Helping your children make friends and resolve conflict
October 24, 2022
[Kyle]: In today's episode we're going to talk about how to help your kids make those friends. You know, those friends you really want them to have, those friends you're hoping and praying they find and then, also how to resolve the conflicts that all these stinking friends have with each other. So, we really think it'll be helpful for you today.
[Kyle]: Hello, and welcome to episode 52 of The Art of Raising Humans. I’m Kyle.
[Sara]: And I’m Sara.
[Kyle]: Today we want to talk about how to help your kids make friends and what to do, like how to help them navigate when they have conflicts with those friends. This is a topic I think almost every parent is interested in, you know? Lots of parents that we meet, I think it's their heart for every one of them to have their kids have good friends.
[Sara]: Yes, I would agree, I think we do somewhere and somehow, understand that friendships are important and so, we wanna cultivate that in our children's lives.
[Kyle]: Yeah, and before we jump into that, I would like to encourage you to definitely continue reaching out to us and share comments. We'd love you to comment on the podcast, rate it, give us a five-star review. That would be awesome and we'd love to hear topics that you have-- That you're interested in. I mean, we use these topics-- A lot of the topics we come from are actual real parents that we just discussed and talk with on a daily basis, but also in session with people and helping them, coaching them in parenting. But we'd love to hear from you, wherever you ask throughout the world and we'd love to hear your thoughts on this and we just think this is such a big thing, especially, Sara, coming out of this time of Covid and a lot of, you know, people being separated, you know, from their friends and isolated from them and you see a lot of kids, teenagers and even younger, you know, really struggling with-- It's like they missed a couple years of how to make friends.
[Sara]: I know. No, I’ve heard that, I’ve thought it. Even in our kids our own lives and I’ve heard it from other parents, more people are kind of thinking “huh, I think this Covid thing--” and we're sort of see being a little bit of a struggle socially from just all that that brought about.
[Kyle]: Yeah. I mean, really limited or stunted or you know, had kind of an arrested development of sorts on how to do that and all those kinds of interactions. I mean, to some extent, I think it may be limited conflict, which at times some parents like “oh, that was kind of nice”.
[Kyle]: Because maybe before Covid, they were having all these problems with these friends and then, they couldn't spend time with his friends and all those problems-- So, there was-- I heard some comments along that line, but inevitably--
[Sara]: That's a fresh start.
[Kyle]: Yes, and then-- But then they go back to school and they go back to this like “oh, wait, maybe they don't have those same conflicts, but there's a whole new set of conflicts on how to do that”. So, I guess my question to you is, Sara, why do you think having friends is so important to kids socially, to their neurological development? Why is that important?
[Sara]: Well, I mean, even studies show that we are healthier people when we have a social circle. So, there's something in us biologically that needs community. We weren't really made or we're not designed to live in isolation, so we need each other, we need people, we need those relationships.
[Kyle]: Would you go so far as to say friends are vital and crucial to human beings?
[Sara]: I guess personally I would. I mean, I think-- I don't know if the study said vital and crucial, but it said, you know, I think you have a longer lifespan if you have friendships and community. So, that feels pretty vital.
[Kyle]: I think it's funny how non-committal you are to that, because I’m completely committed to that. I think friends are vital and crucial and here's why, because I think we are social creatures and I don't think we're meant to do life alone and what I have noticed with people, when they have good friendships, a good support system, no matter what life throws at them, no matter what the weight is, they can hold it up better and longer because of those friends.
[Sara]: Well, and that reminds me of that study. I think we've mentioned it before, but where they had the people sticking their feet in ice, in ice water and when somebody was with them, they could keep their feet in the ice water twice as long I believe. I might be messing that up.
[Kyle]: At least twice as long, yeah.
[Sara]: Yeah, at least twice as long if just somebody was there and I know they've done other studies similar. They've repeated that in other ways, where people are in pain and if they're with somebody, the amount of pain they can handle is just much greater. So, you take that to just, any time we're suffering in life and sadly life does have those suffering moments, how much just having community with you when you're suffering, changes things for you, changes the outcome and the trajectory of your life.
