Friendships are an important and powerful part of our lives. However, they are often not without drama and this can be tricky to navigate. For children in particular it can become all-consuming.
As a parent it can be difficult to watch your child struggle with friendship conflict and even harder to know how to help them.
Enter URSTRONG. An organisation dedicated to helping young people, and their parents and educators, learn how to positively navigate friendships through a program called Friendology 101.
Friendology 101 is a suite of workshops for children in grades 1-6 designed to develop skills to foster and maintain healthy relationships. Parents can attend too, and there are specific workshops to teach parents and educators how to support kids through friendship conflict.
Originating in Canada but presenting worldwide, URSTRONG has several presenters based in Australia and to date have helped empower over 25,000 students in 150 Australian schools.
We asked Founder & Friendship Expert, Dana Kerford about how URSTRONG came about and her thoughts on friendships.
What inspired you to start up URSTRONG?
As a classroom teacher at a private school in Canada, I noticed that my students (particularly my girls), weren’t performing well academically if they were in the midst of a fight with a friend. I saw myself in my little girls and remembered how hard it was to think of anything else because I was a very sensitive and emotional girl (and still am!).
I tried to find resources out there to help my students, but I couldn’t find anything that was practical, skills-based, and really tuned into the specific issues that girls face in their friendships. So, I researched like crazy and created my own…which I decided to call, “GirlPower!”
I had 53 girls sign up for my first session and saw massive changes in the girls over the course of the six weeks… The quiet, shy, timid girl started to walk a little taller, use her voice, and assert herself. And, the girl who was trending down that “mean girl” path, softened and found a more tender approach in her friendships. I began facilitating GirlPower workshops with girls, parents, and educators around Canada, the USA, and Australia.
In 2014 we launched our friendship program for boys, GoodGuys, recognizing that boys need these same skills, language, and strategies in their friendships as well.
In 2016 we had the honor of being invited to a conference on gender equality at the White House. We left that event realizing that it’s time for us to move to a co-educational brand – a friendship program for children. Knowing what I know now about girls and boys and their experiences in friendship, if I had to do it all over again, it would have been a co-ed program from the start…because, their experiences are far more the same than they are different.
And here’s why we are committed to reaching as many kids around the world as possible…
There is endless research that supports the fact that healthy friendships positively improve a person’s overall wellbeing. (Of course, this means the opposite is true for unhealthy friendships!)
Like healthy food, healthy friendships help you grow, make you feel stronger, and lift you up. Healthy friendships feel good, bring out the best in you, and nourish the soul. In children, we see them with improved confidence, performing better academically, engaging in more leadership roles, and ultimately flourishing in the classroom.
A person with healthy friendships feels better about themselves and is happier.
What do you think is the biggest friendship issue facing young people today?
One of the biggest things we’re trying to teach children is that conflict is a normal part of a friendship:
Friendship Fact #1: No friendship (or relationship) is perfect.
Once they understand and embrace conflict (realizing they can put out their Friendship Fires®, as we call them), they?are less likely to engage in stereotypical behaviors… which are ultimately all linked to conflict- avoidance.
With kids being online more than ever before and communicating through their devices, conflict-avoidance has become even easier! It’s a very easy way to not face conflict directly, while still trying to make themselves feel better. So, a passive-aggressive text message…or they don’t tag that friend in an Instagram photo…or they share a Snap with everyone but that person they’re mad at… All of these subtle ways online to reinforce a really unhealthy urge to avoid conflict.
What’s the one piece of advice you would give parents on helping their children navigate friendships? ?
This natural urge to avoid conflict is reinforced when children are told by the adults around them to, “Just ignore them!” What happens, however, is they have to put out the Fire somehow so they choose unhealthy ways to essentially make themselves feel better.
My one piece of advice is to stop encouraging children to avoid conflict and instead encourage them to face it. Teach them how to respectfully put out a Friendship Fire. Give them practical strategies that honor how they feel and how the other person feels, aiming for resolution. Conflict-resolution is such an important life skill!!
If you would like URSTRONG to visit your child’s school to run a workshop you can register here.