Katie and Megan met on the kindergarten playground and were immediate best friends. They shared giggles and secrets, sleepovers and a love of snickerdoodles. They went from first grade to seventh grade in a flash and were side by side the whole time. They were inseparable.
Then, something changed. Megan made the basketball team and discovered a new circle of friends. Not-so-athletic Katie felt she was left on the outside of the circle. Megan began spending more and more time with her new friends. Her interests and activities didn’t ever seem to include Katie. Feeling hurt and left out, Katie cloistered herself in her room at home and turned to books and music for solace.
Megan and Katie were never again as close as they had been back in those carefree kindergarten days.
When things change and friends part ways, it’s hard on everyone. Parents need to be prepared to help their child survive a friendship breakup.
“Each developmental stage is unique,” says Janet Breen, a licensed professional counselor with Methodist Family Health, a nonprofit organization that provides psychiatric and behavioral health care to children and families in Arkansas. “Parents should recognize and be sensitive to the importance of peers in each stage of their child’s life and how it affects their self-esteem, identity and choices.”
When faced with turmoil and change in your child’s friendships, parents should consider these suggestions:
When a child is in emotional pain or distress over the loss of a special friendship, just having someone to listen is the best therapy. Parents need to be prepared to be pushed away as a first reaction. But don’t give up. Find opportunities for one-on-one time, such as sharing a long walk or a baking project in the kitchen. Let your child know that you are willing to listen to anything they want to share when they are ready to share it.
ASK QUESTIONS – THE RIGHT WAY.
Avoid the temptation of offering lots of advice and pouring out decades of your own wisdom and experiences, or launching the next great inquisition. Most children resist this approach. Instead, recognize that your child can discover his or her own answers to how to respond and how to act. Appropriate questions might include:
- How has this affected you?
- How has it affected the other person?
- How does this fit with your idea of what a friendship is all about?
- Should all friendships last forever?
- What do you see as your alternatives?
Only after you have listened to your child’s responses should you offer to share your ideas if your child is interested.
BE A GOOD ROLE MODEL.
Show your children how friendships should function by having good friends around you who are trustworthy, loyal, fun, and who share your values and goals.
INVITE YOUR CHILD’S FRIENDS OVER.
To encourage friendships, get your children to spend time with their friends at your home. You can be sure they’re safe. You can help your child build relationships in an environment you feel good about. Plus, you can supervise and observe (from a distance), and then ask questions about the relationships you see.
GET OUT MORE!
Encourage your adolescent or youth to participate in extracurricular activities like sports, music, a part-time job, a local club or society, or something where they can develop new relationships with like-minded people.
Mobile phones, Facebook, instant messaging and technology can be good and bad for young friendships. By keeping an eye on what your child is sending and receiving (non-intrusively), you can help your child make good decisions. Plus, if managed the right way, it can give you plenty to talk about together.
Children need positive friendships for healthy development. Parents who offer support and guidance while encouraging increasing independence will weather the storm of friendship breakups most successfully.