and effective communication.

Conflict is an inevitable part of interpersonal relationships, including childhood and adolescent friendships. By providing age-appropriate guidance and support, parents can help children develop valuable skills in conflict resolution, empathy, and effective communication.

Encouraging healthy friendships and teaching problem-solving strategies will contribute to their social and emotional growth, fostering meaningful and lasting relationships throughout their lives.

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