Friendship Fact #4 reminds children that: Friendships change…and that’s okay! But, the reality is, it doesn’t always feel okay at first. Sometimes, it feels painful and hard and we see kids resisting the change.

This Friendship Fact is, undoubtedly, the hardest one for tweens to wrap their heads around. As kids approach adolescence, it is very common for their friendships to shift. This is a dynamic stage in their development, as they begin to figure out who they are and what they believe in. Naturally, changing interests and opinions results in changing friendships.

It’s important for children to accept that friendships are always changing because we are always changing. Not all friendships were meant to last forever and we want them to get comfortable with the natural ebb and flow of friendship. Like the Marie Kondo Method, if it doesn’t spark joy, it’s time to let it go.

Change can feel really hard and sometimes children struggle to accept the very normal, common process of growing apart from a friend. In more serious circumstances, where they’ve been friends for a very long time, a friendship break-up can feel as painful as death – the equivalent of losing a loved one. Depending on the depth of the friendship, some children may go through, what David Kessler & Elisabeth Kübler-Ross have identified as, The 6 Stages of Grief. For a child, a friendship break-up might look something like this:  

  • Denial: They hold on to the way the friendship used to be and try to act like it hasn’t changed, perhaps still referring to this person as their best friend (despite it not feeling that way).
  • Anger: They feel frustrated with their friend and annoyed by the little things, sparking lots of little (and big) Friendship Fires®.
  • Depression: This is the stage where they really take it personally and tears emerge, sometimes crying a lot after school when they get home. Older children might appear sullen or withdrawn.
  • Bargaining: In this stage, they might be opening up a little more, sharing their story with others and seeking comfort.
  • Acceptance: They begin to form new friendships and come to terms with ‘letting go’ of the friendship.
  • Meaning: This is when they can look back on the situation and feel a sense of gratitude for what they learned from this friendship.

Whether you feel your child is working their way through the stages of grief and loss, or is simply just adjusting to the “new normal” of a changing friendship, there are lots of ways you can support them.

Here is a list of strategies to help your child move forward after a friendship break-up depending on how they’re coping:

Note: Parents, log-in to your free family membership to access the activities. Teachers, URSTRONG Schools can access these resources in the parent portal.

*Is your child struggling with self-respect? Continue to remind them they deserve healthy, Green-Zone friends.

    • For a child who is clinging on to a friend who is trying to push them away, you might ask them: “Why on Earth would you want to be friends with someone who doesn’t want to be friends with you?” This statement creates a lightbulb moment, helping them begin to see the importance of self-respect. Try this activity: Boundary Building
    • Keep linking their experience to The Friend-o-Meter. Ask your child, “Where is your friendship on the Friend-o-Meter today? Wow! Red again? That’s a lot of days in the Red-Zone! What colour friendships do you deserve?” Try this activity called: Must-Haves, Deal-Breakers, & Ice-Cream or watch Session 7 of our Language of Friendship video series called: Dealing with an Unhealthy Relationship
    • Continue to shift their attention to positive, feel-good friendships. Ask them, “I know you’re missing the way your friendship used to be with Zach. Can you think of any Green-Zone friends you have now? What about Nathan? He is so kind and caring – he seems like a Green-Zone friend!”
    • Do you feel, ultimately, their struggle is connected to their lacking sense of self-worth? We have a whole section devoted to activities focused on Building Self-Worth. Give the Unwrapping Your Gifts activity a try – it will tug at your heartstrings!

*Is your child focusing on the negative? Try to shift their mindset to gratitude. 

    • Help them acknowledge what that friendship gave them and what they’ve learned. Try saying, “I know it’s really hard when a friendship ends. What did this friendship teach you? Have you learned anything?” Help them tap into the impact this friendship had on them, noting that even unhealthy friendships ultimately have lessons that improve the way we ‘do relationships’ in the future.
    • Share the sentiment: “We have different friends for different reasons in different seasons.” Discuss what this means, helping them come to terms with this very normal experience.

*Is your child finding it hard to accept? Normalize their experience.

    • Share your stories. It’s comforting for children to know that it’s normal to grow apart from a friend. You might even share a story of a friend you grew apart from, but who came back into your life later on. This might give your child feelings of hope and optimism, recognizing that friendships aren’t always gone forever…just for right now.
    • If it feels like they’re in denial, you might try saying: “That person you used to be friends with is not the same person. They’ve changed, just like you’re not the same person you were 2 years ago!”
    • If your child is a visual learner, metaphors are helpful. Say, “Go with the flow! Pull in the oars and let the current of friendship take you, rather than trying to paddle against the current.”

*Is your child feeling empty or alone? Help them fill up again.

    • One-on-one time is a great way fast track the friend-making process. Whether it’s a playdate or a sleepover, create an opportunity for your child to feel close to new friends. Get your child to watch this video, where they will learn 4 easy ways to make new friends: Make Friends, Like a Ninja!
    • Give them fun, little challenges to get them excited about making new friends. For example, you might say: “Try to say hi to someone new today!” Celebrate with them if they achieved the goal.
    • Remind them of the importance of quality over quantity! Say, “It’s better to have one Green-Zone friend than a bunch of Orange-Zone friends!” Read this article: Quality over Quantity in Friendships
    • Help them tap into their strengths, focusing on the most important friendship of all – their friendship with themself. Make a list with them of all the activities that light them up and feel good. Like a distraction technique, this helps to shift their attention away from the break-up towards their strengths & passions. Doing things they love will help release positive emotions and even get them into a state of flow, which is powerful for their wellbeing. If they love skateboarding, put them in a skate camp or build a half-pipe! It’s a perfect time for them to try out a new hobby or hone in on their faves!

*Is your child making it a bigger deal than it is? Help them gain perspective.

    • If they are catastrophizing, you can ask them: “Will this matter in 5 days? 5 months? 5 years?” Help them see that, although it feels really big right now, in time it will feel like a thing of the past.
    • Sometimes a big, dramatic break-up is unnecessary and all that is required is a new understanding of what the friendship looks like now. Maybe it’s gone from We-Do-Everything-Together to We-Play-Together-Sometimes. (Try this activity: Spending Less Time) It’s an opportunity to redefine the friendship. Just because “best friends” doesn’t feel good anymore, doesn’t mean they can’t still be friends. It’s really about accepting and redefining the ‘new’ friendship. Get your child to learn about the WWW strategy (What works? What doesn’t work?) by watching this video: Feel-Good Friendships

As the saying goes, “It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Be there to support them, but ultimately remind them that friendships – even the ones we’ve lost – all leave a little imprint on our hearts. We can use these experiences as powerful “Teachable Moments” in our kids’ lives to help them feel a little more ‘okay’ with Friendship Fact #4.

One final note to consider: Are you, as the parent, making it a bigger deal than it really is? Are you projecting your own heartbreak or personal experiences of losing a friend onto your child? Is your child really struggling or are you the one finding it hard to accept this new reality? Maybe you were friends with that child’s parents? Or, perhaps you worry that nobody likes your child? Be sure to consider how you’re responding to this situation and maybe it’s worth rephrasing: Your child’s friendships will change…and that’s okay.

Written by Dana Kerford
Founder & Friendship Expert

P.S. If your child needs some space from a friend, perhaps this activity is better suited to what they need right now: Break-up Line Bootcamp