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Help Your Tween Make Friends and Keep Them

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Three girls taking a picture of themselves with a mobile phone at a slumber party
ONOKY - Brooke Auchincloss/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Does your tween make friends easily? Or is something holding her back? By the time a youngster enters middle school, friendship problems may begin to present themselves in new ways. Friendships at this point in life are so important, because tweens are preparing to pull away from their parents, and they need the acceptance and support of their friends as they do. If your tween is having social problems you may need to step in to help her make friends and keep them.

Below are a few simple strategies that will help you guide your tween through these difficult social years. The goal is for your tween to make friends, become a good friend herself, and to learn to be comfortable inside her own skin.

Encourage Healthy Friendships

Take the time to point out what makes a good friend, as well as how to be a good friend to someone else. Be sure your tween understands that gossiping about a friend isn't very friendly, and that maintaining friendships require a little work. Point out what you like about her friends. You could say, "I like how your friends call you when you're sick to see how you're doing" or "I like it when your friends offer to help you clean your room after a sleepover."

Help your tween foster her friendships by including them occasionally in family activities, or inviting them over for family movie or game night. Also, be sure your tween understands that there's no substitute for one-on-one time together, and that texting and emailing friends isn't the same as spending time with them in person.

Help Her Make Friends

Tweens don't always understand that their behaviors and the way they present themselves may be turning potential friends away. Help her understand that her attitude, and even her appearance may be sending the wrong message to her peers. Ask your tween if she is approachable to others. Does she smile and greet them when she first sees them at school? What does her body language tell people? Does she look her peers in the eye or keep her gaze towards the floor? Does she respect other people's opinions and talents, or resent them for being different from her or for having abilities she doesn't?

Don't Push Popularity

You may have wanted to be in the "in" crowd when you were young, but didn't quite make it. Don't let your own baggage keep your child from deciding who she is. Be careful that you don't push her to join a certain group of friends, or take part in certain "cool" activities because you think she'll be happier that way. Allow your tween to discover activities that she enjoys, and to choose friends who are supportive of her and provide a positive influence.

Keep Her Active

Keeping your tween involved in activities is a good way for her to make friends with similar interests, as well as expand her circle of friends.

Encourage Diversity

Social groupings are just a part of life. Some people call them cliques, others call them pods, but whatever you call them, it's important to help your tween blend socially, without sacrificing her individuality. Make sure your tween understands that she doesn't have to belong to a certain clique to be happy. Encourage her to make friends with amiable children who may share her interests, or are just nice to be around. In other words, her friends don't have to come from just one social group, in fact, they probably shouldn't.

Expect Drama

Tweens can be moody, angry, and difficult at times. All of these emotions can interfere with tween friendships. Expect some of her friendships to be volatile from time to time. When they are, help your tween deal with her emotions and encourage her to calm down before approaching her friend about their problems. Role-play with your tween, to help her develop her problem solving skills. Help her try to understand the problem from her friend's point of view.

Be a Good Listener

Listen to your child everyday as she talks about school, the bus, sports, or parties. Attentive listening will provide you with a lot of information about her friends and their behavior. Take quick action if you suspect negative behaviors are taking place.

When Things Go Bad

Help your tween if you think she's involved in a toxic friendship. A real friend will give her confidence and boost her self-esteem. A frenemy will belittle her, make her feel bad about herself, and have her second guessing every decision she makes.

If a friend turns out to be a frenemy, help your tween focus on her other friendships as much as possible. If the friendship ends, keep her active so that she doesn't dwell on the lost friendship too much. Explain to her that sometimes friendships don't last, but that there are always good friendships waiting to be discovered.

Encourage Self Expression

You want your tween to enjoy healthy friendships, but you also want her to have a mind of her own. Teach your tween that sometimes friends can disagree, or have different interests, beliefs, or tastes in clothing, music, and hobbies. Encourage her to seek her own path, and give her the confidence to say "no" to a friend whose trying to lead her down the wrong path.

For more information on tween issues and helping tweens through puberty, middle school and the challenges of growing up, subscribe to the Tween Parenting newsletter.

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