Dear Family Coach: My daughter has been best friends with Jane, a neighbor, since she was born. As the girls approached middle school, my daughter started to feel as if she had nothing in common with her old pal. Now she has moved on to other friends. I know that is normal. But sometimes my daughter isn't very kind to Jane. How can I help her learn not to hurt others' feelings when she doesn't want to be a friend anymore? — Mom
Dear Mom: This is a trickier situation than one might think. Sure, we can say your daughter should be nice. But what does nice really mean? Is it enough for your daughter to wave to Jane (who is sitting alone) in the cafeteria from afar but not invite her to sit at her table? Would it suffice for your daughter to rush into the house from the bus stop with her current friend to avoid hurting Jane's feelings rather than inviting her in? Because the truth is Jane is probably hurt from the dissolution of the friendship. There is no nice way around that fact. Unless you demand your daughter maintain a friendship she's no longer interested in (not realistic), Jane will be hurt. But I think you can teach your daughter how to manage the situation with empathy.
Kids shouldn't be forced into friendship. That really isn't how friendship works. Instead, help your daughter understand that Jane is going to be hurt by her distance. Teach her to always say hello to Jane, no matter what. Tell her to remember her many years of friendship with Jane and not let her new friends cloud those memories. Help your daughter thoughtfully navigate some sticky situations by putting herself in Jane's shoes. One day her friends might move on from her, and she should treat Jane as she would want to be treated.
Dear Family Coach: Both of my tween children play sports. I encourage them to support each other by attending their sibling's games. I even encourage them to call out positive comments during the game. I think it is important to show their support. And they both like it when the other comes to the game, but they both hate being the spectator. How much should I push them to watch each other's games? — Sporty Mom
Dear Sporty: I wouldn't push this at all. It isn't worth it. I can't imagine that seeing a disgruntled sibling on the sidelines is exceptionally motivating. Children who play sports (and often do other activities) rarely have any time off. The last thing they probably want to do is go back to the playing field to watch. Forcing a relationship between siblings can backfire into an intense sibling rivalry. It is better to let it unfold more naturally.
There are so many ways siblings can support one another. Asking about the game afterward and giving one's full attention to the response is one way. Another idea, as opposed to pulling teeth or pushing the kids to be cheerleaders, is to give them a job at the game. Make one child the photographer or the drink salesperson. You can even let the seller take home some of the profits. If your child happens to be doing something at the game and there is a big play, he will be able to see it without feeling required to cheer. At this time it would be better to focus on the values you have as a family. Tell the kids that you expect them to be there for each other in whatever works for them. Step back and let them find their ways.
Dr. Catherine Pearlman, the founder of The Family Coach, LLC, advises parents on all matters of child rearing. To write to Dr. Pearlman, send her an email at [email protected] To find out more about Dr. Catherine Pearlman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: Mike Gifford