When Good Friends are Not Such Good Friends

Just when you feel like things are going well and you’ve got a handle on life for the moment, you’re hit with a bout of your child’s social drama (cue the music). It comes out of nowhere as far as you’re concerned because you’re not in the thick of it at school and on social media every day. It’s the worst and it can break a parent’s heart. Your daughter comes home in tears because kids are talking behind her back (or worse, messaging online). Or your son comes home and is strangely quiet and disconnected from his friends.

 Photo by  Janko Ferlič  on  Unsplash

Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

With your daughter’s issue, remember to breathe. It can make you emotional to see your girl in tears, and it can be maddening to think about what kids are saying, and worse, why they are saying it. And then you find out that her friends are the ones spreading the gossip. It seems unimaginable, but you can’t stop it and you can’t change it. What you can do is talk to your daughter about her choices and support her through making them. Remind her that she has options, maybe even other friends outside the school community. Once she’s decided what her next step will be, help her practice with role-playing and through casual conversation. What different responses might she get if she ignores, confronts the person/people involved, for example, if that’s the path she chooses?

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As for your son, when kids are quiet it can be tricky to even determine if something is amiss. If your son is one who usually opens up but lately hasn’t been, it’s time to start digging. If he’s usually one to keep to himself, give it a while and wait to see if he comes to you. As in the example above, you cannot make it all better, but you can talk about what options he has and help him think through the ones that make the most sense and that he is most comfortable with. Is the relationship worth saving? If so, a conversation with the other boy might be in order. If it’s just a casual friendship, conversation might not be as productive. Which is your son leaning toward? Can he think of another alternative?

Your instinct in both cases will be to jump in with a lot of questions and your own ideas about how to address the problem. Resist this temptation to fix. And if you’ve already done it, then resist doing so moving forward. Your child will develop resilience and confidence if they are the ones to resolve the issue. It may not all turn out perfectly, and it might even get worse, but there is a learning moment in here for them and a crucial developmental milestone. In order for our kids to grow into adults with healthy and meaningful interpersonal skills, they must learn to navigate relationships - and here is the prime opportunity. Remember, no choice is final. And it’s important to share this with your child. If your daughter chooses to ignore the comments and move on but they seem to be getting worse, she can change course and decide to go to the school counselor or talk directly with the kids gossiping. If your son chooses to confront his friends and it doesn’t go well, he can regroup and make a new choice tomorrow.