annie_portraitThe Wise Family is so fortunate to have TONS of friends around the world and we couldn’t do the work we do with families  or share our collective wisdom without such brave, creative and generous friends!  One of our friends, Annie Fox, M.Ed, knows a butterball-turkey-full of stuff about friendship!  She is the author of the book, “The Girls’ Q & A Book on Friendship” and she graciously shared her wisdom with us on the topic of helping girls make friends, keep friends and avoid the crazy drama that comes with relationships!

Q1: What can I tell my daughter to do when she feels left out with her friends (e.g. 2 girls are having a sleepover and didn’t include me).

Annie: Tell her that you understand how much it hurts when friends don’t include you. You might share with her a time when you were her age and were not invited to a friend’s party or outing. Talk to her about how you handled that situation during the time of the party and afterwards when you next saw the friend who hadn’t invited you. Then close your mouth and listen to what your daughter has to say without interrupting, correcting, or invalidating her ideas or feelings in any way.

Sometimes just by listening to girls express their disappointment about the way a friend has treated them we have helped them! Our kind and compassionate presence allows them to “unplug” from some of the more destructive emotions they may be feeling about being left out. If we ask then them “What would you like to do about this?” they may shrug because they don’t know or because they don’t feel a need to do anything more than what they’ve just done… tell you about it! But if it feels like your daughter is ready to take the next step you might let her know one of the keys to maintaining a healthy friendship: When a friend does or says something that makes you uncomfortable (hurt, jealous, angry, embarrassed) it is your responsibility, as a good friend, to let her know. This means you’ve got to talk to your friend (privately and calmly) and tell her how her choice (not to invite you) made you feel. After you have spoken up and told your friend the truth of your feelings, then it’s time to give her a chance to tell her side of the story. (There is always at least two sides to every misunderstanding or mistake.) After both of you have had a chance to talk and to be heard, the next step is to figure out how to make things better in this friendship.

Q2: How can I support my daughter in learning to be a better friend?

Annie: It sounds like you have observed some behavior in your daughter that is alienating her from her friends. Or perhaps you have heard from other parents about some behavior they’ve observed. Be straight with your daughter. Model directness coupled with compassion. You might say something like this: “Sweetheart, I want to talk to you about your friendship with Emma. Yesterday when you were playing her I overheard you say to her, “That’s a stupid idea!” What you said and the way you said it… made me feel embarrassed. It also made me wonder how Emma felt to have you talk to her that way. What was going on that made you feel so angry?” If you speak in a calm voice, it is likely that your daughter will open up to you and let you know what triggered her rudeness. From there you can guide the conversation to a discussion about anger and how it can make kids and adults do and say things we aren’t so proud of. Anger can make us treat people we care about in disrespectful ways. You might share a recent time when you allowed anger to push you in a direction of rudeness. The other part of this “teachable moment” is to share with your daughter techniques that you’ve found helpful in managing your stress and anger. Slow deep breathing can really help to take the edge off of our “destructive” emotions and think more clearly about our choices. It will also help us treat people with respect so we can learn to be a better friend. Here is some useful information about my tween/teen Breathing Challenge. This re-centering breathing technique works for adults too!

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Q3: How do I talk to my daughter’s friend’s moms about some of the dynamics happening between the girls without being judgmental?

Annie: Because you don’t want to create more drama than the girls already have dished up on their own, you have to model calm, respectful and effective communication. You don’t need me to tell you that parents can get instantly and intensely defensive when someone criticizes their children. Take at least ten slow deep re-centering breaths before you have this private conversation! LOL. (Seriously!)

Here’s what I know about communicating something that the other person is not likely to want to hear: Soften your heart and speak calmly and compassionately. You might say something like this: “I’ve been noticing some tension between my Gabriella and your Celeste. I’m wondering if you’ve noticed it too?” By starting the discussion in this way you are inviting the other mom to take part in the problem solving. This is very different from starting off with accusations like, “Celeste has been so mean to Gabriella. My poor daughter cries herself to sleep each night. What kind of girl are you raising?!” Obviously, you can see the difference. Choices matter when it comes to words, tone of voice, attitude. This is a lesson we want to teach our daughters so they’ll be more likely to stop, re-center, and think before they act. It helps tremendously when we model it in our own lives too.

Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, family coach and trusted online adviser for teens. Her life’s work is helping youth effectively manage their relationships and emotions so they can feel confident in who they are. Her latest book, The Girls Q&A Book on Friendship, is for girls ages 8–12. Her latest book for parents, Teaching Kids to Be Good People, is a guide for navigating 21st century parenting challenges. More about Annie  »

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