Parent question – how do I help my daughter with her friendships?

 My eight year old daughter experiences frequent friendship fall outs at school, and from what I have observed I feel that she struggles with putting her point across sensitively and assertively with her friends and tends to try and rail road them into what she wants to do. When they don’t want to do what she wants she resorts to being a bit mean. In fact her school report says that she needs to develop ways to deal with friendship issues kindly and maturely. I don’t think she is solely to blame for the fall outs however it is impacting on her and we notice a change in her behaviour at home. Any ideas for helping her to develop a more kind and mature behaviour with her friends?


There are quite a few things that parents can do to help children make friends and keep friends.

First, children who are used to getting their own way at home often find it more difficult to compromise with their friends at school. This is because they haven’t learned to easily accept that sometimes things do not go their way. In other words, some of these kids haven’t developed enough resilience. I don’t know your daughter but is it possible that she learned that kicking a fuss can get her what she wants at home, and she is carrying this behaviour to school? If you think this may be the case, then you could help her with her social difficulties by helping her become more flexible and tolerant generally. You can start by praising her whenever she deals well with everyday frustrations- be specific and describe what she did to show you that she is becoming more mature, flexible and tolerant.

It can also be useful to discuss friendship issues with her. When doing this you need to be careful not to turn it into a lecture, which your daughter is likely to tune-out. Our instinct is to preach: we want to say something like ‘If you always insist that your friends do what you ask they will not want to play with you’ or ‘That was rude. If you keep going like that you will lose all your friends’. Such words, however well intentioned, are likely to be perceived as criticism and your daughter will be busy defending herself rather than considering your advice.

Instead, it is wiser to wait for a time when your daughter is in a good mood, and explore the issue indirectly. You can do this by discussing books or films together. Almost all stories include the theme of friendship, and you can start by asking her questions about the characters, how she thinks they may feel and why. This will also give you a chance to see how much she already understands about social interactions and whether she is able to see that different characters have different perspectives about almost every situation.

It will also be useful to discuss what friends are, and what helps keep friends. A simple way to present this to your daughter is to say that her friends are other children who make her feel good. To have a friends we must be a friend, therefore we need to make our friends feel good too. Ask, rather than suggest, how we can make our friends feel good. What may help them want to stay around and play a bit more? On the other hand, what may make them feel bad and want to go away? And what could be a good way out of a situation where two friends want to do different things? Ask for her ideas about how one can say no without causing offence. During these conversations, it is important to praise any sensible answer even if it is not what you had in mind.

It is also important to limit our discussion to one or two questions at a time. When a conversation is going well we usually tend to keep going and often we stop only when something goes wrong. Instead we need to see this as a long-term project. No one conversation, however brilliant, is likely to sort things out once and for all. Aim for progressing one step at a time, and praise any improvement.

Another good thing to do would be to ask the school to let you know of any positive change, however small, and celebrate it with enthusiasm and praise. You want to change your daughter’s self-image, so that she can gradually begin to see herself as a girl who gets on well with people and can cope when things are not going her way.

Good luck!

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