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Children & Young People's Emotional Health

Friendships & Relationships

There are many ways you can support your child to make good friends, and to be a good friend. Good friends increase our self esteem, and give us a support network we can rely on. 

When friends argue, and if friendships come to an end - it can be painful no matter how old we are. For children and young people, worries and upsets in friendships are common. They are all learning together about how to manage their feelings and how to get along with different people. Sometimes it goes wrong!

Dive Deeper

At Home

Children learn a lot about how to respect and treat others well from their family life. This good influence will help them build positive relationships outside the home too.

You can help by;

  • Speaking to each other kindly.
  • Showing interest in each others day; what went well / what was hard.
  • Encouraging turn taking; this might be in a game, or who chooses what to watch on TV.
  • Thinking aloud about how things may make your child feel ‘I wonder if you are feeling really cross that your brother chose what to watch on TV?’.
  • Giving each other space.
  • Managing disagreements calmly – thinking about each other’s points of view.

Moving To High School

The move to high school can be an unsettling time. Friends may not be going to the same school. Everyone is a bit nervous and worried about being in different classes with different people. It can be really hard to see your child struggling to make friends. It is not easy to see them upset and sad if there are arguments, or if there is meanness in the group.

You can help them understand how to be a good friend. The social skills they learn as children will help them throughout their lives.

Worries About High School

Share any worries you had at that age and how you coped. Take care not to pass on anxieties left over from any bad experiences – this is a clean slate for your child.

Speak to the school they are moving to. They are used to supporting young people to make friends. They will be able to explain how they can help to you and your child.

Is there an existing friend that is starting the new school too? Talking with a friend in the same situation can show them it is ‘normal’ to have some nerves.

Making Friends

Children who feel good about themselves will find it easier to make friends. They will find it easier to manage the ups and downs that happen in all relationships.

Sometimes children need to ‘practice’ the skills they need to build good friendships. They help because children will experience:

  • Sharing in achievements together
  • Disappointments when things don’t go well
  • Dealing with feelings of jealousy when others do better than they do
  • Having something in common
  • Working together
  • Not always having your own way
  • Managing disagreements
  • Comforting others when they have a bad time
  • Being comforted when they have a bad time.

Some children will go into school or a new environment and quickly make lots of friends. Some take longer to build friendships and have just a couple of people they get close to. This depends on your child’s personality and experiences. Your child does not have to have a lot of friends, but friendship is good for our mental health and it makes us feel happy.

Your Own Worries

Children are not all the same in what they need, or enjoy. You may have struggled to make friends at school, or maybe you were the centre of attention. Your child’s needs are individual and may be different from yours.

Try not to show your child your worries as this could add to the pressure they feel. Relax and your child will most probably make friendships that work for them.

Difficult Friendships

It can be difficult to see your child upset, sad or worried because it might remind you of difficult experiences you have had. The temptation can be to jump in and try and fix it for your child, maybe calling school, or the other children’s parents. 

Sometimes this is absolutely necessary. For instance, if your child tells you about something risky that has happened or they disclose bullying that is affecting their mental health. Schools are used to supporting children with friendship difficulties.

For most arguments and fallouts this may not be the best first step.

Your child can learn valuable lessons about how to work at relationships. They can learn when a friendship is unhealthy and they need to walk away. With your support your child will often be able to deal with their friendship difficulties themselves.

Supporting Your Child

You can help your child deal with friendship challenges by helping them build self esteem, confidence and resilience.

  • Talk with your child about their friendship groups, what it is they like about their friends, and how they spend their time.
  • Be interested and ask questions that help your child think about the way their friends behave. Your child needs to recognise when a friend is good to have and when they are not.
  • Role play how your child could challenge friends who are making them feel bad. ‘Sarah I felt embarrassed when you said my hair was funny – are you ok? It is not like you to say things like that’.
  • Encourage them to be friendly and mix with a lot of different children – ‘bad friend days’ are harder if they rely on just one group.
  • Talk with your child about peer pressure and how they can manage it. 

If you find out that your child is being bullied, or has been involved in bullying someone else it is important to try and stay calm and find out the facts.

Read more about bullying

Friendship Groups

Some children find groups difficult – they might be thought of as ‘shy’ or they might have additional needs that mean they find a big group harder to manage. You can still help your child to gain confidence and skills in making friends.

  • Together think through what makes a good friend – being kind and interested in what others say and do.
  • Reassure them that it is not about being ‘the most popular.’  Having a few good friends is fine too!
  • Help your child practice some conversation starters.
  • Suggest meeting in small groups; maybe invite a couple of friends to your house, or meet at a park.
  • If a friend's coming round they could get ready to make something, or have a game ready. Some planning can help take the pressure off.
  • Afterwards, talk through what went well, and think over any tricky moments.
  • If your child can be a bit on the loud and active side, help them practice sitting and talking with you, maybe take them out for a drink in a cafe. 
  • Help your child understand that they should not have to change who they are, there is someone for everyone!
  • Encourage your child to join a club so that they can meet friends with similar interests.

Relationships

As your child gets older they may begin to be interested in, or start to have romantic relationships. As young people go through puberty it is natural that they begin thinking about their sexuality, and what they find attractive in a person. This can come as a bit of a shock and a reminder that your child is growing older!

It is important that you can have open conversations with your child about what having a boyfriend/girlfriend means to them. It is easier if you have always spoken openly with your children about thoughts, feelings and how bodies work.

  • Spend time talking with your child often about their feelings and worries. Give them your full attention – turn off phones and TVs.
  • Is their another trustworthy adult around they can talk with if they don't want to talk to you?
  • Let your child know you are there to discuss anything anytime. 

Find out more about relationships

Who can Help?

You can contact the Healthy Child Programme by calling Just One Number on 0300 300 0123 or texting Parentline on 07520 631590. Our opening hours are 8am-6pm Monday-Friday (excluding bank holidays) and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.

If you are 11-19 you can text Chathealth on 07480 635060 for confidential advice from one of our team.

For adults Qwell provides free, safe and anonymous mental wellbeing support for adults in Norfolk and Waveney from a professional team of qualified counsellors.

For 11–25 year olds Kooth is a free, confidential and safe way to receive online counselling, advice and emotional well-being support. 

Childline - Children and young people under 19 can call 0800 1111 for free support.

Young Minds Parents Helpline - Call 0808 802 5544 for free Mon-Fri from 9.30am to 4pm.

To speak to other Norfolk parents and carers, you can join our online community forum below.

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