You want a lot of things for your daughter, and a life rich in friendships is definitely among them. Having a great partner in crime (or two or three or five!) will give her a sense of belonging, enrich her sense of self, teach her about compassion and loyalty, and boost her confidence as she grows up and experiences all life has to offer.
Friends are special in our lives. They’re the ones we count on when times get tough. They’re the ones who share our secrets and make every day more fun. Friends are precious, which is why they’re likened to precious metals in one of the most famous Girl Scout songs of all time. But although the beloved lyrics insist we should “make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other’s gold,” nowhere do they say “and by the way, you have to be friends with everybody”— which might be hard to swallow in this age of social media where one can have hundreds, thousands, or even millions of so-called “friends” online.
“Teach your daughter to have respect for and be kind to all people,” says Girl Scouts’ Developmental Psychologist Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald, Ph.D., “but know that actual friendship is something different—something deeper—that will develop between your girl and some kids, but not others.” So, even if you had high hopes that your girl would want to be forever friends with the daughter of your closest friend, it might not work out that way, and that’s OK.
“What makes a good friend for one person might not make a good friend for another,” Dr. Bastiani Archibald continues. “Help her learn what makes a good friend for her specifically. Does she prefer outgoing children who will be eager to join her for adventures, or is she happier engaging in quiet play with other like-minded kids?” Choosing friends is a highly personal thing, and so many factors from your girl’s interests to her sense of humor will affect who she forms stronger bonds with. Your girl will feel happiest and most fulfilled in friendships that are based on those things rather than forced into being over a sense of obligation or guilt. And very young girls often don’t even know why they are friends with someone and not with someone else: they just click (or don’t) and that’s totally okay and normal.
All that said, tricky situations can arise when your daughter wants to be friends with someone who doesn’t return her feelings of friendship. “It’s only natural for her to be sad, confused, or even angry if the girl she wants to be friends with is less than excited to hang out with her,” says Dr. Bastiani Archibald. “And it can also be hard for you as her parent, since you can’t imagine anyone not wanting your amazing daughter in their lives. But instead of picking up the phone and giving an earful to the other girl’s mother, take a step back and remember that just as you teach your daughter she can be friends with (and not be friends with!) whomever she wishes, this other girl has the same right.” Handling social disappointments gracefully is a skill we could probably all stand to work on—so unless you see signs of actual bullying or rude behavior toward your daughter, urge her to let it go and focus her energy on the friends she already has, or to seek out other, different children who might be looking for new friends, too.