Friday 14 December 2018

Dear David Coleman: My daughter's best friend has started blanking her. How do I help her through this?

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David Coleman

David Coleman

Clinical psychologist David Coleman offers parenting advice in his weekly column.

Q. My 10-year-old daughter became friendly with another girl in junior infants and they remained close friends until now. The friendship was lovely and reciprocal. Over the summer things seemed to cool off and playdates were declined (quite dismissively by the other mum!). My daughter broke down recently and said that her friend has a new "best" friend and is now excluding/blanking my daughter. She is absolutely crushed. I don't feel comfortable approaching her mother as she can be quite dogmatic. How do I help my daughter through this?

David replies: What a horrible position for your daughter to find herself in. You describe that your daughter is "absolutely crushed" by what has happened with her former friend and I could imagine that she is. For years she has happily had a "best" friend and now she probably feels like she has nobody.

The first step in supporting your daughter is to continue to be a good listener. Your daughter probably needs to mourn the loss of her friend. Alongside missing her, she may also feel betrayed or deceived by her. These are complicated feelings that you need to explore and tease out with her.

She may also need a real boost to her self-esteem. When friends move on, it is easy for any child to blame themselves and to assume that there is something wrong with them that made the friend reject them.

It is easy for parents to rush into trying to solve what we perceive to be the problem, without first fully understanding the impact of the issue on our children. One of the difficulties of trying to help, too soon, is that your daughter might actually reject your help, even though she may really need it.

So, alongside the emotional hurt of being dumped, how else does this impact on your daughter? Try to explore, with her, any complications it creates in school, or out of school. What does your daughter now do during break-times, for example? Does she have a plan to fill those times when she used to hang out with her friend?

Has your daughter already tried to address the issue with her friend? Has she spoken to her directly about feeling left out or pushed to the side? Does the teacher know about the breakdown in the friendship and has he or she tried to intervene?

Try to find out if your daughter actually wants any help, yet, to deal with the situation and if so, does she have any idea of the kind of help she'd like. There is no point in offering solutions that your daughter fears might make a bad situation worse.

When you do feel like you fully understand exactly what this means for your daughter and you can show her that you get it, you might then move into some shared problem-solving with her.

Despite your misgivings about the other mother, this might well be the best place to start. You suggest that the other mum has already written your daughter off as a friend for her daughter in favour of the new best friend. Are you really sure that this is the case?

She may well not care, nor want to help (especially since she seems to be complicit in dismissing your daughter). But you won't know for sure until you try. It sounds like you have nothing to lose by approaching her and asking her what her sense is of what has happened between the girls.

If she isn't supportive, then you may find that your daughter has no other choice but to try to extend her friendships to other girls, or even boys, in her class. If, as you describe, your daughter is socially awkward, then she might need some coaching in how to make friends (as she hasn't had need to do this for a while), giving her tips and phrasing for how to talk to others and how to listen attentively.

Perhaps talk, too, with her teacher to see if there is any support the school can offer your daughter either with patching things up with her old friend, or with making new friends.

Making new friends, or even being ready to move on, may just take your daughter time. Your patience and understanding, during this process, will be really important for her.

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