Peer Relationships: Supporting your Child Through the Pain and Hurt of Friendships

Q. My 8 yr. old daughter, M, started playing with B last year and became her best friend. Towards the end of the year M became quite possessive of B. The situation escalated when B’s mother decided to “ban” B from playing with M. When this school year began, the ban was still on. I learned of it for the first time and also talked to the other mum. M was confused and angry, thought B was lying about the ban. She called her a liar and shouted at her which is very unlike M. She was still not ready to talk to me about it, so I couldn’t comfort or reassure her. It seems to me that girls this age don’t know how to play in groups at school.

I will organise more playdates for M with other friends, and keep communicating with her teacher. I find it very difficult when the other mother calls frequently to discuss this. She seems to be projecting adult expectations and anxiety onto B by daily inquisitions about life at school. So the girls are not left to resolve this between themselves. M has been saying she doesn’t want to go to school, and I can tell it has affected her. Any tips about friendships?

A. Friendships between girls this age are tough and can get far worse. You’re right about them not having the skills to handle the blows of hurt feelings and “bans” they can have with each other. It is so tempting to tell our children what they should do. We often find ourselves projecting onto the situation — that sounds like what the other mother is doing.

The most effective choice is to be your child’s advocate and coach her through her problem without telling her what to do. She will be more likely to share what is going on if she knows you are not going to do something about it. If she says something like, “Nobody likes me,” the best thing to begin with is validation of her feelings: “It must feel really crummy to think that nobody likes you” or “Boy, I’d feel confused and angry if suddenly my friend said she can’t play with me anymore. I wonder what’s up.” You will connect with her feelings and then position yourself as a sounding board for her to bounce her own thoughts and feelings off of. This will give her the chance to hear herself.

She may need to let down and cry or get really angry. Let her. Then facilitate her thinking through her own problem-solving.

Questions like:

  • What would you like to do about this?
  • What do you think you could say that she could hear without feeling blamed or hurt back?
  • What do you want from her?
  • How do you want this to turn out?
  • Is there something you’d like me to help you with?

These questions send her the message that she is capable of handling the situation and that you are her ally. The most important aspect is not to fix it for her. That doesn’t allow M to learn how to manage her way. When the other mother calls, it may be best to say that all you can do is help M through this without getting the two mothers involved. Maybe she’ll take the hint.

The other piece here is getting to the bottom of why your daughter became possessive of B. Once you have solid connection and your daughter trusts that you are only helping her and not scolding or directing her to do what you think, you can address this piece. To connect, make statements, don’t ask questions:

  • I wonder if you thought B was ignoring you.
  • It sounds like you were afraid you were losing her as a friend.
  • If she was paying more attention to other girls, I can imagine you might have thought you were losing her.

If she opens up about that, then problem solve that piece as well. 

  • Do you think it worked for you to try to keep her away from the others?
  • What is it you wanted from her?
  • Is there a different way you can think of that might have gotten your point across to her? And finally,
  • Do you still want to be friends with her?
  • Do you think she is worth your time and effort to be your friend?
  • Do you think you can trust her to be there for you?

When she balks about going to school, let her know you understand how hard it must feel and that you know she is strong enough to get through this. Let her know you are there at the end of every day to dump out all her feelings on – if she wants.

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