Friendships are formed in every stage of life, but the bonds that develop during the tween and teen years can be especially important. Connections made during this time can have a dramatic impact on shaping one’s identity. Unfortunately, friendship breakups are common during adolescence and when friendships end, it can be hurtful and traumatizing. As a parent however, there is much you can do to help your child when an important friendship fades.
Friendships can end for many reasons, but regardless of the circumstances, your child will need to process the loss. Help your child by asking, “What would help you move on or accept this change?” It may also be appropriate to ask him or her what role they may have played in the relationship ending. Have them talk about the positives and negatives of being with this friend as a way to gain insight for what they would like to find in future friendships. Remind them that healing from a loss takes time. During this period, keep a close eye on your child to make sure they are taking care of themselves physically by eating, sleeping and exercising enough and socially by engaging with family and other friends.
Part of growing up is learning how to handle disappointment. While tween relationship may seem fickle, it is important to acknowledge your child’s pain.
Validate your child’s emotions. Let him or her talk about their feelings, complain or cry. Empathize with their situation.
Reassure them that friends often have misunderstandings and friendship breakups happen to everyone.
Talk about the importance of apologizing when appropriate.
Help your child identify other friends. Remind them of current friends and help them connect with new friends.
Assure your child that there is nothing wrong with them and remind them of their value.
Refrain from saying negative things about the ex-friend. They may decide to resume their friendship again.
Help your child recognize that when friendships end, the experience can provide an important learning opportunity. This can be a time for self-reflection and thinking about what truly makes a good friendship. Thirteen-year-old Aaliyah says this about her recent friendship that ended, “When Kim stopped talking to me I was sad, confused and didn’t know why. I talked to my mom about how Kim and I had arguments often about stupid stuff. My mom told me I deserved to have friends who treat me well. After a few weeks I felt better and started hanging out with Jana. She’s really nice and we never argue. I wouldn’t be so close with her if I still hung out with Kim all the time.” As the saying goes, when a door closes, a window opens. The loss of one relationship may open up the possibility for a new one.
Friendships among tweens can change rapidly and dramatically. As a parent, watching your child go through the pain of a friendship ending can be difficult. But, it can also be a time to help them develop resiliency for life’s many challenges. Stressful situations have the potential to result in increased depression or anxiety, so pay close attention to your children’s mental health and make sure they are not beginning to withdraw from others or disengage in daily activities. Check in with your children regularly to assess how things are going at school, with their peers and on social media. With an attentive, supportive parent at their side, kids will see that they will get through this situation and have many positive relationships in the future.