It absolutely ruffles my feathers when I hear kids say to one another, “You’re not my best friend anymore.” I’ve heard it on the playground at school and even in my home.
Some kids have said it to my 6-year-old daughter, Sofia, and, unfortunately, I’ve heard Sofia say it to her friends. I’ve wondered whether they understand how hurtful those words can be. When I heard Sofia say that to somebody, I realized how important it is for me to teach my girls about building up their friendships, how words can deeply hurt people or make them feel good. I explained that we strive to nurture friendships and not destroy them with hurtful words.
I explained that not every person we encounter is a “best friend.” Some people are meant to come and go from our lives, and others will be with us long-term and grow with us.
I wasn’t sure whether Sofia understood my explanation, so I started teaching her about love. I talked to her about the importance of loving herself, loving others and how we can show love every day by doing things for others.
I explained to Sofia that love is not pushy. When friends don’t want to play with you, it doesn’t mean that they don’t like you. It’s a good time, I suggested, to give each other a break or some space. Sofia looked intrigued, so I went on to explain that love is never self-willed. Selflessness is one of the most difficult things to teach a child, so we encourage everyone in our family to do something for someone else every day, and we talk about it during dinner.
A study on children’s mental health by the nonprofit Lucy Daniels Center in North Carolina found that common phrases such as, “You’re not my friend anymore,” “You’re not invited to my party,” and, “You can’t play with us,” are ways that children express frustration. It’s their way of verbalizing discontent with others. What they really mean, the study found, is, “I’m upset with you.”
I also know that when my daughters are upset, they just want to be heard. I try to calm them down and validate hurt feelings. I try to resist being a detective and instead work to help my girls think about how to solve the problem.
When confronted with these issues, a friend of mine asks her children these open-ended questions: “What are your choices? What ideas do you have?” I think it’s a great approach. She even makes suggestions with these options:
- You could just play with someone else.
- You could talk to your friend and say, “I feel bad when you say that. I want to be your friend when you are ready.”
It’s a good idea to evaluate all the options with your children. The best part is letting your child choose the solution that feels best. From experience, I’ll warn you, their choice may not be the choice you would make, but it’s important to support their choice and continue the conversation. My hope is that we teach children to love people more and to love more people, so that we never hear, “You’re not my best friend anymore” again!
Daniella Guzman is the anchor on NBC4 Southern California’s “Today in LA” weekday morning newscast, 4:30-7 a.m. A mother of two, Daniella’s column, “On the Record,” brings her views on parenting, fun family activities and her take on work-life balance. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @daniellanbcla.