“You’re Not My Friend Anymore!”
Your child is playing nicely with friends, when suddenly you hear one child say, “You are not my friend anymore”, or “Me and Suzie do not like you.” or “You can’t play with us!” When a child’s feelings are hurt, parents feel devastated and wonder how to help. It is helpful to know that comments like these are common among young children and fall under the category of normal, social pain. Most children will experience friendship problems sometime in their lives. Typically, this does not lead to emotional scars. And yet, for many parents it is difficult to watch their child struggle socially. They are pained when their child is excluded or hurt by the words or actions of another.
Parents cannot protect their children from friendship struggles. Every child will both exhibit and experience unkind behavior at times. They will make poor choices as they learn, grow and develop. Despite the occasional discomforts of friendship, it is through peers that children learn to navigate conflicts, problem solve and develop social skills. Conflict nurtures coping skills and develops resiliency. So, what do I do when my child says, “Julie said she‘s not my friend anymore!” or is upset about a peer conflict?
Step 1: Remain Calm
Remind yourself that this is normal and does not mean the end of a friendship. Manage your own anxiety and fear. Often children say mean things when they are angry. Often, they do not mean what they say. Children tend to focus on the part of the school day or play date that did not go well and forget about the enjoyable parts.
Step 2: Listen and Empathize
Children MUST feel heard and accepted before they can calm down or listen to any other helpful suggestions from you. Say, “Oh, it sounds like it really hurt your feelings when Julie said that.”
Step 3: Ask open-ended questions and then listen
Show your child that you are interested in them and how they feel. By asking open-ended questions you will gain a better sense of what happened. Resist being a detective but rather help your child think about how to solve the problem. The following questions may be helpful:
“How did you handle it?” This lets kids know that they did handle it – they made it through the tough situation.
“What was happening when she said that?”
“What happened next?”
“Has it happened before or to anymore else?”
“Do you think she will be your friend when she feels better?”
“Do you like playing with her?”
“Would you like to be her friend?”
Step 4: Brainstorm ways to problem-solve
Help your child explore their options. Allow time for them to think and offer some ideas of your own with their permission. You might say, “Let’s talk about you choices. What ideas do you have?” Write down ALL ideas. If your child comes up with an idea you disapprove of, simply say, “That’s an idea” and put it on the list without judgment. Then say, “What else?” The list might look something like:
I could just play with someone else
I could talk to her and say “I feel bad when you say that, I want to be your friend”
I could say “I want to be your friend when you are ready”
I could go talk to my teacher or parent if I feel sad
I could just wait because I know that she gets mad a lot and then always comes to play with me again
Step 5: Evaluate the ideas together
Help your child think through each idea and weigh the pros and cons. Then, allow your child to choose the solution that feels best. They will figure out whether the choice works for them or not. Remember, it may not be the choice you would make but this is their learning opportunity.