Does your tween make friends easily? Or is something holding her back? By the time a youngster enters middle school, friendship problems may begin to present themselves in new ways. Friendships at this point in life are so important, because tweens are preparing to pull away from their parents, and they need the acceptance and support of their friends as they do. If your tween is having social problems you may need to step in to help her make friends and keep them.
Below are a few simple strategies that will help you guide your tween through these difficult social years. The goal is for your tween to make friends, become a good friend herself, and to learn to be comfortable inside her own skin.
Encourage Healthy Friendships
Take the time to point out what makes a good friend, as well as how to be a good friend to someone else. Be sure your tween understands that gossiping about a friend isn't very friendly, and that maintaining friendships require a little work. Point out what you like about her friends. You could say, "I like how your friends call you when you're sick to see how you're doing" or "I like it when your friends offer to help you clean your room after a sleepover."
Help your tween foster her friendships by including them occasionally in family activities, or inviting them over for family movie or game night. Also, be sure your tween understands that there's no substitute for one-on-one time together, and that texting and emailing friends isn't the same as spending time with them in person.
Help Her Make Friends
Tweens don't always understand that their behaviors and the way they present themselves may be turning potential friends away. Help her understand that her attitude, and even her appearance may be sending the wrong message to her peers. Ask your tween if she is approachable to others. Does she smile and greet them when she first sees them at school? What does her body language tell people? Does she look her peers in the eye or keep her gaze towards the floor? Does she respect other people's opinions and talents, or resent them for being different from her or for having abilities she doesn't?
Don't Push Popularity
You may have wanted to be in the "in" crowd when you were young, but didn't quite make it. Don't let your own baggage keep your child from deciding who she is. Be careful that you don't push her to join a certain group of friends, or take part in certain "cool" activities because you think she'll be happier that way. Allow your tween to discover activities that she enjoys, and to choose friends who are supportive of her and provide a positive influence.
Keep Her Active
Keeping your tween involved in activities is a good way for her to make friends with similar interests, as well as expand her circle of friends.
Social groupings are just a part of life. Some people call them cliques, others call them pods, but whatever you call them, it's important to help your tween blend socially, without sacrificing her individuality. Make sure your tween understands that she doesn't have to belong to a certain clique to be happy. Encourage her to make friends with amiable children who may share her interests, or are just nice to be around. In other words, her friends don't have to come from just one social group, in fact, they probably shouldn't.
Tweens can be moody, angry, and difficult at times. All of these emotions can interfere with tween friendships. Expect some of her friendships to be volatile from time to time. When they are, help your tween deal with her emotions and encourage her to calm down before approaching her friend about their problems. Role-play with your tween, to help her develop her problem solving skills. Help her try to understand the problem from her friend's point of view.
Be a Good Listener
Listen to your child everyday as she talks about school, the bus, sports, or parties. Attentive listening will provide you with a lot of information about her friends and their behavior. Take quick action if you suspect negative behaviors are taking place.
When Things Go Bad
Help your tween if you think she's involved in a toxic friendship. A real friend will give her confidence and boost her self-esteem. A frenemy will belittle her, make her feel bad about herself, and have her second guessing every decision she makes.
If a friend turns out to be a frenemy, help your tween focus on her other friendships as much as possible. If the friendship ends, keep her active so that she doesn't dwell on the lost friendship too much. Explain to her that sometimes friendships don't last, but that there are always good friendships waiting to be discovered.
Encourage Self Expression
You want your tween to enjoy healthy friendships, but you also want her to have a mind of her own. Teach your tween that sometimes friends can disagree, or have different interests, beliefs, or tastes in clothing, music, and hobbies. Encourage her to seek her own path, and give her the confidence to say "no" to a friend whose trying to lead her down the wrong path.
How to Be Forever Friends?
The first novel we wrote together, The Nanny Diaries, started with a tentative e-mail from one of us to the other, suggesting we meet for coffee, bring a notebook and see what happens. Having been out of touch for many years, we awkwardly hugged hello, both figuring we had nothing to lose in seeing where this "nanny idea" could go. If you'd told us that 20 months later we'd be sitting across from Katie Couric and chattering to millions about being not just best-selling coauthors but best friends — living the fantasy of every woman who dreams of making it big in perfect step with her BFF — we would have asked you to add a few drops of whatever you were drinking to our lattes.
We first met in college, that much is true. In a class in which we couldn't get up the nerve to introduce ourselves. That would take until the semester ended — at an ATM a hundred blocks north of campus, where we discovered we were both nannies. We promptly fell head over heels into the kind of mad, passionate friendship distinct to one's early twenties, fueled by a shared love of loathsome boys and platform heels. Then we moved in together. For six weeks we fervently shared theories, bottles of wine and hookup war stories. Until, and this is the part omitted on the Today show, Emma's senior year and Nicki's looming postgraduate life led our differences to mount as fast and furiously as our initial soulmate similarities.
Tempers got short, and anger that probably should have been directed at bad teaching assistants, bad boyfriends and bad nanny bosses got vented at each other. So we found other roommates and stopped calling, and years passed in which we grew up a bit, made other friends and pursued non-nanny careers, each nursing a tight wound over the perceived rejection by the other.
Then, after college, when we were both living in New York City, we started to have run-ins. At parties, at street fairs, on corners. As with any ex, each exchange was sparked with reminders of why we'd fallen for each other in the first place. And gradually our lives started to once again have more, rather than less, in common. And then one of us took a chance and invited the other to a play reading. A thank-you card was sent in return, followed by an e-mail about meeting for that cup of coffee.
Ten years and five novels later, a daily life without each other is unimaginable. We share a business, a Facebook page and countless literary characters. We reminisce about how much pain might have been saved if we could only have known how lifelong friendships work — which is that they don't all the time.
Separation and distance are natural parts of the friendship life cycle. We grow at different rates and in different directions, and sometimes we are better apart than we are together. And it's tough when your friend has a big job or a great love or a new baby and you don't. Being out of step can be excruciating, but it can also push you to evolve in ways you otherwise wouldn't. If you miss her, be brave; call her. And think how many more stories you'll have to catch up on when you reconnect — maybe enough to fill a book.
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