Nurturing healthy friendships

The ability to establish and maintain healthy friendships, communicate effectively, resolve conflicts, resist peer pressure and collaborate are important in life, and in school. However, it is nearly inevitable that during her school years, your daughter will experience some form of friendship issue and encounter the ebb and flow of social dynamics.

We recognise that the dynamics of friendship typically change at secondary school, as girls gain maturity, social circles evolve and teaching groups change. Girls are better able to assess what is going on as they get older, they can see the potential for destructive situations, so they develop skills to make sure the painful things do not happen. They exercise caution and are more careful in choosing their friends.

In an all-girls learning environment, their sense of identity and self-worth is partly dependent on the feedback they get from their peers. Girls do not learn well when they are unhappy so an emotional issue can mean they start underachieving.

We share some proven approaches to equip you to best support your daughter to navigate school friendships, and to enable her to thrive socially and academically.

Accept it is going to happen

Accepting that changes in friendships are inevitable is perhaps the most significant step in helping your daughter navigate these relationships. As children grow and develop, they are changing, expressing themselves in different ways and learning along the way. Consequently, friendship groups will evolve, someone will try and find a new friendship, and one child may feel ignored. Something may go wrong in a group and, in trying to navigate a complex situation, girls can make poor choices and handle it badly. Friendship dynamics can get messy, and if we add social media into the mix with words pinging via messaging and text, and the margin for error is amplified.

When challenges arise, encourage your daughter to take a step back and reflect on the situation. Ask whether this is just one individual having a fleeting lapse in judgement rather than a deeper problem. Or, perhaps a friendship has become unhealthy and it is time to gradually distance herself and gravitate towards different friends. Acknowledge your child’s feelings and reaffirm that it is okay; people change and grow and will not always remain close friends. Empower her to make informed decisions about her social circles.

Cultivate open and honest communication

Maintaining open and honest lines of communication between yourself and your child will in turn help to forge stronger relationships with her peers. Find the time and space to listen and let your daughter share her thoughts and concerns.

Do bear in mind you will never get the whole picture and ‘the truth’ is multifaceted and usually does not exist objectively in the way you would like it to be. What we hear is one person’s account of their experience of a situation. Our reflex is to automatically believe our child has been wronged, but be open to the idea that there is likely to be another child feeling exactly the same way.

Modelling conversation by naming the difficulty is a good way to encourage conversation. This is helpful when dealing with more tricky conversations. In this case, we encourage families to use the rose bud retrospective: what is positive (the rose) and what is challenging or bad (the thorn) and what is growing or is something you are excited about (the bud). Parents can drop this into dinner or bedtime routines to encourage a healthy review of the day, but on the same token, parents must model this and share a review of their own day.

Champion resilience 

Resilience is the ability to do well despite challenges in life. It helps us adapt successfully and bounce back from adversity, failure, conflict and disappointment. When faced with friendship turbulence and difficulties, resilient children still experience anger, rejection, grief and pain, but they can function and recover.

Coping strategies and emotional resilience can buffer the effects of any negativity among friends. Help your child develop problem-solving skills, teach them healthy coping strategies, and provide emotional support. For example, empathy is a cornerstone of emotional intelligence and it is a critical skill for building and maintaining positive, healthy and meaningful friendships. We can encourage our girls to consider the feelings of others and to act with kindness in order to navigate conflicts with compassion and understanding.

Develop self-confidence and self-belief

Promoting assertiveness skills can help girls establish and maintain healthy boundaries in their friendships. Through our COACH programme at Northampton High, where our co-curricular and extracurricular activities and events are designed to help our girls to become confident communicators and critical thinkers, we are engendering a culture where speaking up and speaking out is actively encouraged. We believe that by promoting an environment that values self-expression and autonomy, we are empowering our girls to navigate peer pressure with confidence and integrity.

At home, encourage your daughter to express her opinions, stand up for herself and assert her personal boundaries. Developing the ability to say no to something that makes a child feel unhappy, unsafe and uncomfortable is important, and can protect them from giving in to peer pressure as they go through school.

Friendship turbulence, fallouts and problems at school happen and most are, thankfully not due to bullying. Mostly, there is no winner or loser, or clarity around what occurred. Friendships change and can simply get messy. By helping your daughter to practise friendship skills such as listening, sharing, compromising and negotiating can all be effective in addressing friendship issues. Likewise, by supporting your child to navigate the complexities and intricacies of friendships you are equipping her to develop healthy and supportive relationships in life.

‘Friends come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime’ – Brian A. “Drew” Chalker

I love this quote – the friendships your child has now might be for this moment or it could be for a lifetime, but it is important to know that this will change and evolve. Supporting your child through these times can be joyful but they can also be challenging and upsetting but it is about being there in all those moments to support your child in navigating friendships as they grow.

Dr Lee