[Kyle]: The other example I like to use with kids, Sara, is just weightlifting, you know? If you like bench pressing and you can-- In bench pressing you can lift a lot of weight, but there is this fear as you're lifting the weight, that that bench press, that weight will crush you, you know? Because if you get too much weight and you can't lift it and there's times where I’ve been bench pressing and I’m trying to lift it up and you start to get scared. Like “oh, oh, I think I put too much weight on this” or “I’ve lifted this one too many times”. Like that last rep seemed easy, now this one seems really hard and if you have someone behind you and I’m sure you-- You know, most of the listeners have done this, just spotting you, typically it's funny, they just have like a couple fingers, you know? Lots of people don't even use their hand, they put a couple fingers there and they're not even pushing out the bar with their couple fingers, it's the idea that you are there with me as I’m pushing the weight and then magically, I can lift the weights, you know? Because the fear goes away. I’m no longer going to be crushed, because I have someone else here with me.
[Kyle]: So, that's what I see when I’m in session with kids and especially teenagers, around those late elementary years, friends seem crucial and vital to their mental health.
[Kyle]: Because, I mean, they are social creatures and what I mean by that is, they're looking around to understand themselves and they're going “who is with me?” and who I’m with, says something about me, you know? And there's another guy, a monk, a Catholic monk named Thomas Merton, he says “we only come to know who we are in the context of others” and I think that's what friends do too, they help me understand myself in ways I could never understand myself. Like, literally, like I can't see myself, I’m not walking around in a mirror all the time. So, friends see you, you know? They say “hey, your hair looks cool today” and I’m like “sweet! My hair looks cool today” or like, “I like that shirt”, “okay, I’ll wear that shirt again, it seems like it's good”. I mean, this sounds dumb. I remember as a high schooler, I used to put a lot of hairspray. Back in the 80s, you know, early 90s, I put a lot of hairspray and stuff to make my hair like, super hard and it can't be moved and I thought “once I got it, I want to stick it there” and I thought that haircut looked good and then one day, I had a friend like, rub my hair, he was being silly and like, messed up my hair. I was so mad they messed up my hair and the rest of the day, I got more compliments of my hair. That day than any other day and that actually changed-- It sounds silly, that changed my life.
[Kyle]: Like, I used to live in this fear of like, I needed the hair to look perfect and I actually didn't need the hair to look perfect and also, people liked it and so, from then I started doing my hair completely different and it was such a helpful thing that came from the friends giving me that feedback, you know? So, I think friendships are vital. I love that one thing you were sharing with Abby and me, about the study about friends and them being around you. Could you share more about that?
[Sara]: Yeah, they- The five people that you spend the most time with in your life, will show who you are. So, the amount of influence they have. So, whoever you're around, look-- If you want to know who you are, what the trajectory is for your life, look at the five people you're spending time with. So, I think we've-- It reminded me of the actually stories you've told from high school days, where you got-- I might mess it up a little bit, but you started hanging out with these people who are in a AP classes and really cared about school and education and how that influenced you and so, I think that's just a real short example of “if I’m around people who are really kind and really interested in school or horses, then I’m probably going to go in that direction. If I’m hanging around people who are angry and maybe they're, you know, they don't care and they're, you know, all the way down to getting into drugs or something, that's probably the path I’m headed down”. So, it was actually just recommending to teenagers, but all of us to look around to the five people we're spending time with and it'll give you an idea of where you're heading in life.
[Kyle]: Yeah. Well, and I remember that, Sara. You know, in in sixth grade I had these friends, who I would say they were good friends, but by sixth grade they were already smoking cigarettes and you know, they didn't like school, they thought school was stupid and so, by sixth grade, I wasn't smoking cigarettes with them, but I did agree with them school was stupid. So, my grades weren't that good in sixth grade and then I remember in seventh grade, I made a shift, I decided I wanted a different set of friends and so, I’d known some friends from elementary school that I was never friends with, but I thought they seemed like quality people and so, I went over and literally just said “hey, could I be your guys's friend?”. I just went up and said that and they were like “sure, yeah! Come on! We know you from elementary school” and all of these guys were all in gifted classes, in all honors classes and within about a few months, teachers were saying “Kyle, are you in the gifted program?” and I was like “no” and they said “you should take a test on that” and no one had ever asked me to do that and then, I took a test, I passed it and all of a sudden, bam! I was in the gifted program and I was taking honors classes and I was like “school was cool, school was fun”.
