Your Daughter Has Been Dumped by Her Best Friend
Source: Laurel-Ann Dooley
You see your child sad and your heart breaks for her. You would do anything to fix things. But before you jump in, take a step back. Dr. Michael Bradley, psychologist and expert on adolescent behavior, offers advice and insight to parents confronting this difficult situation.
Interview by Laurel-Ann Dooley
Q: First of all, how important is a best friend in the lives of girls ages 8-11?
Dr. Bradley: A best friend plays a huge role developmentally because through it, kids begin to learn about sophisticated concepts like trust, loyalty, empathy, compassion, and tolerance. The relationship with a best friend at this age is experimental and also very intense. It is a precursor to adult intense relationships, where you also encounter jealousy.
Q: If your child feels abandoned by her best friend -- maybe the friend is spending more time with someone else and not including your child -- what can you do to make her feel better? Even understanding that your child is only telling you her interpretation of the situation, when you see her tears, you want to make them stop.
I always tell parents that they have to start with a mission statement. In the past, that usually was "how do I protect my child?" But times have changed, and the parental mission must change as well. Now, instead of "how do I protect my child," it is "how do I teach my child to protect herself?" Kids are exposed to so many things so much sooner. This means that relationship issues come up sooner, and kids find themselves ill-prepared to deal with them.
Q: So how do we prepare our kids? What can we do to help them handle relationship issues?
Dr. Bradley: First, we have to understand that, as parents, we are often looking for our children to have these perfect relationships, when in fact, we shouldn't want them to be perfect. Kids need to learn conflict resolution. As parents, we need to help them build their skills socially, to help them learn how to resolve friendship conflict.
Q: As a parent, though, it is hard to watch your child suffer. The instinct is to console, sympathize, and then try to fix the situation. But you are saying that we should recognize best friend troubles as an opportunity to teach relationship skills?
Dr. Bradley: Part of the best friend relationship is its role in helping a girl develop her own identity. Girls are hard-wired to do the group, clique thing, and competition for friends is very common. Girls put a whole lot of self-value in who their friends are and can become panicked at the thought of losing a relationship. As a parent, this is real gold to be mined because girls, in their panic to hold onto friends, can suppress their own identities and what's important to them. They lose their self-value.
When parents see their girls going through a best friend crisis, they can use questions to help them sort out their feelings. Ask your daughter: "What did you say? What did you want to say? What were you afraid would happen if you did say that? What is the worst thing that could have happened if you did?" Then help fill in the blanks. "Yes, you might have become frustrated. But is that really enough to stop you from being who you want to be and saying what you want to say?"
If they are worried about being without a best friend, ask them: "What really bad thing could happen if you didn't have a best friend?" With that perspective, they will come to see that they are strong and fine on their own and they will learn that they don't need other people to give them their identity. They will learn to value themselves.
Laurel-Ann Dooley is the author of Best Friend Thief, the first in a new fiction series for girls called Between Best Friends.