May 12, 2018


Your daughter comes home from school and her heart is broken. Her best friends have told her they don’t want her to come to the sleep over they have planned for the weekend. Or your son sees on Snapchat that all his mates are at the skate park without him. To your child, time has stopped and the colour has seeped out of the world. BUT what can you do as a parent? Linda Stade explains.

For an adolescent, friendships are incredibly important, often akin to love affairs. In them they find identity and a place in their newly-emerging, social network. Often they share their deepest secrets and their greatest joys. Every emotion is magnified. Naturally, when something goes wrong it can feel devastating.

So what do you do and say when your child comes to you broken hearted and feeling as though their world is crumbling?

1. Listen without judging or fixing

The first thing you need to do is remove yourself from any distractions, sit with your child and give them your complete attention. Don’t interrupt, or cluck or cry or give agitated body language. Just listen quietly until they have told you the whole story, from beginning to end. Listen without judgment and without trying to fix it.

Comfort your child and validate their feelings, “You were the only one not invited, no wonder you’re upset”. There is nothing wrong with crying so don’t feel as though you have to toughen them up. Crying is an effective and healthy way of regulating emotions.

Make sure you have a complete understanding of their perception of what happened. Remember that it is perception. When we recount events we always filter the story with our own emphasis. I’m not saying your child is lying but there is what happens and what we make it mean. There is their side of the story and the other sides.

2. Empower instead of catastrophising

How you respond at this point is important. If you react strongly you make the incident into a catastrophe. You may feel like wringing someone’s neck, but you can’t say that. Don’t vilify the other party, they are likely to end up friends again, plus….don’t vilify people, your child is learning from you.

You may want to wrap your child in your arms and sob, you can’t do that either. When you overreact you create fear in your child. They start to question their self worth and your faith in them.

Your child will be looking very carefully for your reaction, so show them that you believe in them. Send the message that you think they can handle this. Bad things have happened before and 100% of the time they have survived. Let them know how loved they are and that fact will never change.

3. Distract

Now is the time to distract, not with light, colour and action, but with the comfortable and familiar routines of home. Don’t let them dwell. Home is a sanctuary, let it be that way. Kids draw energy and power from the familiar and from safety. They need you to act normally. Don’t pretend that nothing has happened, but stay on track.

Don’t loosen boundaries to compensate for what is happening at school. For example, don’t encourage your child to sleep with you or avoid sporting commitments. Normality is important. If everything is good and normal at home, the rest of the world can be conquered.

4. Press Pause

The temptation now is to call the parents of the other children or rush down to the school. You feel distressed and you think that taking action will make that feeling go away. That’s normal and understandable but don’t. Wait. Stop and sleep on it. You’re right, it may help you escape your negative feelings, but it won’t necessarily help your child.

When you rush out and try to solve the problem for your child two things definitely happen:
You disempower your child. They already feel their social power has been taken. You can’t now take away their individual power.

You take away their opportunity to grow. Hurts like this one will happen countless times in their life, help them to be prepared. Kids who are supported in resolving their own conflicts develop a sense of their own competence in this area. They believe they are capable.

Sometimes making those calls or going up to school will make things worse. So just take a breath.

5. Problem solve together when everyone is calm

When your child is calm and has had plenty of time to move out of their big emotions, then it’s time to talk. As tempting as it will be to tell your child how to handle the situation, try not to. If you want them to grow into an adult who can make good decisions and act instead of purely reacting, you have to allow them to practise. So guide, but don’t take over. Obviously, the younger the child, the more guiding you will have to do. Be aware, there is no instant fix, but you can help your child navigate the drama.

Well known Australian Psychologist Andrew Fuller says that first your child needs to decide whether they want to fix the friendship or not. It’s a valid point, unhealthy, unhappy friendships shouldn’t be maintained. Maybe new friends is the answer. Fuller provides strategies for mending friendships and making new friends in this resource that you might like to discuss with your child.

What If It Doesn’t Blow Over?

Friendship at this age is intense and sometimes fiery, but conflict tends to be short lived. In most cases these upsetting incidents will be resolved fairly quickly by themselves. That said, if the incident is not short lived, or constitutes bullying, then you do need to work in partnership with the school.


