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‘My child has fallen out with her best friend. She doesn’t want to go to school. What can I do?’

‘My child has fallen out with her best friend. She doesn’t want to go to school. What can I do?’

My 15 year old daughter has recently fallen out with her best friend and now she has no friends. Her friend has started to say things about her, our once bubbly lovely and happy girl is now ostracised from her peer group. She is anxious and doesn’t want to go to school. Myself and my husband are beside ourselves with worry, we don’t know what to do. She has begged me not to contact her friend’s parents, but I don’t know what to do. Should I contact them? Should I contact the school? Please we need help. 

Watching a child struggle with their peer group, can be one of the most difficult experiences we go through as parents. The first tip I would give you, is to watch your response to your daughters current difficulty. Our own childhood is never far from how we parent our children. Nearly all of us experience bullying to some degree and so if you were targeted or excluded by your friend or group of friends when you were young, this experience can bring up all of those negative feelings.

But remember, you came through that experience and survived it. Your child will also come through this experience but how you support them now during this difficult time will be vitally important for their levels of resilience and self-esteem. 

We can deplete their reservoir of resilience when we become agitated and anxious about what his happening to them. So, watch your reaction and be calm as they talk to you about their feelings and what is currently happening. listening is such an important part of supporting your child through a bullying experience.

Our initial reaction is to try to immediately solve the issue for our child, but just think about this, would it be better for your child to solve the issue or for you to solve it for them, and is it even possible for you to solve this problem. Probably not. 

That can be a very uncomfortable realisation for us to come to, as parents. We want to protect our children from danger and harm, but falling out with friends is a normal part of adolescence. Try to be calm and ask questions, rather than try to solve the problem. For example, asking questions like, “What do you think you could do to improve the relationship?”

“‘Is there anything you are doing that isn’t helping?”

“Are their people other than that group that you like?’”

 Richard Hogan. Picture: Moya Nolan
Richard Hogan. Picture: Moya Nolan

Often children narrow down their friendship group to only a few people, but there are other children in that class that she could be friendly with. In my experience, that can be the difference between feeling isolated and connected to friends. Teenage girls, in particular, experience what your daughter is experiencing, and often the answer is building new friends. That could restore her confidence, and let her see that other people value her too. 

Often children believe that the friends they have are the only friends they can have, and that is not the case. Help her to see that and to think about developing other friendships. 

You asked the question, should you contact her friends parents and the school? It really depends on your relationship with their parents. They were best friends, so I’d imagine you have a relationship with them. If you trust them to handle the information with sensitivity I would meet them to discuss what has happened and how you both could support your daughters to rebuild their friendship again. I have often worked with this issue and it is often very easily fixed with a little combined help from the parents. 

Children don’t like to lose face or be the ones to acknowledge they want to have a friendship with each other. So, it might require sitting them down and letting them talk it out. They might not want to do that, and this friendship might be over. If that is the case you have to support her in a calm way, friendships don’t always last and who knows they might become friends again later in life. The fact that she is saying something mean and unpleasant about your daughter, suggests that it might be over. 

I would contact the year head of her group in school, and inform them what is currently happening and ask them to keep an eye on it. Bullying in any form should not be accepted and there should be consequences for that girl if she has started to target your daughter. But it is vitally important that it doesn’t look like your daughter has told the teachers what is going on, because this will further alienate her. 

In my experience, working in schools, this is very common and intervening as a year head might help them to talk about what it is they are upset with each other for. Something has happened, that your daughter hasn’t talked to you about, and if a teacher is aware of the rupture and catches them in a negative interaction, if it is handled carefully, could be the starting point of a healing conversation.

Watching children struggle with their friendship group is a very difficult experience for parents. But remember, we all struggled at some point with our friends, we fell into and out of friendships along the sinuous road of adolescence. It was difficult at times, but we learned about ourselves in those experiences.

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