As adults, we can all relate to what it feels like to go through a ‘breakup,’ and all of the subsequent feelings that go along with it. Whether it be with a significant other, a business relationship or a friendship, there are often unresolved feelings related to the situation. For children, a friendship-breakup is typically their first exposure to the sentiments of a “breakup.”
In order to be able to best help your child manage and navigate this new and scary concept, we must first consider the fundamentals of a Breakup. For starters, in order for something to ‘break-up,’ it implies that the relationship was previously intact. This means that at one point, things were going well, sometimes really well…. And then it stopped.
Here are some steps you can follow to help your child through a friendship break-up:
- Create a safe space for your child to express self. This can mean setting aside special alone time with no other distractions for the two of you (or three of you if there are two parents present) to connect. It is important to be especially mindful of your facial/behavioral/vocal reactions to the things your child expresses. Your child is going to learn, based on your reactions, what is safe to share and what is not. For example, if you appear to be overly emotional about the situation, your child in the future may choose to withhold certain information as means to protect mom/dad from becoming upset, etc. If you appear to be unemotional or too blunt/direct, your child will receive the message that these types of situations do not warrant discussing.
- Validate + Normalize your child’s feelings. When they are expressing certain feelings and/or circumstances, it can often feel comforting for children (people, in general) to know that they are not alone in their feelings. Perhaps sharing a similar story from your childhood can help to normalize your child’s experience. In managing your reaction/s, be mindful not to minimize your child’s feelings by skipping straight to the ‘problem solving.’ This middle step of Validation and Normalization is essential so that your child can identify feelings, practice expressing and articulating them, which ultimately requires your child to practice being vulnerable—a difficult yet incredibly important life skill.
- Problem Solve together. I recommend to start by first asking your child what ideas/thoughts he or she may have relating to how to handle the situation. Perhaps your child has already tried to do certain things on their own. This is a perfect safe space to share those experiences and discuss and process why your child felt it did or did not work. This may often give you, as the parent, deep insight into the innerworkings of your child’s mind by showcasing for you the ideas they gravitated towards on their own.
- Define the word, “friendship,” together. With your guidance, it can feel helpful for children to define the term friendship. Pending the age of the child, I recommend that the child either draw pictures or write down words on a piece of paper describing what friendship means to them. This can serve as a nice visual to guide dialogue so that the child can compare his or her definition of friendship with the way they describe their current dynamic with the friendship being discussed. This will highlight any discrepancies. For example, if your child lists, “good at sharing” as a characteristic a ‘friend’ should possess, yet also identifies feeling upset that their friend never shares… this can be an area to look at a little closer.
- Practice positive self-talk. Oftentimes, a breakup can cause an individual to question their self-worth. For example, “Am I not good enough?” or “It’s all my fault.” By practicing positive self-talk together, you are able to set a nice example and model for your child the types of things you say to yourself to help yourself feel better. One way to do this, is to turn any negative statements—into positives!
Click here to learn How Social Groups Can Help Your Child Navigate Friendships.