Parenting: 7 ways to help your daughter make healthy friendships
PUBLISHED: 15:30 12 February 2020 | UPDATED: 16:13 14 February 2020
Suffolk writer Ruth gives us a ‘Girls’ Survival Guide to Friendship’, plus top tips for parents
Friendships are SO hard to get right - and when dramas flare up, or rumours start doing the rounds, it's easy to find your confidence evaporating and worries piling up.
If this sounds like you, read on - particularly (though not exclusively) if you're a girl aged between about eight and 13.
Suffolk author Ruth Fitzgerald has teamed up with clinical psychologist Dr Angharad Rudkin, who works with young people having a tricky time navigating their way through life.
Their book Find Your Girl Squad is billed as an essential guide to friendship, offering positive and practical advice.
It centres on Poppy - a fictional girl grappling with real-life issues at school, from dealing with bullies and feeling left out to being comfortable with who she is.
"Humans are naturally social creatures, so getting rejected from a group is upsetting at any age, but I think friendship problems are more easily shrugged off in younger children," says Ruth.
"If you're five and your friend doesn't want to play your game of Pirates and Ponies, it seems natural enough to wander off and find someone who does. However, as girls get older, around eight or nine, they begin to assert themselves more and form tighter groups.
"Inevitably, some girls get left out or have to work very hard to stay accepted by the group. In Find Your Girl Squad we wanted to be a support to girls in this situation and say it's OK to be yourself."
A Seven-Point Survival Guide to Friendship
We asked Ruth for some advice for girls encountering a few bumps on the friendship road. Here's what she said:
1. Accept change happens. It's a natural part of life. Friendships come and go, people grow apart and new opportunities come along. Life is full of change and challenge - not always enjoyable and not always easy, but always interesting.
2. Accept your feelings. It's perfectly normal to feel sad or cross when we've been rejected or hurt by friends. Be kind to yourself. You're doing great. Be proud of the way you're managing this difficult time.
3. Realise this is your opportunity to make new and better friends. Think about what you really enjoy. Were there things you "couldn't" do while you were in your old friendship? Are there other people you like, but never really had time to hang out with? Is there a club or sports team you haven't got around to trying?
4. Think of the people you like. Is it because of their expensive trainers, perfect make-up or crowd of social media followers? Or is it because they are friendly, make you laugh and listen when you talk to them?
When we want to impress new friends, we can sometimes think we have to be someone other than our natural selves. Focus your thoughts on the people around you instead. If you are interested in them, the more relaxed people will feel around you.
5. Talk it out. Share your feelings. Talk to trusted adults, your siblings or older cousins. Many of them may have been through similar challenges and can support you.
6. Refuse to accept bullying. Friendship difficulties are inevitable, but bullying is not acceptable.
If things have got to the point where you are being regularly physically or emotionally hurt by someone, you need to make a stand. Speak to an adult you can trust. Make some notes first if you're uncertain about remembering what to say.
Ask them to listen to you and to not take any action without your agreement. (If the person is breaking the law, this might not be possible - but then it will be taken very seriously.)
Agree a course of action to help you manage the situation.
7. Above all, know that any unhappy times will pass. Everything changes, and that includes the miserable stuff. If you are finding things tough right now, hang on in there and things will get better. You will have good times and feel happy again soon.
Thanks. Does Ruth, herself a mum, think most young people cope all right?
"Almost everyone goes through some sort of friendship problems as they go through school. Often these are just the usual tween/teen ups and downs and will work themselves out.
"However, school days are meant to be fun! If you are a young person feeling unhappy, rejected and alone for any length of time, this is going to have an effect on your confidence, health and mental well-being, as well as your schoolwork and probably your family relationships too.
"If it progresses to bullying, this can have lasting effects throughout the whole of a person's life."
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Is it getting harder to maintain good friendships? Especially in the social media age...
"I think getting friendships right has always been a challenge for young people. We change so rapidly in the tween/teen years and someone who was your friend a few months ago may seem to have had a personality transplant!
"However, I do think social media adds an extra dimension of pressure. While there are benefits in being able to find like-minded friends online, I think these are outweighed by the stresses of always being 'get-at-able'.
"There is an expectation that you will respond to messages, post your status and generally be available to the world at all times.
"Added to that is the pressure to always be your 'best self' online and the anxiety that any slip-ups or embarrassing moments can be instantly sent around the world and the whole thing is utterly exhausting!
"However, we can't put the social media genie back in the bottle, so we have to help our kids learn to manage it."
How was it for Ruth, when she was young?
"At the time I'm sure I had my share of angst, but I look back on schooldays quite fondly. We moved around quite a bit when I was younger and I actually attended four different high schools, so I learned how to make friends quickly!
"I did get bullied occasionally but, being very small, I learned to shout loudly! And because there were no mobile phones, I had the luxury of being able to go home and not think about school 'til the next morning, which is not something my daughters have."
Do lads have similar worries?
"I think boys also have friendship challenges but are much more conditioned to keep them hidden.
"Culturally, boy friendship groups often revolve around sport, video-games or a particular type of music, and it is perhaps easier to join in with one of these broad interests and so give the impression of having lots of 'mates'.
"However, establishing close friendships where they can express emotions such as sadness, fear or anxiety is often much more difficult for boys than girls.
"This is probably the subject matter for a whole new book, but, again, parents can really help by valuing sons for all their qualities and abilities, not just the 'laddish' ones, and by teaching them to express their feelings comfortably."
Ruth's tips for parents
"Being a parent and knowing your child is hurting is really hard - after all, we are supposed to protect them.
"In primary school years it's a little easier, as classes are smaller and relationships with other parents and teachers tend to be closer. Once your child is in high school, though, it can feel as if there's nothing you can do to help.
"But no matter how difficult the circumstances, your teenager will always benefit from your support (even if they don't tell you!)"
The following can help, she says:
1. Listen. Resist the urge to jump in with advice straight away, and just let your child speak. Don't immediately relate things back to your own experience; you will end up talking about yourself, not them.
The world is a different place, with different pressures, than when you were at school. Let your child talk through their problem and then help them find positive actions that could help. There is lots of advice on active listening available online.
2. Support. Make sure your child knows they can speak to you about anything, that you will believe them, and you can be trusted not to gossip to other people/siblings/grandma etc.
If they are experiencing lots of turmoil at school, try to keep their homelife calm, warm and non-judgemental. Show them that their family is always there for them by organising some fun times together.
If you have serious concerns, make an appointment to speak to the school and keep following up on agreed action until you are satisfied your child is being supported and protected.
3. Lead by example. Don't run down other women, friends or celebrities. Teach your child to look for the positives in other people and to understand there are reasons we are all different - and this is a good thing!
Be proud of who they are, even if it doesn't fit in with your mental image of how they 'should' be. Celebrate the diversity of society and they will learn to be confident in their own individuality.
Find Your Girl Squad is published by Wren & Rook (part of Hachette Children's Group) at £7.99
Ruth has a book-signing session at Waterstones, in Ipswich Buttermarket, on Wednesday, February 19, from 11am to 1pm.
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