Saturday 18 November 2017

Dear David Coleman: My 10-year-old is gutted his best friend has dumped him for another

Clinical psychologist David Coleman offers his advice to parents in his weekly column

Clinical psychologist David Coleman
Clinical psychologist David Coleman
David Coleman

David Coleman

Clinical psychologist David Coleman offers his advice to parents in his weekly column

Q: How do I help my 10-year-old son deal with the loss of a close friendship? His best friend, since toddlerhood, has dumped him for a new boy in the class. His friend’s mum is somewhat involved, too, as she has been encouraging her son to befriend the new boy and has been including him in the boys’ playdates. My son was always the more shy of the pair and probably relied on his friend to lead the way, as he is more outgoing. I’ve tried encouraging my son to branch out but he’s finding it really hard and seems so vulnerable without his pal.


I could imagine that both you and your son feel quite hurt and a little betrayed by your friends. I’d imagine that with the boys’ friendship extending over such a long period that you and the other boy’s mum had become quite friendly.

If that is the case, then it may be time to have a proper heart-to-heart with the other mum. While we can’t determine who our children pick to befriend, we can certainly nurture friendships or discourage them.

It is possible the other mum thinks that this new boy in the class might be a good match for her son. Perhaps she just wants her son to branch out, and sees this as an opportunity.

If so, it is hard to argue with her reasoning. Many parents worry that if their child has just one best friend that it might be a little too intense, or too limiting. Mind you, it is very hard if she is just thinking about the needs of her son, without considering the impact on your son, after a very successful eight-year friendship.

How does your son get on with the new boy? I know that the old adage of “two’s company and three’s a crowd” can often be true, but might it be possible for all three to become friends?

There is often a temptation for a small group of three to split off into a pair and, often, an isolated singleton. This seems to be what is happening, with the friend choosing to spend more time with the new boy, excluding your son.

This dynamic, however, is something that the other mum might be able to do something about.

The key is to try to understand her motivation in encouraging the new friendship. Does she, for example, actually want to divest her son of his friendship with your son? Was their friendship really successful or does it, in some way, “cost” her son?

Or, is she just keen that her son has an expanded network of friends, without any desire to exclude your son, or to disrupt his friendship with her son? Is she even aware that her son has “dumped” your son? She may be horrified if that was not her intention.

That is what you need to try to tease out with her, in as open and frank a discussion as you can have. Do let her know the impact of the split on your son. Describe how upset, or confused, or angry he may feel.

If, on discussion, you discover that she actively wants to increase the distance between her son and yours, there is unlikely to be any repair of the split that has occurred. In this case, you are faced with just trying to emotionally support your son to deal with the loss, followed by some time trying to help him to find a new friend or friends.

Empathy and understanding about the sadness, hurt and loss may be all that you can offer, since there is little point putting energy into “fixing” things with his old friend. This involves lots of seeing things from your son’s perspective, listening to his upset and acknowledging it.

You might like to use phrases like, “you seem so sad that your friend doesn’t want to hang out anymore” or “it must be awful that your friend ignores you now” or “I’d say you really miss him”.

Once you have validated his feelings of loss, you will probably want to build up his self-esteem after the knock of the rejection.

My books, or other resources, have lots of ideas on how to do this. Having good self-esteem might prepare him to take the risk of finding new friends.

With luck you will discover the other mum is neither aware of, nor wants, the split between your respective sons. If so, then she can do a lot to support their long-standing friendship, expecting her son to include your son, as well as the new boy.

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