10 Tips for Parents to Help Their Children Handle Social Struggles

Normal pain is part of growing up—and parents often make things worse when they intervene

GAZA CITY, GAZA - JUNE 13: A young Palastinian boy laughs as the waves rush towards him on Gaza beach on June 13, 2015 in Gaza City, Gaza. Palestinians are taking the opportunity to relax and enjoy picnics on Gaza beach before the holy month of Ramadan which starts next week. Thousands of Palestinians descend on the 75km sandy beach of Gaza each day to relax, fish and escape the noise and heat of the city. The devastation across Gaza can still be seen nearly one year on from the 2014 conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants. Money pledged by the international community six months ago to rebuild Gaza has not materialised leaving many Palestinians impoverished and still suffering with the poor economy. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
A young boy laughs as waves rush towards him on the beach. (Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

In a post about teasing, I quoted from Michael Thompson’s excellent book, Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social Lives of Children.

In the book, Mr. Thompson includes a list of 10 rules for parents who want to help their children manage their social lives. He discusses each point at greater length, of course, but I thought the list itself was very helpful.

1. Don’t worry so much. Remember that you gave your child a social start in life. (Elsewhere, he reminds parents that we can’t spare their children normal social pain; it’s part of growing up.)

2. Recognize the crucial difference between friendship and popularity. Friendship is more important. (Popularity is more about status than being well-liked.)

3. Support your children’s friendships.

4. Make your child’s friends welcome in your home.

5. Be a good friendship role model and teacher.

6. Provide a wide range of friendship and group opportunities.

7. Make friends with the parents of your child’s friends (and enemies).

8. Empathize with your child’s social pain, but keep it in perspective.

9. Know where your child stands in the group. If your child is in trouble socially, step in to help. If you child is popular or accepted, help him or her be a positive moral leader. Don’t act like a middle schooler yourself. (Mr. Thompson points out that parents often make things worse when they intervene, so don’t rush in.)

10. Take the long view.

Gretchen Rubin is one of the most thought-provoking and influential writers on habits and happiness. Her book, Better than Before, is about how we change our habits. The Happiness Project and Happier at Home were both instant bestsellers, and The Happiness Project spent more than two years on the bestseller list, including at #1. She has a popular podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin. Follow her on Twitter @gretchenrubin 10 Tips for Parents to Help Their Children Handle Social Struggles