“Now, say you’re sorry.”
“Tell her you forgive her.”
I’m not quite sure how many times I said these words with my two daughters when they fought with each other or their little friends, but enough that I can still hear the cadence I used in my head when I think back to those years.
It seemed simple, albeit repetitive. One takes a toy or uses hands to communicate instead of words and we tell them that hitting isn’t okay, that there’s a better way, that we are supposed to share and be kind. These things are part of the fundamental ways of life, right? Almost every culture has some version of the Golden Rule – treat others the way you want to be treated. It often doesn’t come naturally to children, so we instruct, we model, and we role-play.
We recognize this as part of parenting, but I am wondering if, as our children grow older, we forget to add some more dialogue when our children bring us their stories of fights with their friends. Our tween children aren’t (most of the time) pulling each other’s hair or fighting over Barbie dolls, but they still need help learning how to live out this Golden Rule. Just because we are older or more mature, doesn’t mean that we don’t love to be right, want to cling to our hurts, or let our pride stand in the way of offering apologies or forgiveness.
I confess, I sometimes have fallen into the “Well, just don’t play with her anymore if she’s _______” instead of really listening to the situation, helping my daughters to seek ways to show kindness in the face of meanness. Instead of helping them learn how to turn the other cheek, I fostered a sense of “just turn your back.”
Why? Because I was tired or because I chalked it up to girl drama. Because I thought it was just a silly fight or that the situation would blow over. But what I realize now is that all those little spats were fertile ground for me to sow ideas of kindness, of forgiveness, of sharing, as they grew. Shockingly, they can’t always apply the principles we taught them when they were 3 to situation that arise when they are 11.
We may not be sharing toys, but I can show my girls what it looks like to share a burden or to show kindness in the face of illicit gossip or seemingly unbreakable cliques.
It’s all hit home lately because my daughter has come home for two days crying because two of her best friends have professed their extreme dislike for each other, declaring the end of their friendship, and their unwillingness to forgive. And when I ask her if they have talked to their parents, she tells me their parents have both said what I had said before, “Well, just don’t play with her anymore.”
And I realize as I watch my daughter’s heart break that we as parents can do better.
While it may be girl drama, while it may blow over, while it may not seem like a big deal to us, it is to our kids. Oftentimes, their friends and their school are their world and when there is strife and turmoil, it makes for hard days and sad hearts. So what can we do as parents to seize the opportunity and provide the most opportunity for growth?
- Pay attention. Seriously, you may be groaning on the inside (How many times can they fight about who is the leader of the “cheerleading squad” they made up on the playground?), but your child is actually hurting on the inside. Listening is not overrated. Sometimes all your child might need is validation that she’s hurting and the fact that you’re willing to listen speaks volumes as to how much you love her and are willing to show compassion. And think of this: You’re setting the stage for the teenage years when all you will want is for them to talk to you about what is going on in their world. If they think you’ll just dismiss their words as petty drama, what will empower them to talk to you when it’s serious stuff that is neither dramatic, nor petty?
- Imagine the scope of your influence. There’s a saying that it takes a village to raise a child. This means that in some small way, you have an influence on your children’s friends (and enemies). How you teach your child to act in the face of friendship dilemmas will not only shape your child, but also his/her friend. I know my kids will not always do the right thing. Do I want their friends to respond with truth and grace? Or do I want them to turn their backs in anger and unforgiveness? I must teach my kids to offer grace and forgiveness if I want them to be on the receiving end.
- Explain what it means to forgive. I don’t want my kids to think that forgiveness means they have to be doormats or subjected to bullying. What I do want them to know is that forgiveness is for themselves. All that anger they carry around is detrimental to their own The bitterness affects their own lives. There may be friends who choose to continually be harmful or express values that are crazy contradictory to how we teach our children to behave. As such, there may be times to walk away from friendships, but I want to teach my children how to release their anger and be able to forgive those who have done them wrong so they aren’t burdened by destructive emotions.
- Model sticking it out. Relationships are hard work. As adults we get in disagreements, have to make a concerted effort to show kindness, and walk in a spirit of forgiveness. We need to let our kids know that this is something they will practice for the rest of their lives. Many friendships are worth fighting for, not worth ending over small disagreements. Giving them glimpses into your own experiences, telling them how your friendships did or didn’t work out, and modeling being a good friend to those around you, go a long way in helping your kids navigate their situations.
As parents, let’s seize the moment to pour into our kids instead of dismissing what we deem as petty. You never know – what you say now could completely set the tone to how they manage their relationships in the future.