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Teach Your Daughter What to Say (and not say) to Support A Friend.

(3.5-minute read) When I was young and carefree (you know…pre-marriage and kids) all I wanted was friends, friends, and more friends. In my mind, the more the merrier. Having a lot of friends gave me more opportunities to go out and have fun. More people to talk for hours with about cute boys, dream jobs, and how stupid or annoying our parents and siblings were (funny how I probably now qualify as that stupid and annoying parent).

After I got married, however, I began to appreciate the principal of quality over quantity. Instead of relying on an endless network of surface level friends, I focused on spending time with women who shared the same values, and couples with whom my husband and I were both compatible.

After becoming a mother, naturally, an even more noticeable shift occurred since I had less time to spend with my friends.  It prompted me to become more particular about the people with whom I chose to spend my limited time. Since then, I have come to value my friendships more than ever.  And now that I am older – as are my daughters, (who have formed their own friendships which I am privy to seeing as an outsider and hearing about third-hand from them), I have the ability to look at relationships, and reflect on what made them successful…or not.

Inevitably, I have experienced a fair amount of girl drama. Which has caused me to leave some so-called “friends” behind. But, comparing them to the valued friends I have now, I can’t help but wonder if those friends were ever really friends?

Turns out, the old sentiment holds true: real friends are ones who are there for you in the bad times, not only the good.  At this point in my life I can point to a handful of women who have been there for me when the chips were down. There are others who may think that they were there for me. And then there are a few more who just fell off the radar when the going got tough and it wasn’t just about fluff stuff.

Of course I realize that supporting a friend during a stressful, emotional, or dramatic time can be a bit overwhelming. Most of us aren’t trained to know the right thing to say (or not to say) in various situations. And frankly, what to say differs depending on the person. It can be a guessing game that we are not prepared for. Maybe a friend just wants you to listen, while another seeks honest advice or feedback. The third friend? She might just need some comic relief. In reality, there are lots of ways we can support our friends, we just need to know how. Preparing our daughters for that task-supporting a friend when she is angry, hurt, stressed and/or upset-is of utmost importance.

In trying to determine how best to do this with our GAALSters, I devised some tips that you can use for yourself, and share with your daughter so that she feels more comfortable being a supportive friend.

What You Should Not Say to a Friend in Need: 6 Unhelpful Responses**

1.Minimizing: when you treat your friend’s concern as trivial.

“Why are you making a big deal out of nothing?”

    • You are essentially telling your friend that her feelings are not important.
    • Your friend is likely to think that you don’t care about her feelings.

2. Rationalizing: when you treat your friend’s concern as irrational.

“How could you even think that? It doesn’t make sense.”

    • You are trying to argue against her.
    • Your friend starts to question her feelings.

3. Competitive: This is when you try to one up your friend – and show them that you have a bigger problem.

“You think that’ stinks? I think I failed the math test!”

    • You are trying to win the who is feeling worse contest.
    • Your friend feels that you believe both you and your issues are more important.

4. Fixing:  This is when you jump in and try to solve your friend’s problems.

“If you just go back and tell him that he misunderstood, it’ll be fine.”

    • You are trying to be helpful, but often times the other person doesn’t want a solution – at least at that time (which could frustrate you both).
    • Your friend may feel like you don’t fully understand what she is going through or that you are patronizing her.

5. Defensive: In this scenario you treat your friend’s emotions as a personal attack.

“It’s not my fault you didn’t get invited.”

    • You are feeling that your friend is trying to blame you.
    • Unintentionally, you start defending yourself and
    • Your friend is either confused and believes you misunderstood. Or worse, she feels like you are dismissing her feelings.

6. Stonewalling: When you withdraw.

“I’m not really sure what you want me to do.”

    • You become silent and/or avoid the conversation.
    • Your friend feels alone and abandoned.

Being aware of the types of responses to avoid when a friend comes to you with a certain problem or emotion is definitely a good place to start.  But knowing ways to respond that are helpful is the ultimate goal. At the most basic level, your friend not only wants to feel that you understand that they are upset and respect their right to have feelings, but that you also care about their feelings.

What You Should Say. 6 Validating Responses*

  1. “I know it must be hard for you to feel this way.”
  2. “I can see that it makes sense for you to feel down right now, given the way that you are seeing things.”
  3. “A lot of times you may feel that people don’t understand how hard it is for you.”
  4. “You must be thinking that this terrible feeling is going to last a long time. It must be hard to feel that way.”
  5. “I want you to know that I am always here for you.”
  6. “I don’t want it to sound like I refuse to hear about your feelings. I do. But if there is anything that I can do to help you feel better, please let me know. Your feelings are really important to me.”

Go ahead and test out these responses on your child, spouse or friend. Have some additional ones that are effective, we would love for you to share with us!   

**Adapted from Huffington Post article by Robert Leahy, PhD. , Contributor Director, American Institute for Cognitive Therapy.
*Taken directly from Huffington Post article by Robert Leahy, PhD. , Contributor Director, American Institute for Cognitive Therapy.
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