5 Ways To Help Complex Learners Navigate Friendship
As a parent, it’s in your nature to want to help your child over every hurdle and through every struggle. But as your child grows, it gets harder to easily fix her problems. It’s not hard to fix a scraped knee but it can be truly painful to see your child struggle to make and keep friends. These struggles might become even more pronounced as your child enters middle school.
Friendships in middle school can be particularly tricky to navigate for a variety of reasons. Gossip and cliques start to ramp up along with hormone changes and an overall drive to “fit in.” Add in the stress of increased homework and the looming pressure of high school and you may have a recipe for disaster.
For Complex Learners, this friendship struggle gets even more complicated since his learning and attention differences often make it hard to understand social cues or practice self-control and expected behaviors.
As tricky as it may be, middle school is also the time when friendships are even more vital. A good friend can make a big difference during these formative years. So, what can you do to help your middle schooler build and maintain strong friendships?
- Identifying Different Kinds Of Friends
One of the most difficult concepts for Complex Learners to grasp is the idea of different kinds of friends – like acquaintances, school friends, casual friends, or best friends. While these differences, and their impact on your relationship, might seem simple to you, they require some explanation for Complex Learners.
Explain to your child the differences between types of friends. For example, while she may trust a best friend with a secret, she shouldn’t share the same secret with an acquaintance as this might lead to a betrayal of trust. A best friend might not be upset with some playful teasing but a school friend might which could result in a damaged relationship.
Your child might be struggling to tell the difference between an acquaintance and a best friend or maybe lost over what information is too much to share with a school friend. Go over the different types of friends and what makes each type different. Ask your child to think of an example in his own life and how his behavior and actions might differ depending on the friend.
- What Makes A Friend
While there are different kinds of friends, it’s also important to help your Complex Learner see that not everyone is cut out to be her friend. This means helping your child understand what it takes to be a good friend. This is a critical lesson not only in helping him identify who he wants to be friends with but also to help guide his behavior.
Talk with your child about positive qualities that she should look for in a friend. Highlighting traits like kindness, generosity, patience, and humor helps Complex Learners understand how friends should be making him feel. If someone has been mean to her and makes her feel confused or sad, is this the type of person she wants as a friend?
Talking about what it means to be a friend also forces Complex Learners to look at his behavior. If a good friend is supportive, does that mean it’s okay to get jealous if your friend gets a better grade on a project than you? It’s important to help your Complex Learner understand that to have good friends, you have to be a good friend.
- Talk About What Hurts A Friendship
Just as you want to talk about all of the amazing qualities that go into being a good friend, it’s also important to acknowledge the negatives that can hurt friendships. These negatives, like gossip, fights, and cliques, can be especially prevalent during middle school so it’s critical to address these with your Complex Learner head-on.
It can help to open up about your own experiences growing up. It can be a relief for Complex Learners to understand that these are issues that everyone struggles with and that she has someone who has been through it all before in her corner – you!
When talking about the negatives, don’t be afraid to address the role your child could play in them. If you hear him gossiping, have an open conversation over the damage that type of behavior is doing and what he could do differently next time. Empower your child to know what to do or who to go to if she does witness this type of behavior.
- Role Play
With Complex Learners, role-playing different scenarios can make all the difference. You can’t be there with him at every hang out session or during every FaceTime but you can help him prepare for whatever might come up!
If you’re struggling to get your middle schooler to act out certain scenarios, just try to talk out different conversations. What do you do when your friend is mad at you? What’s appropriate behavior if a friend tells you something in confidence? How should you respond if your friend suddenly starts acting unkind towards you?
Approach this topic when you feel like your child will be more likely to open up like when you’re driving to or from school or when she’s helping you set the table.
- Turn to Books
Whether you’re looking to help your child understand the negative impact of rumors or helping your child recover from a fight with a friend, there are so many great books out there on the tricky terrain of friendship! Check out this list of 12 books about friendship for Middle-Grade Readers and take a trip to the local library to pick a few up!
Middle School can be hard for anyone but having loyal friends can make those years a lot sweeter. Helping Complex Learners recognize the different types of friends and the qualities that help and hurt a friendship can help set him up for success. While everyone has struggles, you can help your Complex Learner feel more confident and able to make long-lasting friendships!