Talking to your kids about friendship is really important, not just when things are going badly. Teach kids to recognise what makes a good friend. When things are going well ask them what they like about their friends and what they like about themselves when they are around those people.

Expose them to a large variety of potential friends in lots of different contexts. And encourage them to have a lot of different friends for all the different aspects of their lives. Adolescents change a lot and so do their friends. Emotional literacy in this hugely impacting sphere of their lives is essential.

This post originally appeared on Linda Stade – Education writer and has been shared with full permission.

Subscribe to Linda Stade’s Education Blog here.

Find more from Linda on Facebook page here

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Share your comments below.

Image via Getty

Santa Maria College Psychologist, Jane Carmignani

Andrew Fuller


National Centre for Bullying


  • Some really good advice I have two sons and will definitely take this on board thankyou


  • Really good article thanks. I have a 5 yr old daughter with one friend in particular who isn’t a really great friend in my eyes. And I have felt like marching down to school upset and angry about the psychological warfare (but I didn’t and gently encouraged new friends), having my daughter not wanting to go to school in the morning upset. It’s a emotional roller coaster. Recently she is distancing herself from this child of her own accord which I am so proud of her and glad now I didn’t get involved.


  • I have 7 and 9 year old girls so this article was excellent for me, thank you!


  • Great advice. Seeing our kids have friendship problems is really hard to watch but it is important to let them try and sort it out themselves with guidance if needed. I see so many people jump to the extreme of changing schools of issues like this and it really doesn’t teach kids that issues can be resolved. Unfortunately kids are going to have conflicts at times. It’s normal. Doesn’t mean it’s easy but they’re great learning points.


  • Great article thanks for sharing


  • Good read, thanks ! When our kids were small this wasn’t as hard. It’s a bit more complex once they hit the teenage years. Listening, pause and problem solve together are very important indeed (and by problem solve together I think indeed it’s very important the ideas come from your child)


  • it can be hard when they are great little people but their friends are misbehaving and their parents don’t try to teach their children good morals. Your child suffers while the other child does not care about the consequences of their mean actions. You can only try to raise “the bigger person”


  • Love it! Can’t go wrong when you let them handle it themselves and they know you and family are always there for them. PLus not making a big deal of issues does help them get over it…


  • Great article – but trying to be Solomon is so hard. Helping them to understand how to cope is about all one can do.


  • thank you for an insightful and informative article – I quite often have this topic come up with both my girls ages 10 and 6 – it is such an emotional topic and sometimes it’s hard to stay grounded in the moment.


  • The best thing you can do is raise your kids to know how to cope when their friends aren’t always good to them


  • The advice presented in this article is intelligent and level-headed. I feel that this is the approach that should be taken when dealing with children’s friendship difficulties. Knowing what makes a good friend is important for them to not only recognise one but to be one. Teaching children to problem solve in a calm methodical way and being able to transfer this skill to other areas of their life is most definitely a valuable skill.


  • What a great article. As parents we feel every emotion of our children x 50 & it’s so natural to want to “fix” everything for them. Taking a step back & letting them sort through thing’s themselves goes against all of our natural instincts but is crucial in their development.


  • Some good and wise advice, thanks for sharing.


  • What does a mother do to help her 12 year old child who has no friends. He is a well adjusted, compassionate and loving boy but in ALL his years in school he has never been able to find a friend to bond with or a peer group that will accept him. I hate sending him to school knowing that he pretty much spends the day alone. I’ve talked to his counselor about this matter and then again when my son finally told me he was being bullied by being told he was a loser, he has no friends and nobody liked him. A mother cannot hear that and not feel resentment towards kids she doesn’t even know. And it is not like we haven’t tried to help our son by inviting kids over to go do something that maybe they could bond over but there was never a reciprocal invite. My son comes home and is almost always in an upbeat mood but all I can as him is how his day was at school to which he always responds “fine” but that’s it. His school counselor says he just shuts down when she meets with him and asks him about other kids he’s talked to at school. I am at the end of my emotional rope. We live in a top rated school district but I find that I resent the students, the parents I have to interact with and all the kids…and I don’t even know them. How can I help my son?

    • Maybe the school counsellor needs to start the conversation in a different way – not asking what the other children are talking about. He may be “shutting down” because he has no idea what they are talking about….or he thinks/knows they are talking about him.


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