While every girl’s childhood has its unique challenges, one thing is true no matter where you grow up: Being a girl means learning how to make friends and hopefully grow those relationships. Connecting with others – and then nurturing that bond – comes more easily to some children than others, but it’s a skill that will stay with your daughter through her teens and into adulthood.
We went to Girl Scouts of the USA’s Chief Girl Expert Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald in the program department for advice. Archibald helped us put together these tips for how to advise your daughter on developing meaningful friendships with other girls, and to help her when she hits a friendship speed-bump. Oh, and one more reason to read on: Archibald says some of this information is just as applicable to your own relationships as it is to your daughters!
1. Encourage face-to-face over virtual communication.
Avoiding miscommunication is critical in any long-lasting relationship, so advise your daughter to speak honestly and directly with others. And while for many girls texting as replaced phone calls as a primary way of chatting – a whopping 72 percent of teens are “texters,” sending and receiving approximately 50 texts each day, according to the Pew Research Center – speaking in person remains preferable whenever possible, because it limits possible miscommunication and adds nonverbal cues that help girls communicate and respond appropriately to others. Texting is great for a quick check-in or a last-minute plan, but it doesn’t lend itself to deepening friendships.
2. Manage her schedule wisely.
We all get wrapped up in requests for our time and responsibilities, but it’s important to make time for those people you care about so that your calendar actually reflects your priorities rather than just the bids on your time. This is true in friendship, in school, and (later in life) at work. If your daughter is feeling conflicted about not having enough time with friends due to other activities, talk with her about her interests and priorities and share when is best to schedule play dates or time to be social. Though as a parent you might see her activities as “social time,” as she’s spending time with other girls her age, she may choose to have equally valuable though less structured time with friends she chooses.
3. Give others the benefit of the doubt and help your daughter do the same.
Miscommunications happen, but one of the most effective tools of good communication is actually giving someone the benefit of the doubt when you’re unsure of what they’re trying to say. Whether she is in elementary school or high school, reinforce your child’s positive instincts in situations so that her responses to perceived slights on the playground don’t become longstanding riffs with other girls. “While we want girls to always trust their guts, we also want them to learn to let small things roll and not ruin a relationships. Assume the best intentions first,” says Archibald. “Work off of those assumptions until proven otherwise, or ask for clarification if something still feels off.”
4. Don’t let conflicts fester.
If your daughter has had a disagreement with someone, help her see that taking some time to cool down is good, but that it’s equally important not to let bad feelings go on too long before dealing with them. Point out that she will find herself feeling resentful if the problem remains unresolved, and offer extra assistance in dealing with conflicts. Recommend that she use I-statements – such as “I felt hurt when…” or “It made me think you didn’t care when…”. Model I-statements at home and practice using “feeling words,” especially when situations get heated. Also, share with her the advice that Archibald believes to be most critical: “Unless you are truly going to another for help with a situation, keep discussions about the conflict limited to those who were directly involved.” This keeps conflicts gossip-free and grows trust among friends.
5. Help her speak directly about the issues before they become disagreements.
Model being kind and respectful of your friends, and talk to your daughter about striving to do the same, but don’t sugarcoat problems when you address them. Otherwise, you may friend that resolution is less likely and the root of the problem isn’t clear. “Women (and girls) often have difficulty with this,” explains Archibald, “as they want to be seen as likable and worry about raising possible issues of disagreement.” The negative feelings have to go somewhere, though, and all too often they come out in more subtle but still hurtful forms of relational aggression – exclusion, cyberbullying, and talking unkindly behind others’ backs. Though often hard to do, being able to speak directly and handle potential disagreements signals both confidence in and commitment to the friendship – which will likely only grow stronger in the process.