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Dear David Coleman: My son has been dumped by a friend and I'm upset


Childhood friendships that go awry can lead to greater resilience

Childhood friendships that go awry can lead to greater resilience

Childhood friendships that go awry can lead to greater resilience

Q My son is eight and has had, all last school year and summer, a lovely friendship with another boy in his class that seemed really genuine.

Since starting back to school in September, however, my son's friend seems to favour playing in a big group of other boys he knows from football. I have encouraged my son to try joining in, but he doesn't like large groups or football. I feel this boy has just dumped my son for someone else and I'm feeling very confused and a bit angry.

David replies: It is probably difficult for your son to watch his friend having fun without him, spending break times with other boys. It is equally hard at times, for us parents, to watch our children's social ups and downs. The ebb and flow of friendships can be challenging for everyone.

I could understand if your son experiences frustration too. If he shares your view that his friend has "dumped" him, then that would be annoying and hurtful. I'm not clear if you have spoken to him about how he feels about his friend playing with these other boys?

It seems to me that you can help your son try two things. The first might be to see if the friendship is salvageable. For example, his friend might, quite innocently, have decided that playing soccer at break times is just good fun. He could naively be just focused on having fun, without regard for the impact on anyone else.

If this is the case, given that they are both just eight, you could approach the friend's mum and speak with her about the way things seem to have developed to see if her son is even aware that he seems to have left your son behind. Some play-days outside of school might allow things to rekindle and that may even sustain during school time, despite the allure of playing football.

Even if the mum is sympathetic to your son's plight, it is possible that her son might just be having too much fun with the new group and may not be bothered continuing to invest in his friendship with your son. While this is not pleasant for your son (or, it seems, for you), it is okay for this other boy to shift and change in his choice of friends.

If that is the case, then you may have to look at your own emotional response to it. Is he "dumping" your son, or has your son just not chosen to shift in the same direction? Does the loss of a friend trigger echoes from your own past. It is often the case that issues and experiences of our children can be powerful reminders of issues from our own childhoods. Often any hurt we experienced then can be carried through to adulthood, only to reappear when our children struggle with something similar.

Once you are clear about your own feelings, then you can offer your son emotional support to help him process the feelings he has about his friend moving on to other friendships. You then have to help your son to dust himself off and try to identify where there might be other social opportunities with other children in his class, or within any extracurricular activities that he does.

His resilience will be tested by losing one friendship and it will help him to realise that he can make more.

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