BFF – Or Not Anymore
Friendships matter to kids. They matter to adults, too, but sometimes we can forget that the perspective we have isn’t shared by our children. It can be heartbreaking and devastating to lose a friendship as a child, and maybe even more so when our kids can’t figure out why it happened. Some of the reasons are more obvious than others – when someone moves, there are bound to be changes in the relationship, or when trust is broken over a shared secret – but that doesn’t necessarily make it any less painful.
It’s important to listen to what our kids are saying in these moments. It can be tempting to look for a silver lining to point our to your child, or to be a little dismissive (“Don’t worry, you have lots of friends and you’ll make new ones”), but try not to be. This is a big deal to your child, and she needs to know that you understand and care about her feelings. Some researchers have found that social disappointments and bullying can have a major impact on learning, so whether or not this seems like a big deal to you, it could be occupying a large part of your child’s thoughts and trickling into other parts of her life, such as school. Don’t, however, swing too far in the other direction and get too involved and start to take on her pain yourself. If you’re feeling anxious or hurt on behalf of your child, she may not feel comfortable being completely honest with you, and might even start telling you what you want to hear, just to help you feel better. Not good.
Offer support and encouragement. Perhaps for the next little while you’ll end up being the ones that your child spends most of her free time with, so use this time to boost her confidence and help her feel loved and valued. That will be the best insurance that she will build the resilience needed to make new friends and withstand the ups and downs that come with relationships. Think about other friends that you could encourage spending time with, someone on a sports team who attends another school, for example, or someone from church. It’s good to have different groups of friends so that a child never feels truly alone. Depending on how old your child is, perhaps setting up some play dates with other classmates, kids that your child is friendly with but hasn’t really developed a strong relationship with yet, might help.
As parents, we have to come to grips with the fact that we can’t control our children’s relationships. The most we can do is a bit of a post mortem on the friendship, and coach our children into understanding what may have happened and what they’d like to take with them into new relationships. Help your child see any behaviours that might have contributed to the problem, such as being too bossy or inflexible, or factors outside of her control that might have had an influence, such as different interests or pressure from other people on her friend. Friendships are important, and while we can’t spare all of the hurt that comes with being attached to others, we can help our kids to learn from the situation and continue to understand how to have good friendships and be a good friend.