How to deal with the end of a friendship in middle school
“How is Maggie?” I asked my seventh grader one day on the way to soccer practice. “I don’t know,” she replied matter-of-factly.
“You don’t know? How could you not know? Don’t you see her every day?” I was a little shocked by my daughter’s response—this was one of her best friends. “I don’t know, Mom. She doesn’t sit at our table anymore. She sits with some other girls. It’s fine,” she said with a tone that told me it was not fine, but also that she didn’t want to talk about it.
I found out later that Maggie started hanging out with some other girls who were in the same extracurricular activity. There was no animosity between the girls, but I could see the hurt on my daughter’s face—and I felt helpless.
“When our child gets left out, it can bring us back to middle school all over again,” says Sheryl Gould, certified parent coach and founder of the website Moms of Tweens and Teens. “It triggers those painful feelings we experienced and makes our blood boil, which in turn can lead us to overreact and make things worse.”
How to Respond When Your Child Gets Left Out
1. Listen and validate
Take a deep breath and listen—no matter how silly or upsetting it seems to you. Gould recommends validating your child’s experience. Saying something as simple as “I’m so sorry, that must really hurt,” can be enough to soothe your child and get them to keep talking.
2. Focus on resilience
At this age, friendships often dissolve naturally, but sometimes they end in an uglier, more abrupt way. “While it may be tempting to shelter your child from the hurt or to try to help them move on quickly, you don’t want to rob your child of the resilience that comes with facing difficulty,” says Michele Kambolis, a therapist and author of Generation Stressed. According to Gould, the end goal is to get your tween to see themselves as more of a problem-solver than a victim.
3. Discourage social media
Kambolis suggests discouraging your child from taking to social media to air any grievances. Instead, encourage them to talk to peers face-to-face. If they are shunned from a group, “Help your tween find ways to remain engaged and focused that leave them feeling valued,” she says. “It can be tempting for adolescents to rely on technology as a way to cope, but that’s often not helpful.”
4. Get help if necessary
While parents should always keep the lines of communication open, they should also try not to intervene. If your child is suddenly isolated at school, talk to a guidance counselor or trusted administrator about the situation to ensure it does not escalate.
How to Respond When Your Child Ends a Friendship
1. Encourage them to have a conversation
What if it’s your child ending the friendship? “If your child is the one pushing a friend away, help them discover ways to pull back from the friendship compassionately,” says Kambolis. Tweens can feel a lack of closure when a relationship ends, and they may be left obsessing about what they might have done wrong. “Encourage your tween to tell their friend why they are ending the relationship, and to think about what it would feel like for them if they were in the same situation.”
2. Coach them to be kind
For some tweens, the thought of having a conversation like this may be overwhelming. Even if they’re not able to work themselves up to this level of frankness, encourage kindness. Ghosting—the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication—is never appropriate. Explain to your middle schooler that just because you are no longer friends with someone does not mean you can’t be cordial, and ensure your child understands what that looks like.
Also, don’t be afraid to provide perspective from your own life regarding your friendships. “Remind kids that a bad conversation or text exchange with a friend doesn’t mean the friendship is over,” says Gould. Middle schoolers are learning firsthand that friendship is complicated—and that, with our help, they can enjoy the ups and weather the downs.
This article originally appeared on Your Teen, a leading source for parents seeking high-quality information and advice about raising teenagers. yourteenmag.com.