[Kyle]: Like, when I was with these guys, we talked about all the challenges of school and all the ways we wanted to get A's and get better grades and also my grades went up, you know? And then of course, there is studies to show that, that you can look around also at what your child's friends what kind of grades they're making and typically, it's going to mirror what your kids’ grades are going to be, you know? Because we tend to-- If you're around these people, if they think school is fun and exciting and they're challenging, then you're going to talk about that. You're going to do that stuff, you're going to think homework-- You're not gonna always like it, but you're gonna be like “let's get it done”, you know?
[Kyle]: I remember we had so much fun. I mean, in that group even, there was like this assignment to take a Jane Eyre’s book-- No, the Charlotte Brontë's book “Jane Eyre”. We didn't like the book that much, we thought it was boring and we had to do an assignment on. Because my friends liked school, we didn't just grumble about that assignment, instead of doing the assignment the way the teacher wanted to, we all used our collective kind of creativity and we did the assignment in a new way and the teacher was like “go do it! Run with that!” and it was-- In the past, these other friends would have been like “let's just get this dumb assignment over with” and we would have done just like, a halfway effort, gotten a bad grade. So, those friends did completely change how I saw those things.
[Sara]: Well, I remember times where I had friends who-- Everyone, we were kind of competing for the best grade or making study groups and so, those similar values. I had a bunch of friends who were like “oh, that's not-- We don't--”, you know, and I had times in life where it was like that, but other times where was “oh no, let's get together, let's study, let's do this”. So, you're each pushing each other towards that, so just-- Even not intentionally, but just be aware of it.
[Kyle]: Well, and I love that you pointed it out too. Now that I look back as you're saying that, then-- What I started to do in the seventh grade and those friends and I didn't necessarily stay friends with them all through High School, it switched throughout, you know, the ninth grade, tenth grade, stuff like that. But once we got to college, once I got to college, I had this template of what kind of friends I wanted, you know? I saw what kind of friends were good friends and which ones weren't. So, then when I made friends in college, I made these amazing friends that it's been, you know, more than 22, 23 years since we became friends and we're still friends today and they mean everything to me, but it was because I kind of fine-tuned what kind of friend I wanted in those years, you know?
[Kyle]: And so, I guess one of the questions I would ask, to any of our listeners who are saying “man, I want friends for my kids, I want them to be able to have these deep relationships that Kyle and Sara are talking about”. My question would be to you is, do you have those type of friends? You know, do you have positive and healthy friendships with other adults? Because we know modeling is the most powerful teacher. So, if you have these kind of friends, then the kids are going to look at them and see that, but if you don't, if they're not seeing you interact, you know, if Dad's not out with some friends and they seem to be making a positive impact on his life or mom's not doing that, then how are they going to do that in their own life? Right? So, I think a big part of this this answer is “I need to reflect upon what I’m doing with friends. Am I pursuing these deep meaningful friendships?”
[Sara]: Yeah, yeah. I think that's a good point. You know, are you sitting around, your kids are watching. Even if they don't seem to be watching, you know, the conversations you're having with your friends, what are you doing with your friends, what are those activities that your kids see that that's “oh, that's what friendship is."
[Sara]: “That's what friendship is”. They're watching, they hear you on your phone calls. What's what what's the content of your phone calls that your kids are overhearing? And I think we want to look at that and go “okay, you know, what five people am I surrounding myself with? that's a model to my children."
[Kyle]: When they even see you work out really important conflicts with your friends, like maybe your friend is a Texas fan and you're an Oklahoma fan, right?
[Sara]: Right, those deep issues.
[Kyle]: And they see you get into this deep, deep issues and they see how you guys can argue and work through that. But seriously, they do see that, they do like-- I think it's a big part of--
[Sara]: They pay attention way more than we realize.
[Kyle]: Yes, our kids have heard about conflicts we've had with friends, they've seen how we deal with those conflicts, so therefore it gives this sense of connection to them when they're going through theirs, you know? And I would say if you're listening to this, I think a lot of people listening to this and the majority of people listening to this, are struggling in this area, to make deep friendships that are healthy and positive in their life.
