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By Heidi Stevens

Chicago tribune

Your daughter’s pals always cry on her shoulder. You fear she’s being taken advantage of. Do you step in?

Parent advice from our panel of staff contributors:

Not unless other people’s problems are weighing heavily on her. It’s nice that her friends trust and respect her enough to come to her. It’s good practice for when she has a whiny family of her own. It might be good to let her know that if someone comes to her with a problem that may be too much for her, she can talk to you.

– Bill Hageman

Maybe you could say, “I love how you make time for your friends when they need you; just remember to make time for yourself, too.” But apart from making it clear that your shoulders are always available for her, I wouldn’t step in.

– Phil Vettel

Expert advice:

“When you see a kid who’s naturally empathic and naturally a good listener, that’s a good thing,” said child and family therapist Patti Criswell, contributing writer and consultant to the American Girl magazine’s advice column. “But a girl – or boy – who is in that role a lot needs to learn to set boundaries.”

That’s where you step in.

“Parents can help by teaching their kids to set boundaries without being mean,” she said. “It’s what we all need to learn in order to have successful relationships – at work, at home, with friends.”

Criswell tells kids to imagine they’re making a sandwich of kindness, boundary, kindness.

“So if her friend says, ‘Would you go tell so-and-so I’m mad at him?’ Your daughter can answer, ‘I wish I could, but I’m just not comfortable doing that. But I know you can do it. I have faith in you!’ Kindness: I wish I could. Boundary: I’m not comfortable doing that. Kindness: I have faith in you.”

Don’t wait for your daughter to tell you she’s feeling overwhelmed by her friends’ needs before you address the topic, Criswell said.

“This is a teachable moment,” she said. “‘You are such a good friend, but I want to make sure you know how to set boundaries because that’s a skill you’re going to need your whole life.’”

You could also use the conversation to talk about healthy friendships versus unhealthy friendships.

Criswell suggests asking your daughter, “If your goal is to be a good friend, what do you think that looks like? Does a good friend support you? Does a good friend listen to you? Does a good friend gossip? Does a good friend ask you to do things that make you uncomfortable?”

Early mastery of these relationship skills will pay off throughout life.

“Eventually the conversation will be about setting boundaries with a teacher, a coach, a sibling, a boyfriend,” Criswell said. “Fast-forward five or 10 years, how will you help your child address someone who wants them to smoke or do something else they’re not comfortable doing? Our job as parents is to teach our kids those skills.”

Have a solution? Your 11-year-old is embarrassed to wear a swimsuit. Should you encourage her to don one anyway? Find “The Parent ’Hood” page on Facebook, where you can post your parenting questions and offer tips and solutions for others to try.