I always knew when my kids had fallen out with their friends – the looks on their faces when they came out of school in the afternoon gave it away. It was as though the world was ending, and nothing would ever be right again.
Generally, it was over something and nothing – someone didn’t want to play a particular game at break time, or today’s BFF had invited a different friend to tea. My son usually recovered more quickly than my daughter; boys often carried on the next day as though nothing had happened, whereas the girls were more prone to holding grudges. But both needed a shoulder to cry on for a while.
So, how do you help your kids deal with playground fall-outs? First, as much as it hurts to see your child upset, remember this is their problem and not yours. You can offer advice and support but shouldn’t interfere too much; dealing with experiences like this helps them develop skills they will need as adults. That doesn’t mean you step away entirely, though.
- Make sure your child knows you’re ready to listen. Most kids want to tell their stories – getting it off their chests goes a long way to making them feel better – and they need to know you’re on their side. It doesn’t mean making a special effort to sit down – just let them know you’re there when they want you, or suggest going out for ice-cream so you can chat.
- Acknowledge how hurt your child is feeling. Because kids fall out so often, it’s easy to downplay their emotions and tell them they’ll soon make other friends. This doesn’t help. Instead, tell them you’re sorry they’re upset and wish you could take the pain away.
- Share your own stories. Kids like examples and need role models, so hearing about your own childhood breakups will help them understand how friendships work – some are close, others are casual; when you argue, sometimes you make friends again and sometimes you don’t.
- Criticise when your child is telling you what happened. Phrases like “Perhaps you should have…” or “It might have been better to…” will shut them down as they’ll feel you are judging.
- Badmouth the other child. Perhaps you’ve never been that kid’s biggest fan, but your son or daughter doesn’t want to hear that you’ve always considered them bossy or rude. And there’s every chance they’ll make friends again and your opinion will be passed on!
- Contact the other parents. Obviously there are exceptions, such as if physical violence or bullying are involved, but for day-to-day fall-outs it’s best not to get in touch. Remember, they will be as protective of their child as you are of yours and unlikely to accept any fault. It’s also taking control of the situation away from the kids, who should resolve any issues themselves if possible.
In the long-term, it’s a good idea to encourage your children to extend their circle of friends so they aren’t reliant on one person for their happiness. Outside clubs or groups are a great place to foster relationships unrelated to school; if your child attends a dance or theatre class, for example, perhaps there are potential new friends there. It won’t stop fall-outs happening, but it does give them alternative company.
You may also need to take a more active role if it seems another child is constantly the cause of your child’s distress – perhaps you can see their confidence is being seriously undermined or you suspect ongoing bullying.
Obvious signs a child is unhappy at school include a drop in academic performance, loss of interest in hobbies or after-school clubs, and a general low mood. If that’s the case, you should make an appointment to talk to your child’s teacher in the first instance.