[Sara]: It's hard. We have a lot of people in and out of our lives. Actually, forming friendships I don't-- Society generally it's hard to do, right? We're all running the race and it's hard to--
[Kyle]: Well, especially in this kind of social media world where we're kind of more disconnected than ever, right? And so, my thought as I was writing this out, was just to encourage people. If you struggle in this area of making friends, if you're longing for more deeper friendships and then you see your kid longing for the same thing is, I would just be honest with them, like I would join them on this journey. I think it'd be great! If you don't have the kind of friendships you want to model to your kid, to pursue those type of friendships and tell your kid about it, you know? Like “I’m gonna go do this, this is how I’m gonna do it”. I mean, that would be really-- I think empowering for the kid to see you do that.
[Sara]: Yeah, yeah, I agree.
[Kyle]: And so, I think in that, I think some cool questions to ask with the kid if you take on that journey is to have conversations “what kind of friends do you want?”. You know, “what are the qualities you're looking for?”. You know, the goal in making friendships isn't one that just happens by chance. Now, some people do luck into it, some people do just-- It seems like good friends just fall in their lap, but that hasn't been my experience. Has it been yours?
[Sara]: No, no. Maybe a couple times.
[Kyle]: That’s right. So, you did have some roommates that kind of fell in your life, right? But I know my best friends that I made in college-- Once again, this is very similar to the seventh grade--
[Sara]: You sought them out.
[Kyle]: I went after them and I said “I want to be your guys's friend. You guys are cool guys” and thank goodness they were like “cool, yes”. But I thought “hey, if I never ask, I’ll never know”. So, I mean, I actually encourage teenagers to do that, I’m like “look around. Like when you go to school, look around at who you think would be a great friend”.
[Sara]: I think it's just putting yourself in position. To be-- You know, be places where there's great people that you want to be friends with and strike up conversations, join those clubs, those organizations, whatever it might be.
[Sara]: But you have to be out there to find the people and even then, it's hard, but you have to know what you're looking for and that's what you're helping your-- That's what you want your kids-- Even at a young age, you know, “what are you looking for in a friend? What makes a good friend? What do you like to do? Okay, let's go find people like us”.
[Kyle]: Well, something else I like to tell kids too, Sara, along that line, especially teenagers who are really in my office and really sad about, you know, not having the friends they want is, there needs to also be this sense of trust, a sense of faith that “maybe the reason why I want these friends and the reason why I feel sad that I don't have them, is because they're out there and I’m meant to have them”, you know? I think that longing and desire for that friendship is the biggest thing, you know? That once I have that, then I can go “oh man--” It's almost like I’m hungry, so there's food to eat, so I go do that, right? And even though it may be hard to go get that food or cook that food, I can still do it, you know? That the-- Just even the longing for it, I think is such a positive thing, you know?
[Kyle]: It seems like some kids wish it would just go away and they wouldn't want it and I’m like “no, you don't want that”. Like, I know it hurts to want it, but the fact that you want it, tells me there's a need that I believe can be fulfilled. It's going to be the motivator for the parent to find those friends and for the kid to find those friends, is the desire to have this kind of friends. That that's going to be-- When it's difficult, that's going to push you through to keep pursuing them and eventually find them.
[Kyle]: So, I think it'd be good to sit down with the kid and just say “man, what kind of friends do you want? What’s some qualities you want in a friend? What does it look like? What’s some friends you've had in the past that you think were cool?”. When you see certain people-- Because I think a lot of times the lie is “I’m the only one who doesn't have these friends and everybody else does” and that's just not true, you know? And I know with Instagram and Facebook and you know, Snapchat and all these kinds of things that kids are on, it's very easy for them to believe they're the only one who doesn't have these deep friends.
[Sara]: Well, and we know that you can be around-- People can be around a lot of people, laughing, talking, around a lot of people and feel very lonely. Even in a crowd.
[Sara]: So, I think that's also-- A friendship it's different than just being around people.
[Kyle]: Exactly, yeah, and I think a lots of times, I’ll tell the kids too “I think the thing that you're sad about is you just wouldn't be satisfied with that. I mean, you want something deeper” and so, these other kids are just saying “I’m satisfied with that”, that's as far as they want to be known at that point.
