With their friends, children develop their social, intellectual and emotional skills. As with any relationship, arguments and break-ups can occur. Although these are quite common and can be a learning opportunity, children can suffer from them. This is called friendship pain.
What causes friendship pain?
A child tends to make friends with someone who looks like him or her. In early elementary school, they often look for someone of the same gender and age. Generally, a child prefers a friend who has a similar temperament or who enjoys the same activities as him or her.
As a result, a child may drop a friend when he or she finds a new one who is more like him or her. Because their personalities change so much throughout childhood, they may switch friends to someone who simply shares their new interests and is more like them.
Here are some other reasons why a friendship may end.
“It is more important for children to have at least one friend than to always keep the same ones or never experience conflict with them.”
From the book Love and Friendship in Children
A child may be rejected by a friend when one of them is unwilling to settle a dispute. A hurtful word or gesture is sometimes enough to break a friendship. Children do not always have the emotional maturity to step back from what is bothering them or to resolve a conflict. They live more in the moment than adults.
Betrayals, such as revealing a friend’s secret, can also lead to a breakdown in friendship.
Status within a group also influences friendships. If a child is rejected by the class, his or her friend may distance him or herself from the class to avoid the same fate.
Some children find it difficult to handle a three-way relationship. They prefer the duo and the exclusivity of the friendship.
Circumstances that are beyond the children’s control can sometimes lead to friendship heartbreak, such as moving.
How do children experience friendship pain?
Friendship in children can have the same sanctity as love in adults. Losing a friend can be experienced as grief. It’s not just the loss of the intimate connection that saddens the child. Sometimes it is the loss of a place in the school group. Losing a friend can mean being alone at recess, and this can be as sad as the loss of the friend.
The child’s character has a lot to do with the kind of reaction he or she might have. He or she may go through the crisis with ease, or he or she may be inconsolable, angry or anxious.
This may be reflected in minor difficulties, such as irritability or sadness, but can escalate to difficulties sleeping or eating, or even refusing to go to school.
What is a healthy friendship?
A healthy friendship is a balanced relationship where your child is happy and feels respected and safe. It’s a bond where they feel trusted. This concept can be taught to your child, but most of all, he or she will learn through real-life experiences. Creating opportunities for contact with other children – by going to the park or enrolling your child in sports or art activities – is also a good way for your child to learn about friendship.
How can I help my child?
Make sure you spend quality time with your child, either as a family or one-on-one, so he or she doesn’t feel alone. He or she will probably need comforting at first. You can also help take his mind off the situation, for example by offering an activity he enjoys.
Clarify the situation and the reasons for the break-up with your child, without blaming him or herself for the situation. If they don’t understand why they lost their friend, your child may feel sad, angry or confused. He or she may wonder why his or her friend doesn’t want him or her anymore, for example.
Welcome your child’s emotions. You can help your child put words to what he or she is experiencing, while respecting his or her choice if he or she doesn’t want to talk to you about it. The important thing is to be present and available if they need it. You can also encourage him to draw his emotion rather than say it, or to read with him books for children that talk about emotions.
Accept that he or she can express sadness, even if it hurts you. It’s important for your child to feel that it’s okay to be sad and that it will pass. You can explain that grief is like a wave. At first, the wave is very strong, but over time it will slowly return to the sea. The pain will lessen and he will remember his friend with less sadness.
Share your personal experiences by telling your own friendship pain stories. This is a positive way to show your child that as we get older, we can make new friends.
Help your child make new friends by introducing them to new people or signing them up for a new activity, for example.
Love and friendship: Does the child understand the difference?
True love usually begins in the pre-teen years, around age 10 or 11. Before this age, a child may “play” at being in love, mimicking the behavior of parents or favorite heroes. He or she may also genuinely feel love for another child, but this feeling of love is very similar to friendship in that it does not have a sexual dimension as in an adult. A child may, for example, give gifts, show a desire to hold his or her lover’s hand, and express a desire to be the only one to play with the “loved one. He or she may distinguish between friends and lovers, but the difference is actually quite small. Heartbreak and heartache could be experienced in much the same way and with the same questioning: “Why didn’t the other person want me?
There are many reasons for friendship pain: changing interests, difficulty getting out of a conflict or managing a three-way relationship, etc.
Losing a friend can be like grieving for your child. He or she will need to be comforted.
You need to welcome their emotions and help them put words to what they are experiencing.