We tend to think of romantic relationships as the ones that break hearts, but when a friendship suddenly ends, it can hurt just as badly. It is important to recognize that although it was not a romantic involvement, this doesn’t mean that when a friendship ends that it doesn’t hurt.
Gone are the late-night exchanges, the person to walk into a party with, and the one who understands your family dynamics. This friend may even have felt like family, hanging around your house for years. In fact, you may miss this friend too!
Your teen may have had this friend for many years, or maybe this friend is fairly new on the scene but has become a BFF — regardless, sometimes even the closest friendships can come to an end (especially if they are toxic.)
Twelve ways to help your teen recover from a friendship breakup
1. Be there.
Your teen will open up more if he feels understood. By holding back judgment, you become your child or teenager’s partner and create a safe harbor and judge-free zone. You are your kid’s original teacher. Work towards having fun and reducing strain so your connection becomes more important than anything else.
2. Help your teen realize these things happen.
Your teen may feel like they are the only one this happens to, but almost everyone on the planet has had a friendship suddenly end. People change and need change too, and sometimes a relationship ending can be a good thing.
3. Provide time to grieve.
Just as with any loss, help your teen to move through the stages of grief. Being cut off from someone who played an important role in their life can be crushing. If their former friend leaves without answers, help your teen consider that it might be because of their inability to discuss uncomfortable issues.
Even if they don’t know the reason for the breakup, they still need to grieve in order to move on.
4. Help them get clarity.
For their own benefit, your teen may want to learn the reason(s) for what went wrong. This is fine, however, help them understand that the other party may not cooperate.
For shorter-term friendships, the other person may just want to end it without dialog. For longer-term relationships, explain that they can apologize for a misunderstanding once, but they shouldn’t keep chasing the other party.
Over-texting and writing long emails in order to understand every nuance may cause more harm to your teen than good. If the other party doesn’t cooperate, guide your teen into shifting into the grieving process.
5. Don’t let them automatically accept the full brunt of the demise.
In a world of social media and “ghosting,” it’s often hard to know why someone is no longer engaging. This is particularly true in the teen world. Help your teen check the story they are telling themselves. If they don’t know the specific reason(s) for why the friendship suddenly ended, they may be creating painful, shameful stories about how it was all their fault. Without information, no one can honestly know the reason.
Sometimes, people’s issues have nothing to do with us, so it is not our fault, or at least we’re not 100% at fault. Instead of shame, help them work towards understanding societal norms and expectations and always treat others with kindness.
6. Try to pull them out of the rumination cycle.
Ruminating is natural, but rarely helpful. Work with them on the importance of compartmentalizing; allowing 15 minutes a day to ruminate, then trying to empty their mind of this problem and return to doing productive work. Remind them that they have other friends who they can share their hurt with, as long as both of them don’t fall into the rumination cycle together or spread gossip.
7. Help them learn from their mistakes.
Who hasn’t said something hurtful at least once? In order for them to move forward, do your best to help them look deep inside for the reason(s) they may have contributed to a friendship suddenly ending. Ask open-ended questions. Ask, “Do you think this is a misunderstanding, or was it something you needed to express?”
Life’s lessons rarely come easily, so help them use this experience as part of their tapestry of mental and emotional growth.
8. Help them connect with others.
Although they may be saddened and grieving over the friendship ending, encourage your teen to nurture and reconnect with old friends and to meet new folks.
Help them join groups with like-minded people in order to meet potential new friends. As research demonstrates, the connection is good for our physical and mental well-being, while isolation is not.
9. Help identify strengths, character, and that “special something” that makes your teen shine.
Each of us excels in environments that allow us to feel good about ourselves. This is usually where our interests are high and where we can pursue our passion and develop a stronger sense of self. Imagine how fortunate your teen will feel when she uses those strengths to understand others based on their patterns and what they say and do.
For instance, help her think, “I am good at data and I can use data to find creative approaches to problem-solving.”
Confidence comes from knowing you have past experiences of when things have worked out. All of us have felt the urge to throw in the towel or to allow people to treat us poorly because we did not know where else to turn.
It may take time and lots of little conversations and patience, but helping your teen locate a place where she uses her strengths can help her build confidence. Having a place where strengths are encouraged can also help your child find her kindred spirits — people with similar interests — and give her the social support necessary to break away from toxic friends. Without these social supports, it’s hard for some children to separate from people who treat them badly.
10. Help them look at what they offer in relationships.
This is a great time to help them make a list of their positive attributes and strengths. They may not want you to see this list, and that is just fine. Guide them in identifying how they contribute — positively and negatively — to their current relationships. Which traits should they work more at, and which should they try to temper?
11. Help evaluate how they want to be treated.
Talk openly and often. Keep the lines of communication open. Help them develop lifelong positive beliefs about how they should be treated. For example, ask, “What do you enjoy doing with your friend?” “What do you like about him or her?” “What does he do to show you that he cares about you as a friend?”
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Helping teenagers examine who is treating them well is often about helping them consider how enjoyable the friendship is. Talk about relationships through general, short conversations. Ask, “What does it mean to be a good friend?” “Who do you feel is a good friend?” “Are they trustworthy?” “Is it enjoyable to be with him?” “How are they treating you?” “Do you know of other friendships that seem enjoyable?” “If you could change one thing about this friendship, what would you change?”
Help them look not at where they are but where they want to be. It is said that we show people how we want to be treated. Are they willing to accept insults and rudeness? Then it will continue. Demonstrate how to hold your head up high and recognize that some relationships should be ended.
12. Help them take care of themselves afterward.
After the breakup, encourage them to spend time with the people who are good for their health and happiness and who reinforce all the great things about them. It’s also important to make sure they continue to take care of their body and mind.
Help them feel valuable; wash their hair, eat well, exercise and journal.
Work with, not against, your teen
Every child — regardless of their age — needs at least one caring adult in their life. When a child believes that someone has their back, that they have someone to lean on, and that this person will help them figure out whatever may surface, it builds lifelong resilience.
The ultimate goal should be forgiveness. All of this work is intended to help your teen work toward letting go of the negativity to make room for better experiences.
Caroline Maguire, M.Ed., ACCG, PCC founded and facilitates a comprehensive SEL training methodology for adults, parents, clinicians, and academic professionals on how to develop critical social, emotional, and behavioral skills, in themselves and in others.
This article was originally published at Caroline Maguire’s website. Reprinted with permission from the author.