[Week 25 of 52 Weeks to a Better Relationship With Your Child]
Helping your child ask the important questions
Learning about friendship can be traumatic for children. A parent who can blend compassion with problem solving will have the undying gratitude and trust of his child. The goal is to express the delight you have in being part of the child’s life, while at the same time nurturing other important relationships. Figuring out which relationships to keep working on is an important skill in life. There will be some rejection, which we all know cuts to the core of the soul.
I have already written ideas for being your child’s preferred friendship coach, but here I am going to specifically address how to help when your child feels rejected. It might be tempting to say, “Buck up, that’s just life.” Or to the other extreme of “they are just stupid for not wanting to be your friend.” Neither approach will do much to help your child in productive ways.
There are a few simple questions that can help children gain perspective and give them better tools for dealing with relationships. These questions begin with the child evaluating themselves, then proceed to see what might affect other people’s perspectives.
- Who do you want to be friends with and why?
- How good of a friend are you?
- How will you know if you are friends with someone?
- Is it really rejection?
Who do you want to be friends with and why?
There always seem to be those people whom everyone wishes they could be friends with. But why is this? Is it because of good looks or charisma? Is there something about feeling accepted by such people that makes us feel validated and worthwhile? Possibly it is because we feel there will be advantages for us socially or in business? While it is not wrong to seek out helpful connections, that is not what friendship is built on. Friendship might grow in the midst of such connections, but a true friendship will be based on much more.
This can be a good time to become aware of personal biases or misconceptions. Not all biases are bad, but we are all subject to coming to conclusions for the wrong reasons. Do we feel superior to someone because they look a certain way or don’t have the same speech patterns? Do we feel we would be risking our social reputation to be seen with some people? It is a shame when friendship is missed because of shallow criteria.
It is also good to ask how many people can you be good friends with? As finite people, we have only so much time and energy to devote to more intimate friendships. It is fine and good to be friendly with many people, but we can not get to know them all to the same level. They cannot all get to know us to the same level.
Always keep in mind that as rewarding as a good friendship is, it cannot deal with personal insecurities. Friends can give love and support, but they cannot make you more than you are on the inside. You are not worth more or less because of what a friend believes.
How good of a friend are you?
One is not just a friend because of time spent in the same room. There has to be some personal conversation for real friendship to develop. How good are you at listening? Or asking how someone is doing in a way that really sends the message that you are interested? Do you respond with understanding that builds the other person up without tearing others down?
Are you ready to forgive when wronged or to mend misunderstandings? This is easy to say yes to, but not so easy to follow through with. When you don’t have to live with someone or work closely with them, it can seem easier to let the friendship die rather than be mutually humble about being human.
How patient can you be with letting a friendship grow and develop? It can be easy to feel rejected because someone doesn’t respond as warmly and quickly as you would like. We have to be willing to let people enter into the friendship at their own paces. If we aren’t willing to do this, maybe we are more selfish than we realize.
Be aware that some of the best potential friends are going to be wiser and more measured in how they proceed with relationships. People who seem to jump right into being “great” friends may not really know what it takes to be a good friend or end up being reliable.
How will you know if you are friends with someone?
Friendship is reciprocal by nature. If both people involved take time to contact each other, help each other, listen to each other, they are friends. However, as alluded to, not all friendships go to the same level. Not all friends contact each other with the same frequency or about the same subjects.
It can be hard for younger people to grasp how friendships can ebb and flow for various reasons, too. There may be opportunities or priorities that dictate use of time. Jobs, family illness, new puppies, and the like can all require time investments that have to put some friendship time on the back burner. Good friends will keep checking in to see how each other are faring, but know that lack of time does not mean death of friendship.
Is it really rejection?
Rejection is a strong word. It is commonly used when it doesn’t actually apply. For instance, one person may feel rejected when the other person simply didn’t feel the same degree of friendship. This is more accurately called misalignment.
Sometimes we misgauge the maturity of our prospective friends. When they don’t come around or are offended, they are not so much rejecting us as revealing their own problems with life. Some people go through relationships like water because they would rather end any budding friendship than admit to their own faults.
Other times it is just a matter of priorities of interest. We may have felt a strong pull toward friendship, but the other person feels a stronger attachment to activities or relationships that would conflict with spending time with us. Such a person probably has not spent enough time with us to know us very well, so cannot truly reject us.
Some people put on a show of rejecting others as a way of making themselves feel better about themselves or justified for their own bad choices. It is a form of bullying. It can sometimes involve slander to other mutual acquaintances. In such cases, one has to learn that other friends of worth will sooner or later see past such show.
Tell your own friendship stories
A good friendship story will include crisis, how it was dealt with, and what was learned. I told my kids about a young man I had been good friends with around age 10-11 years. I was excited to get to see him again when I was about 15. I met his sister first and with wide eyes she informed me that he would not be happy to see me. Confused, since I hadn’t spoken to him in years, I proceeded to walk up to where he sat. It quickly became obvious that while I had grown to over 5 and a half feet tall, he was barely topping 5 foot even. He managed a muffled, disgusted “hi” and then ignored me. I was “rejected,” but obviously it wasn’t my problem. He needed to come to terms with his life.
It doesn’t all have to be stories of childhood. There is my story of a girlfriend who just disappeared off of my radar. Our kids had played a lot together. We had gone to each others houses for dinner. We had gone on excursions with mutual girlfriends. Our husbands had visited with each other. And then she was gone. She stopped calling and didn’t return calls. A couple of years later, we ran into her briefly in a grocery store. She told a version of getting divorced to “find herself.” It became clear that she hadn’t wanted any input from friends who might support her marriage. So, she dropped such friends.
I also have positive stories – stories of friends that we lost track of for years, but now have all kinds of fun with. Friends I would trust my children to. I have stories of how I have worked out things with my dearest friends.
The false comfort of a scapegoat
When parents have kept up good communication and relationship with their children, they provide a foundation that never sways while the children learn to navigate friendships on their own. An honest, well-rounded, humble approach to problem solving friendships will prepare a child to develop healthy, long term friendships as adults.
It is unfortunately a natural human tendency to make someone else the scapegoat in order to avoid responsibility in relationship or to feel better about disappointments. Parents need to help their children develop more positive friendship habits and perspectives. Scapegoating is a bad habit that is counter to good friendship. Any comfort it brings is like getting drunk to deal with life. It might feel good at the moment, but there is a price to pay in the morning.
Instead, help your children face the challenges of friendship with an honest look at themselves, followed by a compassionate look at their fellow humans. This is what leads to the best friendships, which are those that provide all the best sorts of comfort in life.
Dissident Mama interviews me on her podcast January 5, 2021
For a list of each post in the 52 Weeks to a Better Relationship With Your Child series click here.