For parents, watching children struggle through the hurt of losing a friend can be as bad as going through such a loss ourselves. Helping your child cope with the loss of a friendship takes time and understanding.
Like adult relationships, children's friendships are usually formed by physical proximity (being together in a class, sport, or neighborhood) or shared values and interests (such as scouts or youth group). When any of these factors change, the friendship may, too. In her book Friendshifts (Hannacroix Creek Books), Dr. Jan Yager says, "Casual friendships most often end because of inconvenience. When the shared situation ends, so does the friendship."
Sometimes there is a particular reason for the friendship to end. If it was a longstanding and significant friendship, help your child evaluate whether the shift is truly an "end" to the relationship or simply a conflict that needs to be resolved. Ask your child if something happened between him and his friend. If so, suggest that your child take the first step and call his friend to discuss the situation. Conflict is uncomfortable and there is a strong pull to simply ignore the predicament and hope it will work itself out. Offer your support as your child makes an effort to reconcile with his friend.
You can also help your child learn to monitor a relationship's vital signs. The discontinuation of playdates and invitations, unreturned phone calls, and the cold shoulder when the kids are together are all signs that the friendship is probably over. At this point, the best advice is to stay out of it except to offer behind-the-scenes emotional support. Don't call the friend's parents and demand that your child be included, or try to force uncomfortable social situations in an attempt to mend the unmendable. Encourage your child to remain friendly with the former pal, but to seek out new friends as well.
When a friendship ends, your child may experience a kind of grief. Yager says, "The emotional end of a friendship requires accepting the reality of its end, and mourning the dreams you may have had about the longevity of this relationship." The best way for your child to recover from the loss is to seek out new friends, enhance his commitments to other friends, or participate in new activities. A child will often personalize the experience and wonder if he did something to make his friend not like him anymore. Explain to your child that changes in friendships are normal and that there is nothing wrong with him. You may want to relate a similar experience from your own life. Pray with your child and ask God to help him find a new friend. Helping our children learn to make and lose friends with grace is one of the hardest but most important skills we can give them.
The book of Proverbs is a tremendous resource for verses on friendship, making good choices, and treating other people with kindness. Here are a few proverbs your child can take to heart:
For a child who wonders why friends come and go, look at Proverbs 14:20: "The poor are shunned even by their neighbors, but the rich have many friends."
A shy child can find the courage to be friendly in Proverbs 15:30: "A cheerful look brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones."
If your child is falling in with dangerous friends, point her to Proverbs 10:9: "The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out."
When a child is the subject of hurtful gossip, offer comfort with Proverbs 19:5: "A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who pours out lies will not go free."
For a child who struggles with keeping friends because of a short temper or bossiness, read Proverbs 16:24: "Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones."
Copyright © 2001 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian Parenting Today Magazine.
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