Peer Triangle

February 11, 2009 by  
Filed under Ask Dr. Vicki, Child Development

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Dear Dr. Vicki,

My daughter and her “best friend” are once again battling over, “She said then she said and I heard you said…” There are three girls involved and this time my daughter is odd man out. It is difficult to stand by and watch. When do I or should I intervene? Should I just let it ride its course? The one girl is ALWAYS in the center of any and every conflict. Yet my daughter and she have similar likes and always gravitate towards each other (especially when told to stay away from her.) What to do?

Dr. Vicki’s Response:

I’m glad you asked!

Being a parent and watching our children suffer in any way is very tough to withstand. It’s even more difficult when we basically have to stand by and watch it happen, knowing that our children have to work things out for themselves.

Three is tough. Three is a triangle, which generally involves someone feeling left out. Some of the situation you describe will probably take care of itself, but may surface again.

Although you can’t pick your daughter’s friends, you certainly can have some say who she can hang out with. If she is told to stay away from a certain girl, then she needs to listen to you. OR you probably need to talk with her about why she feels the need to be with her, and help her look at the pros and cons of being her friend.

I think the key here is communicating with your daughter, which means listening more than talking. As parents, we tend to try to make upset feelings go away, by saying things like, “It will pass,” “They’re not true friends, “or “This is part of growing up,” etc. etc.

However, while those things are trying to make it better, they actually can make the situation worse. Because none of these responses have to do with listening to our children, allowing them to vent, and simply empathizing with them.

Once we try to make it better, any of the things we try to say can actually make our children feel as though we really don’t understand. Because saying, “It will pass,” in the middle of the crisis, isn’t really helpful. And they don’t want to hear that they are not true friends, because our children want them to be.

By the time you get this response, things may actually have resolved. Children’s squabbles tend to come and go. However, if this still causes your daughter emotional distress, here are a few suggestions:

  • Allow her to talk about her feelings, and why she wants to be friends with these girls. Just listen and empathize. Then, ask her what she would like to do about the situation.
  • Involve her in an activity where she has an opportunity to make other friends.
  • Encourage her to invite over some other friend, so she has an opportunity to have several ‘groups’ or individuals she can do things with if she is on the ‘outs’ with one set of friends.
  • If you really want to restrict her being with anyone, give it a time limit. Tell her she can’t hang around with ____ for a week, to cool things down; and then you can come back and reevaluate. Be sure to ask her how it’s going, and the degree of difficulty/distress this is creating. Use the week to encourage her to find another friend to spent time with, inviting her over, going to the park, etc.
  • Allow her to hang out with either of these girls only by themselves, thereby eliminating the triangle. Three is hard; a pair is much easier to deal with.
  • If the trouble continues, ask your daughter how you can help. She might want you to intervene, or feel horrified at the thought. Respect her wishes, because creating embarrassement will only make matters worse. And the most important thing is for your daughter to feel she can come and talk to you, without the possibility of betrayal or unwanted interference.

Hang in there. I believe this, too, shall pass. Helping your daughter problem-solve her way through this difficulty can serve her well in the future.
© MMVI Vicki Panaccione, Ph.D.

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