Ask the Experts: Friendship Struggles

New year, new parenting challenges to solve in our unique collaboration with The Lighthouse Arabia. Our “Ask the Experts” column is your chance to connect directly with experts in the field of child mental health and wellbeing. Anonymity is guaranteed. No names or identifying details will be ever be published.
Ask the Experts: Friendship Struggles
By Jenny Mollon
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Do you have a parenting worry that you can’t resolve alone? Do you need support from an expert to help your child? We’ve teamed up with Dubai’s leading mental health and wellbeing centre, The Lighthouse Arabia, to bring our readers regular, anonymous and free access to some of the UAE’s very best child and adolescent psychiatrists, psychologists, speech and language therapists and occupational therapists. 

This week, a question on how best to support our children in making friends.

Dear Lighthouse Arabia,

My son seems to have trouble with keeping friends at school. He is very impatient with people and gets angry quickly if he feels people are not doing things correctly or his way. How can I help him to develop his relationship skills with his peers? I feel like every time I try to discuss anything with him, he takes it as criticism and I feel unsupportive. A concerned parent

Dear concerned parent,

I'm sorry to hear that your teen is struggling with his friendships. From a really early stage, we all need to feel loved and to have a sense of belonging. This will help us develop our self-esteem and improve our overall well-being. Making friends is not an easy task (at any age) and it requires a high degree of emotional intelligence and self-awareness that will be developed through our whole life. As valuable as connections are, these do not come easily or naturally, especially in teenage years.

Teenagers are in the process of becoming independent and making their own decisions so it makes sense that they would want some independence when choosing their friendships. However, making friends comes down to a series of skills that can be learned. Here are some ideas on how to help your teen make friendships:

Invite your teenager to reflect  

Have them think about their own qualities or strengths. "What qualities do you have that makes you an attractive friend", "How can others know these qualities". "How do you let people know what you value, who you are?". Helping your teen become clear about who they are and what they stand for can allow them to seek out friends that will be a good match.

Remember that conflict is natural in any relationship

Having any type of relationship means there will be times where we might not agree with the other person. Having disagreements is a natural part of being in any type of relationship. It doesn't mean that the relationship needs to end. It is important to help your teen have a disagreement and learn to take breaks from the argument to cool off. Social media is a common place for misunderstandings that get out of control. It is important to teach your teen how to step away from the device, turn it off and come back to it once he/she is feeling calm. We can teach them to say things like " I think we are both a bit upset at the moment, let's talk about this tomorrow".

Become aware of your own judgments as parents

It is normal to have opinions about our teen's friendships. However, it is important to know how to bring this up with your teen. Coming from a curious stance rather than a judgemental one can be useful (i.e. "Tell me what you like about this friend" vs "I don’t like you hanging out with that friend"). If you feel you want to highlight a behaviour you don't like about a friend, make sure to be as specific as possible ( "I don't appreciate how this friend cancels plans last minute on you", vs "she is so selfish").

I hope these tips help! Please reach out if you need any more guidance. Good Luck!

Dr. Daniela Salazar, Phd, Clinical Psychologist, The Lighthouse Arabia


Dr. Daniela Salazar of The Lighthouse Arabia

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