I still remember the day when a redheaded girl dropped a note on my desk reading, "Two's company." A few moments later her friend walked by with another note that said, "Three's a crowd." Decades have passed since that incident, but the message lingers in my mind. Friendships can be challenging at any age but particularly for girls in their maturing years. Following are some ways you can help your daughter, granddaughter or any young woman in your life find and be a friend.
Pre-school and elementary school years
Bolster your child's self-esteem from a young age. The better she feels about herself the easier it will be for her to reach out to others. The child with a healthy sense of self attracts others to her.
Children need to know where their family stands on social issues and ethics. They will soon be surrounded by friends with varying values and need to have a firm grasp of what you consider to be right and wrong in order to survive mounting peer pressure. Give them a solid base and they are more likely to choose friends wisely.
3. Instigate playgroups and social activities
Help the special girl in your life find friends by reaching out to others and arranging ways to get friends together. Involving her in extra-curricular activities will help her cultivate new friendships and learn valuable people skills. After moving to a new area, my daughter was desperate for friends. While driving down our street, I noticed two girls playing with their father and stopped to introduce myself, explaining our need for a playmate. From that simple gesture, grew a wonderful friendship that lasted even after we moved away from that area.
4. Beware of bullying
If you see tendencies in your child that tend towards bullying, help engage her in self-analysis and talk about the harm that comes from intimidation and harassment. If your child is being bullied, get involved by taking with teachers, leaders or parents and encourage your child to seek help or walk away whenever possible.
Middle school years
Encourage individual integrity
Help your daughter understand the importance of staying true to who she is during those turbulent middle school years when girls are trying to discover themselves. Help her see her own worth and individual personality so she can avoid reinventing herself to please her friends. Compliment her on being her best self.
2. Keep communication lines open
Liz, the mother of six, says, "The best thing you can do for your child is to be available for her when she wants to talk. If she won't talk at first, don't give up. Do something one-on-one to facilitate conversation." As your daughter navigates challenging friendships, your perspective can assist and guide her. Remember to be lean on advice and plentiful on reflective listening.
3. Stay involved
Know your daughter's friends and their families. One of Jill's house rules is that she needs to meet the parents of any friend who invites her daughter over. Plan parties and activities at your house so you can interact with your daughter's peers and their parents.
4. Encourage face-to-face interactions instead of virtual ones
In a world where texting and social media is replacing actual interactions, encourage your daughter to converse on the phone and in person. Facial expressions, voice inflections and non-verbal cues communicate very differently than the written word. Misunderstandings can often be avoided by face-to-face conversations.
5. Promote inclusion and variety among friends
Help your daughter, niece or granddaughter be sensitive to others who may seem different or lonely. Because 15-year old Abigail has moved frequently during her childhood, she knows what it is like to be the new kid on the block and goes out of her way to befriend newcomers and those who seem lonely. Encourage your daughter to get to know girls outside of her regular group.
High school years
1. Encourage wise choices
Compliment your daughter on choosing friends who are loyal, supportive and a good influence. Emphasize the importance of associating with those who share similar values or maintaining personal standards when reaching out to others who live a different lifestyle. Allison, 14, noticed a girl who was shunned because she did not share the same ideals as many in the community. Allison reached out to the young woman and soon others were more inclusive of her, too, without having to change their own values.
2. Avoid stereotypes
The cheerleader or athlete needs friends just as much as the intellectual. Encourage your daughter to see beyond the activities, achievements or interests of her peers and look on the heart of the individual. Model open-mindedness in the way you speak about and interact with the teenagers and adults in your own life.
3. Promote strong friendships
To have a friend, you must be a friend. Support your daughter in remembering her friends' birthdays or special occasions. Help her see the importance of avoiding gossip and competition but rather complimenting peers on their successes and speaking positively about others. When negative conversation arises, encourage her to change the subject, defend the person being criticized or walk away.
4. Make home a safe place
One mother of four remembers being excluded and teased as a youth. She maintains the importance of providing a nurturing place for children to fall. Parents need to make sure home is a place where children feel loved, wanted and understood - especially when they are confronted with difficulties at school and in other arenas. Youth are acutely aware of their flaws, so avoid pointing these out unnecessarily - even in an effort to help. Instead, make conversations positive and encouraging, complimentary and kind.
Stay involved in your daughter's friendships from toddler through teenage years so that you can evaluate, encourage, advise and sympathize about the relationships that will help shape that special girl in your life.