[Kyle]: You want to be known in a deeper more meaningful way and I say pursue that, don't settle for the other, you know? But once again, I’d love for the parent to hand in hand do that with the kid, to like, understand “this is the long game”, you know? I mean, like finding these kinds of friends, it's like gold, you know?
[Kyle]: They're like diamonds in the rough. I mean, you gotta pursue them, you gotta dig deep for those things, they're not just gonna happen to you, you know? So, you've got to intentionally do it. But once again, when you're doing it on your own, it can seem overwhelming, when you're doing it with your parent, it can seem like “oh, cool, this is a journey we're both on” and then you get to celebrate stuff, you know? Like the parent goes out with a friend, comes back like “oh no, this person I think will be a great friend. I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna ask him to go do this later” and like “oh, that's so cool” and they get to like, cheer you on as you're making friends, they get to cheer you on-- It's kind of a cool thing.
[Kyle]: So, if we can switch a little bit, once we have friends, that it's great to have friends, but then there's conflict with friends. So, I think that can be a real challenge for parents too, maybe the kids do have friends, but then there's all these conflicts constantly happening and that creates a lot of issues in the family, because the parent doesn't know how to help the kid navigate that, you know?
[Kyle]: So, how do you do that? What's your thought when the kids have conflict with friends?
[Sara]: I think it's important just to realize that relationships as you actually get to know people more, conflict is really, really natural. It's going to be a part of your friendships, your children's friendships and so, part of that's just normalizing “oh, yeah, conflict happens”, you know? It's not this “oh no, the friendship's over, that's it”.
[Kyle]: Yeah. “You guys aren't happy all the time? Oh my gosh!”.
[Sara]: Yeah. So, part of it's just like “hey, you know, conflict happens”.
[Kyle]: So, you're saying normalize it.
[Kyle]: Yeah. So, normalize conflict. Not only does conflict happen, but if you actually want to be a good friend to somebody, conflict has to happen.
[Sara]: Yeah, yeah, it's that deeper thing you go to know that we're not always going to agree on everything and we can navigate that. We can know each other deeper and accept each other and it's a forward movement in a relationship when you can have a conflict and move forward.
[Kyle]: I would almost be concerned if there was never a conflict, you know? Because the very essence of getting close to each other, you know, getting to know each other, is you're not the same people. You're going to have different opinions, you're gonna have different ways-- So, there's going to be conflict. I can't think of one friend I haven't had conflict with and some of the deepest friends, are ones I had a lot of conflict initially with, because we both kind of saw things so differently. But now I see those differences as the strength of the friendship, you know? I really seek out their advice because of the conflict that we used to have because, I know they don't see it in the same way as I do and I don't want everything just paired it back to me.
[Kyle]: So, I think helping the kid normalize the conflict, but then also, what is the goal of conflict?
[Sara]: The goal of conflict?
[Kyle]: Yeah, what's the goal of conflict?
[Sara]: To be known and understand someone else.
[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah and I would just say “to get closer”.
[Kyle]: Right? That's the goal of it, exactly is that. So, as you get closer to somebody, there's going to be friction and the only way to get closer and more intimate with a friend, get closer is to have conflict. Otherwise, the conflict will isolate us and we've done a whole separate podcast about that, you should go listen to it. About conflict leading to either intimacy or isolation. So, if you can help the kid normalize it, understand the point in it, that it's really up to the kid if they want it to be an opportunity to move closer or if it's going to be an opportunity to push them further away. So, what are some ways though, to help them work through that conflict?
[Sara]: Listen to that podcast, so you know--
[Sara]: No, I mean, just listen to them about the conflict, you know? And again, goes back to even that-- The one we did just before this one, but just really, really listen and really understand to help them, understand what it is and then, I think working on those conflict resolution skills.
[Kyle]: Yeah, I love that and one of the ways to do is to act it out, I like acting out.
[Kyle]: So, I think what helped me a lot as a kid, is my parents sometimes I would come home and you know, say a kid did this or that to me and my parents would be like “well, okay. Do you want some help with that?”; “sure” and then we would act it out, like-- I mean, sometimes it'd be a little acting out, but typically it would be like they would tell me “Go practice saying this. So, next time that kid says that, practice saying this to them”, you know?
