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Helping Your Child Face Tough Situations

sad child-Girl With Sad Face

Spring has sprung, and I’m already anticipating summer vacation. This is the time of year in the life of a school when we see an increase in relational conflict among students. It happens every year, but takes the parents of those involved by surprise – especially if their children don’t have a history of social concerns. I’m not sure if it’s hormones or simply the need for a well-deserved break, but educators can predict it like clockwork.

I think it’s safe to say we all want our children to be happy and well-adjusted. Consequently, there’s nothing harder than watching them struggle. However, many of life’s most important lessons are learned when we as parents sit back and let them sift through the messiness of daily life without jumping in to rescue them. This is not to say that we shouldn’t offer guidance, but the truth is that our children’s perspectives won’t always be right. There are at least two sides to every story, and perhaps our children even did something to provoke an unkind interaction with their friends.

I love my children more than words can express, and I’m also pleased to say that they’re not perfect! I’m okay with that. Even if I encourage my children to act in a manner that’s consistent with our values that doesn’t guarantee that they will always do so, and it certainly doesn’t guarantee that the behavior of others will change. So yes, from time to time my children will be shunned on the playground, excluded from playdate invitations, and talked about behind their backs. As horrible as it is to sit back and watch, those are growing pains. I can’t protect them every minute of every day. I have two choices when these things happen. I can either focus on what the others involved need to do to change, or I can empower my children to respond in a way that preserves their integrity and builds valuable skills for them to take into adulthood. I’ve found it’s a better use of my time to choose the latter.

I can encourage my children to voice their concerns, advocate for themselves, and spend time with those who treat them well. I can praise them for standing up for themselves.
As counterintuitive as it may feel, we’re actually doing our children a favor when we allow them to struggle. Intervening too soon suggests that we don’t believe children can cope on their own, and we’re subtly sending a message that we aren’t confident in their ability to handle themselves. It’s also important to consider whether we’re responding in an overly zealous manner, simply because we have difficulty tolerating our children’s sadness or disappointment. In contrast, offering a few tips, sitting back, and waiting to see what they do with our suggestions will only grow their confidence and personal relationships. I challenge you to let your children be problem solvers!

Take Away Tips

  • Listen but don’t automatically take your child’s side when they tell you about a social conflict
  • Avoid asking leading questions when asking about your child’s day (Did you play with so and so? How did they treat you today?)
  • Have your child identify one thing they can do differently when they tell you about a recent social conflict so they begin to consider their own role in relationships.

Dr. Carmen Anderson is a School Counselor at St. Mary’s School, a private International Baccalaureate (IB) World School, located in south Orange County, dedicated to providing the best education possible for Preschool, Elementary and Middle School students. Carmen Anderson earned her B.S. degree in Psychology from Santa Clara University and later her M.A./Psy.D in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University. For more information about St. Mary’s School, visit

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