Hide and Seek. Watching a group of children play this simple childhood game both conjured up happy memories and intrigued me by what I observed.
A game of Hide and Seek tells as much about children and friendships and their social strengths and weaknesses as any other psychological assessment. The shy ones preferring to hide, the assertive, bold kids opting to seek.
What an invaluable metaphor for what we as parents must teach our children about choosing healthy friendships and avoiding toxic ones.
Hide and Seek: The Game of Relationships
Were you the child who hid well or were you better at seeking? Does it mirror your ability to hide from toxic relationships and seek out healthy friends today? What about for your children? What do you want them to hide from and what would you like them to seek?
Recall for a moment your childhood friendships. Did you have a best friend? Did you feel secure and safe within the friendship? Or, did you have friendships that never felt “right” and lead you to feeling uneasy or lonely? Often, the types of friendships you had then define to a certain extent the friendships you have today.
If you were supported as a child with healthy friendships, you likely surround yourself with many similar ones today. However, if you recall painful memories including “mean” friends and bullies, you likely have difficulty attracting and maintaining healthy friendships. Unless you have learned to set boundaries with unhealthy relationships, it is likely you continue to lack the skills necessary as an adult.
The Importance of Separating your Childhood from Theirs
As parents, it is important to get in touch with your inner child and how your own childhood game of Hide and Seek left you feeling. As you navigate through difficult, sticky and uncomfortable friendship games with your child, you must separate your childhood from theirs.
It is likely that certain situations will bring to surface both pleasant and painful memories. Remember, the friendship trials your child may encounter are not about you. Keep in mind is that you have an opportunity to teach your child invaluable relationship skills that perhaps you were not given. Turn it into a teaching opportunity instead of reacting along with your child and projecting your past onto your child’s relationships.
Why Healthy Childhood Relationships are Critical
Healthy friendships are critical to the cognitive and social development of our children. When a child is surrounded by love and support outside of their family, they are more likely to develop the self-confidence and skills needed for adolescence and adulthood. Healthy friendships provide emotional support, and lift our children up, teaching them important social skills such as sharing, empathy, mentoring, trust and loyalty.
Through healthy friendships, children learn to feel confident in their right and ability to question, investigate and learn from the values and actions of others. At the same time, they develop a strong confidence in their own values, and what they believe in. They are able to feel good about the direction they choose to take and confident in decisions and choices they make. Children with strong and healthy friendships tend to develop into to empowered adults who are less likely to be affected by negative relationships and interactions.
Toxic friendships have the opposite effect. These types of relationships lead to impaired self-worth and low self-esteem. Because toxic relationships lack the support, children are less likely to question others, and tend to become followers instead of leaders, making them more vulnerable to peer pressure. Studies indicate that children who were lacking in positive peer relationships in childhood, report sustained difficulties in both personal and interpersonal relationships into adolescence and adulthood.
Empowering our Children to Seek Positive Friendships
How can we as parents help? By empowering your child to seek only the healthiest of relationships and develop the skills to identify and hide from toxic ones.
#1: Teach your child to identify what they love – If your child does not know what they love, they will not be able to identify and form friendships with children who are likely to connect with them in a healthy manner. Make a “What I Love” list and hang it where it can be seen everyday. Engage in conversations about the list and help identify which children he knows that may have a common list.
#2: Teach your child to identify what they are uncomfortable with – Helping your child identify what they are not comfortable with will help them to set boundaries within their world, a critical skill for hiding from toxic friends. If your child has not yet experienced a negative relationship, offer possible situations and encourage conversation.
#3: Teach your child the friendship code – Help your child define what makes a “good” friend and create a list of attributes – kind, honest, fun, helpful and so on. Turn the list into their own “friendship code” by defining what they need from a friend. “A good friend for me is…”
#4: Teach your child the friendship language – Practice role-playing positive friendship interactions. Help them to praise, compliment, and show thanks. Positive language promotes positive relationships.
#5: Practice boundary setting – Get into the role of a “bully” or “toxic” friend. Help your child with “When you do (insert behavior), I feel (Insert feeling), If you continue to do (Insert behavior), I will (Insert consequence)” dialogue.
#6: Give your child an “emotional shield and armor” – Ask your child visualize a shield. What color is it? How big is it? Teach them to hold it up in their minds when faced with “toxic” people and situations. Tell them to listen to the “ping” and visualize the dents in the shield. Most importantly, help them understand that they are only in control of their reactions to “mean” behavior. Absolutely no one can get past the shield and affect their feeling and behavior unless they allow them to.
Remember, the lessons and skills we teach our children today will follow them into adulthood. Even though the nature of friendships will change, the importance of surrounding ourselves with only those who support and encourage us never changes.
One…two….three…four….five…Ready or not, here life comes!
Want more tips on empowering your kids to step up and step out on their own? Ask Diva Coach Dabney!