Navigating Friendships


By Megan LaRue, LSW – January 26, 2022 –

As children develop and learn to be more independent, their focus on family starts to fade and peers become the center of their universe. The need to fit in with a circle outside the home is a major stage of development.

However, when children start to form these groups and their various upbringings come into play, there are bound to be some bumps along the way.

From my own experience working with youth, this connection to peers really starts to take hold around 3rd-4th grade, although it can be different for each child. These years are also when conflicts start to arise and friendships can either be solidified or start to fade away.

Here are a few of my favorite strategies for helping kids work through conflict and develop positive communication skills.

The first obstacle kids may face in working through peer conflict is recognizing the bigger picture. As humans in conflict, kids are likely to assign blame outside of themselves. Although there are situations where someone wrongs us, we have to be open to recognizing our own faults as well.

Teaching children how to examine a situation from all perspectives can help them recognize when they may need to take some responsibility. Asking children questions like, “How do you think that feels?” or “How do you think your friend sees this situation?” can help kids practice this important skill.

Often when kids develop conflict with one friend, they may seek alliance with an uninvolved peer to support them or take their side. Like adults, kids just want to feel heard and understood. Although feeling supported and not alone is helpful, it doesn’t solve the original conflict. This can often be an avoidance strategy that provides temporary relief while not addressing the issue at hand.

Teaching students how to effectively confront the issue with the involved person can help to minimize the damage in the long-run. Key strategies for this include good communication and the ability to share feelings in a positive way. Modeling this behavior and the practice of identifying complicated emotions can help kids have the language to share their experiences.

Along with sharing their own feelings, kids have to learn to receive others’ feelings and be open to maintaining clear boundaries. When someone expresses they’ve been hurt or doesn’t like something that’s happened, this isn’t necessarily a personal attack or an attempt to be hurtful. It is an opportunity to improve the relationship and prevent future conflicts.

Kids don’t need to change who they are because someone doesn’t like it, but they do need to learn to be open to change as they recognize how their actions affect those around them. Being a good listener and having the ability to say, “I hear what you’re saying and I will think about this going forward” can be the best way to make sure everyone feels heard.