Friends are an integral part to your child’s development. Whether they have great friends or questionable friends, peers really help shape our children’s social development. As a parent coach, I am often asked about peer relationships and how parents can help guide their children to making healthy decisions when it comes to making friends. But, what happens when your child’s loses a friend? This can be an oft-forgotten event in our child’s life that needs just as much support as when they are making friends.
Friend breakups are tough on our children and the ways that we help them through it can shape how they approach new relationships in the future. When you think about all that goes into developing a best friend relationship, you can only imagine how devastating it can be to lose that friendship. Concepts such as trust, loyalty and self-esteem all need to be addressed and nurtured as our children come to terms with what it means to either break up with a friend or have a friend break up with them. Dr. Traci Lowenthal, a licensed psychologist, says, “It’s important for parents to understand and empathize with their child’s struggle—but also provide the tools for their kids to manage these emotionally difficult circumstances.”
And that’s just what I’m going to discuss here: the tools you’ll need to help your child cope through a break up with their best friend. Here are my four top tips.
Give Her a safe space
It can be tempting to jump in and want to solve this issue for your child with opinion and advice. And, while they may need that, I encourage you to create a space where you child can experience all the emotions that come with breaking up with her best friend. She will feel angry, hurt and, ultimately, aloof about the situation. If she knows that she has a safe space to explore all those feelings she will be more likely to let you help her move through them. Another reason for creating this safe space for your child after a BFF breakup: She will come to you when she is ready to start looking for friends in the future.
Understand the grieving process
Losing anything in our lives is difficult, and losing a best friend is no different. Your child will go through the grieving process just as if she lost anything else, so the best way to be a support is to understand this process and help her move through it in a healthy way. It is likely that you child will experience the classic stages of grief following the breakup, including denial, isolation, anger, bargaining (suggesting that there was something the should have done to stop the breakup), depression and acceptance. As you watch your child go through this, it will be hard and you will want to rush her through the process. The truth is that you can’t rush it—but you can bring awareness and reassurance, letting her know that this is a normal process she must endure, and also that you’re there to help guide her through it.
Leave your judgments at the door
Just as tempting as it can be to try to make your child’s hurt and frustration go away following a serious fight with a close friend, it can also be tempting to share your own opinions about your child’s friend in an attempt to help her recover. When you find out about the breakup, I encourage you to be curious about what happened, but leave what your personal feelings about the situation (or your child’s friend) out of the discussion. Sherry Beven of The Confident Mother says, “It may blow over, so don’t use this as the opportunity to give all the reasons why you’re glad they have broken up.”
Whether it is a temporary breakup or a permanent one, adding your perspective to the equation impedes your child from developing her own ideas about what traits she wants in a friend. A good way to keep your judgments at bay is to talk to your child about what makes a great friend in someone else and what makes her a great friend. This way she can begin to create an image of what she needs in a friendship as opposed to searching for friends based on your criteria.
Be mindful of what your child needs
One thing that is true of this whole process is that your child is going to need support. But the type of support she needs can be found in knowing who your child is and how she generally responds to similar issues. It will be different for everyone, but if you know your child, that knowledge can help you determine how much or how little support to give her as she goes through this process. Be aware of why the friendship dissolved and how feelings about the breakup are showing up in her daily life.
Lowenthal notes that friendships break up for a variety of reasons and these breakups can show up as “emotional distress [such as] changing in eating, sleeping, irritability, etc.” So, with that in mind, I suggest observing your child more after a BFF breakup and watching how her normal activities are changing. “Checking in with your child frequently and allowing them process their experience of the break up may be useful for some kids, while others may need a more assertive, normalizing conversation depending on who ended the friendship and why,” Lowenthal adds.
Seeing your child hurting because of a best friend breakup can be just as difficult on her as it is on you. Your instinct to make it all go away can sometimes trump the process of your child growing and learning from this experience, but these tips should give you some help in guiding your child to healing from a best friend breakup in a healthy way.