[Kyle]: And I remember that really helped me, I would actually literally go into the mirror and like, practice saying it, because I wanted to see how it felt to say that and it kind of empowered me to not be caught by surprise by the conflict, you know? So, I think acting it out and I think that also helps the kid see that there is a different possible outcome to that, you know? How it doesn't have to end the way it ended, it could end a different way and so, when you acted out, it then gives the kid like this different picture “oh, I could have said that or I could have done that” and the only reason why they didn't, is because in that moment they were they were shocked by the conflict they got or they basically, got caught up into a dance that tends to happen, where they tend to, you know, respond--
[Sara]: You do this, I do that. You do that, I--
[Kyle]: Yeah, and well, they get really insecure and afraid of losing their friendship, you know? So, I think like you said, the word I would use there that you kind of talked was “understanding through empathy”, you know? Wanting to empathize with the kid and their struggles, rather than trying to change it and fix it.
[Sara]: Yes, yeah, yeah. I think sometimes we as parents, especially when kids are younger, we want to come in and fix it for them and there's times to come in, especially with little kids, but the goal is to be handing those skills to your child, to go into the relationship themselves and fix it, right? So, that's where you said like, the role play. “Let's just practice this, let's practice--”. You know, with your little kid “when so-and-so takes your toy away and you don't like it, this is what you can do; let's practice right now”. With your teenager “when your friend says this to you and it hurts your feelings, this is what you can do and let's practice it here."
[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah. So, kind of in wrapping up, if you're really wanting your kids to have these friendships and your kids-- You know, no matter what age they are, I mean, I think it definitely by like, you know, second, third, fourth, kids like, they want to have friends, they want to hang out and once again, I think it's vital and essential to like, their survival to have these. They need to have their pack, they need to know who they belong to, right?
[Sara]: Yeah, we need people, we need community.
[Kyle]: yeah, exactly, you need that around you to help with all of life's hardships that are going to come your way, but also to celebrate all of life's joys too, right? It's fantastic. So, in doing that first, I would reflect as a parent on “what kind of friends do I have? How am I modeling friendship to my kids?”
[Kyle]: Like, I liked what you said about being intentional about putting yourself in the space as an adult to make those friends, but also helping your kid have that. Doing the play dates, right? And not-- In the play dates, not like sitting back talking to the other parent and just letting them go off, right? Being intentional about how those interactions are going. Not that you got to be a helicopter parent and buzzing around the whole time, but you are around, you are making it more likely that this encounter will be a successful one, right?
[Kyle]: And so, if you know that there-- In the past there's been some conflicts there, make your presence felt, be around there so you can help guide some of that--
[Sara]: It’s just sort of helping set it up for success.
[Sara]: You can't always make it happen, but you can do things to support the successful relationship.
[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah, and then when there is conflict, empathize with them, seek to understand, help the child to understand like themselves, about how they feel about the conflict and then if they're open and receptive then to it, then say “hey, I’ve got some ideas, let's try to act this out or let's try this, would this work?”, you know? And then just see this is the long game, you're playing the long game. That these friendships typically aren't going to be their friends forever, you know? These are gonna be friends they're basically practicing on. So, they're practicing on and learning how to resolve conflict, how to really fine-tune the kind of people they want forming and shaping them for their lives and so, I would say if you kept that kind of mindset and helped the kid do that, normalize these conflicts, then I think there's a lot less fear about it, you know? That somehow if this friendship doesn't work out, then life is over, you know?
[Kyle]: There's many friends out there.
[Sara]: There are, there are and a lot of times, maybe someone's friend for a season at a time and then they move or things happen and we shift and change.
[Kyle]: And so, yeah, I wanna just in that wrap-up, just remind you that something Sara and I do is, we help kids with these kinds of issues, help parents with this stuff. So, feel free to go to parentinglegacy.com, if you felt like you wanted some coaching in this area or you kid needed some coaching in this area. So, you can go there, you can always schedule a session with us and feel free once again to share this with people, who you think really are struggling with how to navigate the stuff, the friendships, the conflict with friends and we just really appreciate your time listening to the podcast. So, we hope you have a great day.
[Sara]: Thank you.