At some point, most girls experience some degree of friendship conflict. Females are wired for connection, so when relationships feel distant, it can be painful. Here are some ways both camp counselors and parents can teach critical skills:
- Raise awareness. Teach the differences between healthy and unhealthy friendships. Instead of limiting descriptions to “nice” or “mean” help her clarify what specific behavior supports these labels. The more she understands what respects looks and feels like, the better equipped she’ll be for handling difficult conversations.
- Set realistic expectations. There are four levels of relationships: stranger, acquaintance, friend, and best friend. Teach girls to assess relationships and set realistic expectations. Assuming an acquaintance will behave as a best friend will leave her feeling hurt and disappointed.
- Coach, don’t solve. Develop critical thinking skills by resisting the temptation to solve her problems. When you do, the underlying message is that you don’t believe she’s capable. Instead, listen with empathy and ask her how she wants to handle the situation. Coach her with rhetorical questions, role-playing, and sharing your past experiences. Help her use direct eye contact, speak in a clear voice, and stand tall. But, do not speak for her or tell her what to say. Doing so will erode her confidence in her own abilities and delay learning important social skills
- Praise strengths. Highlight internal strengths such as creativity, decision-making, innate talents, and interests. This is the foundation of self-worth versus “other-worth” which is measuring worthiness on external things like friends, appearance, grades, or performance.
- Be a role model. Demonstrate and share healthy friendships, refrain from gossip of any kind (that includes refusing to listen to gossip), and communicate assertively.
- Ask the right question. The best way to judge whether a friendship is healthy is to ask, “After spending time with this person, how do I feel about myself?” If you feel inferior in any way, it suggests that changes need to be made. It’s far more empowering for a girl to realize this herself versus being told that she’s not being treated well.
Susan Fee is a licensed professional counselor specializing in girls’ health and wellness. She’s the author of Circle of F.R.I.E.N.D.S. Facilitator’s Guide and A Parents’ Guide to Dealing with Mean Girls. Both are available by visiting www.susanfee.com.
Check back for how camp helps girls gain these critical skills!