Every child experiences friendship breakups at some point. They often fall out with their friends and then make up again quickly afterwards, but that doesn’t mean these friendship problems aren’t important. Falling out with a friend can feel like the end of the world to your child.
So how can you help them when they go through friendship breakups?
1: Listen to them
It’s hard to be a good listener. We jump in with helpful advice, or tell stories about how we got through similar experiences. But good listening gives your child the encouragement they need to open up.
To have good conversations:
- Be led by them rather than forcing a conversation
- Think about their schedule to pick the best times to approach them
- Really focus on them by putting your phone away and not getting distracted by other things
- Talk while out for a walk, cooking, or tidying up to stop it feeling too intense
- Keep calm to show them talking about problems is the right thing to do
- Listen carefully and repeat back what you think they’ve said to check
- Don’t turn it into an interrogation by asking lots of questions
For more ideas about improving conversations for the whole family, our popular video series called The Ask is full of helpful advice.
2: Validate their feelings about friendship breakups
There are lots of phrases we say when our children fall out with their friends:
- “You’ll soon get over it”
- “Kids always fall out”
- “You’ll be friends again by tomorrow”
We mean well, but actually, this tells your child the powerful emotions they’re feeling are unimportant. They can’t imagine feeling better soon. Dismissing their emotions creates a barrier between you.
Validating means acknowledging and accepting how your child is feeling. You could say, “Yes, it does hurt when you fall out with a friend,” so they can see you understand how they feel.
3: Don’t judge
You might be upset or angry at how your child’s been treated by their friend. Whatever the cause of friendship breakups, remember you’re only hearing one side of the story. We all naturally rework our memories to make ourselves look better.
This is not the time to tell your child how much you disliked their friend or that you think they’re unsuitable for them. They’re important to your child. Put aside how you feel about the friendship and concentrate on how your child’s feeling.
4: Discuss what makes a good friendship
It’s easy for us as parents to see problems. You know if a friendship seems unequal. They might constantly fall out, or perhaps you disapprove of the friend.
Avoid telling your child you don’t like this friend or ban them from being together. This creates tension and arguments and might make your child stubbornly cling onto the friendship rather than it naturally ending in time.
- Break up the friendship for them
- Ban them from seeing each other
- Tell them what’s wrong with the friendship
- Talk about what makes a good friend
- Share your values
- Highlight examples of good friendship in books and on screen
- Give problem friendships time to fade away naturally
- Comfort them when the friendship breaks down
5: Don’t get involved
Are you tempted to sort it all out yourself? Before you start calling parents or confronting the friend, consider this an opportunity for your child to learn how to solve problems independently. This is an essential part of learning how to build strong relationships and communication skills.
That doesn’t mean just leaving them to get on with it. Instead, you can be supportive and encourage them to find the solutions to problems, rather than telling them what they should do.
6: Boost their self esteem
Friends know exactly what to say to hurt you most. Breaking up with a friend can be a huge knock to your child’s self-esteem and confidence.
To help boost your child’s self-esteem:
- Remind them of the things they’re good at
- Find meaningful opportunities to praise them
- Show them how loved they are
It’s difficult to get this right. Too much praise for no real reason becomes meaningless.
Be specific by telling them what they did well. So instead of saying, “good job” or “well done,” you might say, “You did really well in that test,” or, “I like the way you helped your sister.” Choose your moments carefully and try to be subtle rather than heaping on the praise.
7: Keep them healthy
If a friendship breakup is particularly difficult, your child may try to hide away in their room, seem withdrawn, and it could affect their appetite. This is completely natural and they will usually be back to their normal self within a few days.
Encourage them to be healthy and get out in fresh air wherever possible. Get them to talk to other friends and family members. Allow them time alone to process their feelings, but avoid letting them isolate themselves.
Most children quickly recover from a friendship breakdown, but if your child seems really unhappy for a long time, is having problems with food, self harming, or you feel worried they may be depressed, seek immediate professional help from your GP.