Helping Children Deal with a Lost Friendship
Allow them to cry
When our children hurt, we hurt. We know what it is like to lose someone or something that we care about deeply. We have also been around long enough to know that friends come and go. It is tempting to tell our children, "You'll get over it," "They weren't your friend anyway," or "They were just not good enough for you." To do so is to tell your child that he or she is not important, that the friendship they had was trivial, and that feeling hurt is wrong or bad.
Allowing our children to cry when they feel emotional pain serves a purpose. It gives them the opportunity to own their feelings and work through them. In her book, "Feelings Buried Alive Never Die," Karol K. Truman teaches that it is better to resolve feelings when they occur. If we put them aside hoping they will go away, they come back later as physical symptoms and/or emotional problems.
Help children to identify their feelings
Children have a very limited view of their own mortality. They do not have the wisdom of age that has been tempered by the passing of time. To them, the present moment is all there is. Allowing them to experience loss in friendship allows them to learn how to deal with loss in the future, whether it be pets, jobs, friends, or family members.
Loss results in a wide variety of feelings. Children may feel hurt because mean things were said. Perhaps there is sadness that the friend doesn't want to spend time with them anymore. They may be angry at themselves for allowing the friend to leave, or at the friend for finding someone else that they liked better. There may be poignant loneliness accompanied by hopelessness, and even despair.
Since children do not have the words to adequately express their feelings, it is necessary for adults to help them find the words to use. This can be done most effectively with reflective listening techniques. The following is an example of a conversation where a parent noticed that their child was having a difficult time:
Has your child experienced loss of a friendship recently?
Parent: You seem sad.
Child: Yea, I don't have any friends.
Parent: You can't find anyone to come over?
Child: Nobody wants to play with me.
Parent: You feel lonely.
Child: They used to play with me, but they don't want to anymore.
Parent: Something happened?
Child: Yea, a new kid moved in down the street.
Parent: Have you met the new kid?
Child: Not yet, gotta go, see you later!
We have no idea what perspective the child is coming from, as we were not there during the situation. Someone could have said, "Let's go see that new kid that lives down the block."
The child may have interpreted this remark to mean, "We don't want to play with you, there is someone better" or "We are tired of doing the same old thing over and over again, we don't want you around." Instead of joining them and going to see the new kid, the child may have simply held back and dropped out of the group.
Perhaps there were hurtful things said by someone who meant well, but did not know the child or his/her background. Children usually say the first thing that comes to their minds, without holding back. As adults, we are more careful, because we know how hurtful certain things can be when said inadvertently.
Helping your child to understand and work through their feelings may take only one reflective listening session, or it may take many. No matter, allowing them to solve the problem themselves rather than giving them the answer gives them tools they can use in the future to understand what they are feeling and deal with it appropriately.
Channel anger into productive activity
It has been said that hurt is present pain and anger is past pain. Anger is often the result of unresolved emotions that are jumbled together. In dealing with loss, it may be a combination of disappointment, loneliness, pain, hopelessness, and frustration.
Each of these emotions by itself can be difficult to deal with. Having them all at once may lead to lashing out or, even worse, turning against oneself. Children have to be taught to use the energy of their anger in productive ways, otherwise, people can get hurt. It is natural when angry to want to hurt another person, to damage their property, or in some other way get revenge. Unfortunately, the aftermath of revenge is only sorrow and regret.
It is our responsibility as adults to take them by the hand and help them expend their energy through rigorous physical activity, i.e. running, playing ball, riding bike, swimming, building (pounding nails and sawing boards), lifting heavy objects, chopping wood, doing yard work, and/or cleaning. Allowing them to express their feelings during the activity will assist them in working through the difficult emotions they are experiencing.
Help them have compassion for others who are hurting
Sometimes, children say things that are hurtful when they don't understand what is happening. Changing circumstances can be easily misinterpreted. For example, a girl receives a gift from a grandparent of an expensive piece of clothing. When the item is worn, others become jealous and think that she stole the item, or even worse, bought it at a thrift store. Comments made make the girl feel ostracized, and she says, "I hate you" to her tormentors and stomps away. When she arrives home, she throws things around, shouts, and swears at family members.
We can help the child work through these things using reflective listening techniques. The following is an example:
Parent: You are angry.
Child: I hate this place! Why do we have to live here anyway!
Parent: Something happened at school.
Child: I hate these clothes, why don't we have any money!?
Parent: Someone said something hurtful about your clothing.
Child: That Sara, she is so mean! I just hate her!
Parent: Sara was unkind.
Child: I never want to see her again!
Parent: You feel hurt.
Child: She used to be my friend!
Parent: Sara isn't your friend any more.
Child: I can't believe she said that to me.
Parent: I hope you don't treat other people like that.
Child: I won't. I feel so bad.
Parent: Here, let me give you a hug.
The parent has just helped the child to see from another person's point of view. The next time the child is in a position to say something hurtful and unfeeling to someone, it may not happen. Feelings are remembered more poignantly than words. Although others may be insensitive toward them, they know what it feels like enough to not want it to happen again. It may be that compassion is developed, and feelings of charity engendered in the child.
Loss in relationships is inevitable. People come and go, circumstances change, and we are not in control of the actions of others. We can help our children to deal with friendship loss by allowing them to cry, helping them to identify and express their feelings through reflective listening, channeling their feelings to productivity, and having compassion for others.
As we do these things, we are setting the stage for future experiences our children will surely have. They may be jilted in romance, lose their jobs to financial difficulty, and have their homes destroyed by natural disaster. They will surely loose loved ones close to them in death. Helping them have the tools to deal with loss early in their lives gives them the strength to deal with it appropriately when others are depending upon them for support.
How do you feel when your child is dealing with friendship loss?
© 2012 Denise W Anderson