Q. My middle school daughter was dropped by her best friend. They were “besties” since third grade, then suddenly my daughter was excluded from her friend’s plans, and her friend won’t answer my daughter’s texts. I want to call her mother to see what we can do, but will it make the situation better or worse?
A. While you’re feeling your daughter’s emotional pain and want to “fix” the friendship, it’s better not to interfere. This breakup is an important learning opportunity for your daughter. Dealing with it herself—with your support—will provide her confidence and skills to deal appropriately with breakups in the future.
First let’s look at some possible reasons why these two became friends and why the friendship was dropped. In third to fifth grade, close friendships are usually formed around common interests, such as sports. Although breakups can occur during this time, it’s the middle school years when children tend to find new best friends and leave old ones behind. Sometimes these breakups occur because interests change. I recall drifting away from a best friend in middle school because I stopped playing the violin.
While middle school children seek friends and groups with common interests, they may also seek new people with different behaviors and interests. Preteens and teens are developing their identity around this time and try to discover through others what kind of person they want to be. And we’ve all sought friends that complement our own qualities. For example, a timid person may be attracted to someone who speaks up.
Is the former “bestie” just a mean girl? Probably not. It’s more likely that she has simply found new friends with interests that appeal to her. Most likely, she has figured out that choosing her own friends is one of the few ways to assert her independence.
While it is helpful to have a framework for understanding how your daughter came to be dropped, it is equally important to look at ways you can help her work through this breakup. Here are some suggestions:
- Be ready to listen. Let your child know you see her hurt and are willing to listen without saying anything or trying to fix anything. Offer a safe place to talk and be heard, free of worry about your reaction.
- Don’t offer negative comments such as “you are better off without her.” Your child may later decide it’s not true. She may need to talk about the good and bad parts of the relationship. Just listen.
- If your child wants to discuss the breakup on social media, suggest that she talk about or write down why this would or would not be a good idea. It’s definitely not a good idea, but you want her to figure it out for herself.
- Give your child some undivided attention.
- Consider offering your child a new activity to focus on. This activity needs to be something she’s interested in and that could lead to new friendships. It will also help your child have an outlet for energy and less time to obsess on the breakup.
- Model healthy behaviors in your own adult friendships, including your significant other.
- Ask questions rather than tell. For example, “what do you think would help you get through this breakup?”
Relationships are one of the most challenging areas of a child’s life. How your daughter meets this early challenge will affect how she manages her relationships in the future. You are a good mother to support her while you let her problem solve her way through this situation.
Betty Richardson, Ph.D., R.N.C., L.P.C., L.M.F.T., is an Austin-based psychotherapist who specializes in dealing with the problems of children, adolescents and parents.
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