Monday, May 18, 2009

BFF No More

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“My daughter’s best friend is shunning her,” a reader wrote. “What is she to do?”

This hard, painful loss of a friend is also painful for the caregiver trying to help the child through a bad situation.

“My daughter sort of put all her eggs in one basket with this friend. She really doesn’t have other friends separate from this child. She’s having a hard time.”

Another person told me she had two daughters who experienced a “shunning” within about two months of each other. Her youngest called her long-time best friend a name in anger. The long-time best friend punished her by alienating the child from all their friends. The mother said, “I don’t know what to do. That child is her life. My child’s world evolves around that child.”

Thinking back to my own childhood experiences, I can look from both perspectives—I remember being shunned and being the shunner. Being shunned is, of course, the painful side. A friend told me recently, “I remember eating lots of lunches by myself in middle school.”

How can parents help a child move past a dying friendship so she can meet new people?

I encouraged the lady who emailed me to talk to her child. “Remind her about all the people who do love and care for her.”

I also suggested that she help her daughter build a wider net of possibilities…like adding an extracurricular activity or finding a club of children with similar interests who might also attend different schools.

For example, my daughter enjoys anima (Japanese cartoons). Because of its growing popularity our local library hosts a biweekly Manga Club, which means she has recently met a new group of children who have a similar interest.

If there is not a group for the child’s interest, the parent might work with the library to start one.

Maybe one of the lessons here is introduce your child to many people in many different environments so he is not completely alone if a friend suddenly decides to change the rules.

Something else I talked to this mom about was coaching her daughter through it. Give your child information that will help him or her deal with the loss. First of all, don’t minimize it. It’s painful to lose a close friend. Next, help your child develop solutions and/or options.

A coaching dialogue might run along these lines: “What do you normally do at lunch?”

Your child might respond, “Sit with Joanie. But that’s not going to work anymore.”

Then help her think about what she can do instead. “You like Rachel, right? Where does she sit?”
The mother I coached worked with her daughter on every situation from arriving to school, to lunch and breaks. “What do you do between classes? What can you do instead?” She also talked to her daughter about looking for new people to befriend.

Probably the hardest lesson for a child (and an adult to learn) is the need to let go of the person who is attempting to pull away. The more you grab, the more the other person will resist. Eventually, the person will get away from you. The best way to keep someone, and there are no guarantees, is to let them go.

After a month, I followed up with the mom. Turns out there was a happy ending to this story—well, at least for now.

We all know that as one lives life, people will come and go. Though it sometimes hurts a lot, it’s true that losing one close relationship opens up opportunities for many more enriching experiences.
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