At ICW, each of us see some combination of children, adolescents, and adults. When we’re working with clients who are children or adolescents, this often means communicating and supporting parents and caregivers as well. If you’re reading this and you’re someone’s caregiver, then hopefully this will provide you with support around one of the concerns and questions we often get: I’m worried about my kid/teen’s friends, or my kid/teen just doesn’t seem to have a lot of friends.
Friendships are so important to creating a healthy and balanced life, and they can also be incredibly challenging. For your child or teen navigating these relationships can be even more challenging when you mix in the complicated nature of middle school and high school relationships, learning more about themselves and identities, gaining independence and forming their own beliefs and values, and all the other difficult and exciting parts about growing up. Not to mention, they are navigating all of this while trying to keep up with homework, study for exams, and pass their classes.
Often, grades can take priority over other aspects of your kid or teen’s life. Performance in school is tangible – you know where your kid stands, and if they aren’t doing well then something can be done about it. It’s possible to study more, get a tutor maybe, or ask teachers for support. Grades are important, for sure, and they are only one part of your kid’s development and growth.
Relationships with others are another major part of development and growth. According to Relational Cultural Theory, or RCT, people move toward connection and through relationships people also grow. Connection is necessary for survival or for creating a fulfilling life for yourself, and isolation causes a lot of suffering. This rings true for your 5th or 10th grader as well. RCT also suggests that previous experiences in relationships provide a template for future relationships. For example, if your kid was bullied throughout middle school, then it’s likely in high school they may be afraid of the same thing occurring again – whether they recognize this or not. They could struggle with trusting others or allowing friends to get to know the real them. They could act in ways that seem totally different than the kid you’ve known their whole life. But just because someone had previously harmful experiences with relationships, doesn’t mean they aren’t able to make friends, but they may need some guidance.
RCT says that a person can tell when they’re in a growth fostering relationships when they experience the Five Good Things. The Five Good Things include zest or energy, increased self-worth, clarity, productivity, and a desire for more connections. By using the Five Good Things, we can determine if we’re in relationships that are moving us toward growth and connection, or if those relationships may not be the best for us. For your kids, the Five Good Things can also serve as a guide for the type of friendships they want to have.
And it’s important we teach kids what meaningful relationships are. This first requires checking in with ourselves and our relationships, but then also opening the door to conversations about the kind of connections your kid wants. Do they want to be around kids who make them laugh? Do they want to be around kids who do nice things for others? Do they want to be around kids who listen to their problems without making it about themselves? Likewise, what does being a good friend to someone else mean?
By teaching your kids to be reflective and to consider how their current friends impact them and how they want their friendships to feel, they are more likely to create meaningful relationships with friends at school and throughout their life. In addition to what was just mentioned, here are some other ways to support your kids in making friends who contribute to their life in a way that they want.
1. Discuss what it means to be a friend and explore what they are looking for in their friendships (see some possible questions above).
2. Share when it seems like your kids are being impacted by friends — whether negatively or positively. They might not always respond how you want (or at all), but it may give them something to think about. For example, you share with your kid “it seems your friend, ___, makes comments that result in you feeling bad about the type of clothes you wear.” Or, “your friend, ____, seems to help you feel more confident about yourself and the clothes you choose to wear”.
3. Be open about the good relationships in your life and how they contribute to your happiness.
4. Create opportunities for more connections. This may look different from person to person, but either way you can support your kid by being open to them making different kinds of friends in different circles. This might even be a connection for you to do something together and for you to have opportunities to make new connections.
Hopefully you find some of this helpful. As always, thanks for reading.