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Drawing The Line with Engaging in Children’s Conflicting Relationships

By Kiara Grant, Ed.D., Grades 6–9 school counselor
Empowering children to navigate friendships and breakups gracefully.
Building meaningful relationships with others is one of the most critical aspects of human nature. According to research, from birth, babies’ brains are wired to be in relationships that are responsive to their interests and needs (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2004). 

Parents and guardians are influential in helping children establish and maintain relationships in the early years of their lives. When children are comfortable with their friendships, their parents often try to develop relationships with those families. Some families enter these new relationships to sustain long-term friendships but may not be prepared for conflict. What happens if the children have a disagreement or simply drift apart? In most cases, parents try to comfort their children while figuring out how to resolve the issue. When vested with the families’ relationship, parents tend to take things further by putting on their investigative hats and initiating solution-based restorative conversations. What happens if it cannot be restored and the other family isn’t willing to remain friends?

Listed are tips, strategies and possible phrases for this uncomfortable process:  
  1. Encourage children to be open to new friendships. Children must learn to build new personal and professional relationships as they navigate life. Encouraging them to make new friends helps discern healthy versus unhealthy relationships. When children establish new connections, it allows them to adapt to change, introduces the importance of networking, builds their confidence and enhances their socialization skills. Say, “I am confident that you will meet amazing new friends with whom you will share common interests.” 

  1. Allow children to work through their relationship conflicts. As challenging as it is, parents must allow their children to go through all the growing pains that relationships bring. Learning to resolve conflict early helps prepare children for their interactions into adulthood. Providing supporting literature and modeling kindness, forgiveness, positive communication and tactfulness are great ways to empower children through relational conflicts. When parents get too involved in children’s conflicts, it could make the situation much worse for the family emotionally, socially and mentally. Say, “I know this is tough; however, let’s forgive, be kind, and be open to new friendships.”

  1. Learn to be OK with seasonal relationships. Parents must have conversations with their children about all types of relationships and define the differences between seasonal and life-long relationships. Forcing relationships on children does not adequately teach them how to choose their friendships organically and initiates a sense of guilt. If a friendship is coming to an end, encourage your child to talk with their peer for closure purposes. If their peer refuses, support your child in processing the breakup to forgive, heal and move on. Say, “I know this is tough for you to deal with. Take all the time you need to process and embrace everything you feel now. I am here to support you, and we will get through this together.

  1. Seek professional help when needed. Breakups in relationships are hard for many children and adults. For some, it feels like a death. If the breakup impedes the child’s ability to function, encourage them to reach out to their school counselor. Contact a licensed professional therapist if additional support is needed. It is an excellent resource for your child to discuss their issues and receive coping strategies. Say, “I think it would be best to seek wise counsel from a counselor or therapist to get additional support.”

The Wellness team acknowledges that the best partnerships derive from a collaborative school-family-community support system. Consistently fostering that partnership and defining how we can all work together to achieve our shared goal is the outcome we strive for. We are here to support families. Please do not hesitate to contact any of the school counselors for advice, resources or recommendations. 
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