As a child, isn’t it true that we’ve all ‘fallen out’ with a best friend at some stage of our younger lives? If you did, how did it end out for you, and how did you feel? Did you ‘make up’, or did you forever remain enemies? The scope of this article deals with knowing the useful strategies of the former, but not the latter, and more of the primary school age group, although some of the strategies can be effective with teens and adults too.
I had a long ponder about some practical solutions before writing this article. So, I asked my son, who is now 20, about what he did. “Yeah I’ve had loads of fallouts,” he said casually. “In the end we just laugh about it and move on, or just forget about it!” My 16 year daughter said much the same! The thing is, if I told this to my youngest, who is now 11, it wouldn’t be very practical advice, would it, even though my intentions are good?
The aim here is to support children to move to an outcome beyond just leaving it a ‘fallout’ stage. Many situations may resolve themselves, by a simple apology by either party. When I was a kid I fell out a number of times with my ‘best friend’. It usually took one of us to step up and check our argument barometer. Often one of us would take responsibility and try and make the other one laugh. This broke the state we were both in and we’d end up apologising and ‘moving on’.
Much of the time we often only get to hear one side of the story (or both sides if you’re an educator listening to a play ground spat). I have seen the ‘fix it for you’ parents react for their children where they get involved and ask a teacher to ‘not let them sit next to so and so in class’. I’ve been witness to parents having stand up arguments in a play ground, at school drop off or pick up times, about their son or daughter who is to keep away from my son/daughter. This does not set a great example to our youngsters, especially if they are present as they will tend to ‘mirror’ or copy these behaviours as a way of dis-owning any accountability.
Granted, every situation is going to be different, but there are fundamental steps that we can be mindful of that will help support a child. Here are the steps I would normally coach parents on. These strategies are aimed after an event rather than in the heat of the moment. So, first of all, know that, initially, children will often get caught up in the emotions of the disagreement or argument and not able to think rationally about it as a result.
Three key first steps that can act like the template, if you like, are the starting point of where to go with this:
1. Ask the question.”Tell me what happened?”. Get to their level if it means literally crouching to their height.
2. Let them offload. Often children want to be heard when not able to sort out a problem there and then. This allows them to feel listened to and that you are genuinely interested in their problem. Listen with your full attention, like it really matters, and let them see and hear that you are really listening. Keep eye contact with them whilst they talk. Nod, look sad for them, say the odd “mmmm” and “I see”, “uh huh” but no judgements about either party to the fallout.
3. Empathise with them. “You seem really … (choose appropriate emotion you are seeing/hearing ‘disappointed’, ‘down about it’, ‘frustrated by it’, ‘angry’, etc.)
Children are not very experienced at talking about their feelings and may often exhibit this through upset, fear or anger, sadness. If you can name the emotion when saying “That seems really frustrating for you” or “You sound really disappointed about what’s happened”, it can help them identify with it and that it you recognise it. They will often agree with you at this stage which shows to them that you have heard them and that their problem matters to you.
4. Repeat this pattern “so, what happened next” until the child is ready to hear from you or has come to resolution themselves – it does happen.
Next, you can give examples. It’s OK to fallout! Broaden their scope to a wider picture. Other people fallout too. Politicians, parents, teachers, people in organisations. Sharing an experience you once had as a child and as an adult is a great way of letting them know that it is part of life to have fallouts with friends. The real thing that children will pay attention to is how you resolved this. So tell them an experience where you did manage to resolve your differences.
Look to finding solutions. The good thing with NLP or coaching techniques is that you don’t necessarily need to know the content of the other person’s problem in order to help them resolve it. Here are some very easy and accessible ways;
First and foremost, start with ‘what is their outcome’ – What is it you’d like to have happen…. for example with you and your friend? Ask the question several times if need be to get a resourceful and positive outcome. This can give a child a better way of thinking of what they would like to have as an end result, rather than what they don’t want to have.
Use ‘perceptual positions’ – This is a good way to role play and see an argument from a different perspective. Use 3 separated positions on the floor, or 3 chairs. In position 1, guide the child through how they saw the argument, first as themselves (what did they see, hear and feel). Then ask them to move to the 2nd position, which is the one represented as the person they fell out with. Ask them to pretend to be that other person in the argument. What did they see, hear and feel from their perspective? In the 3rd position, pretend this position is someone that could confide in both of them . They can be a film star, a teacher, or even someone made-up. What do they think, would be a good solution? Very often this can be done in a few minutes and allows the child to have potentially more understanding from another person’s perspective. The exercise allows any of us to dissociate from our own point of view, and see the situation from another, often bringing about some positive solutions or different meanings about what happened.
An NLP ‘presupposition’ states that, ‘every behaviour functions from positive intentions’. This doesn’t mean that every behaviour is the correct behaviour. It’s rather that the person performing a behaviour is fulfilling some need for themselves. This helps to separate a person from their behaviour. If you carry this belief in to your awareness when listening to a child, then you are less likely to cast judgements and think toward a more positive outcome.
Above all, and in many circumstances, do see the situation as an opportunity to talk to child about how it feels for them.
For younger children, role play with miniature characters from their toy box or bedrooms. Role play is a very powerful way to see the fallout from a different perspective.
Choose an appropriate short story which serves as a metaphor, similar to their situation. Type in these ideas into an internet search engine to find one. There are literally dozens to choose from.
Think of a children’s film that you can talk about where there was a fallout between friends, but was resolved in the end. If you could pretend to role play and be their friend, what would they say to them afterwards.
Once again, the purpose with all these techniques and strategies is to move the child to think about the outcome they want to have rather than what they don’t want to have. Exploring these ideas I have outlined can be a healthy way for a child’s mind to develop when it comes to problem solving.
In this day and age we are spoilt with how quickly we can have access to things – social media, shopping and TV channels to name a few. When it comes to children’s minds, they are not to be treated in the same way as if there is something they should know how to do immediately.
So, if “laughing it off”, “just forgetting about it” and “just moving on” doesn’t work for you, then try applying one of the above as a new perspective on your friendships.
By Brendan Dobrowolny