Nothing sends a parent’s heart soaring like a child making a new friend, and nothing can send it crashing like a child’s friend becoming an enemy. It may seem like this change happens inexplicably in the blink of an eye, but usually neither is true. There are ways parents can spot the kinds of friends who may turn into enemies, and there are ways that parents can help their children through fights with friends. Talking with children about ending friendships and teaching children to “love their enemies” will also help children cope when friends become enemies.
Spotting Friends Who May Become Enemies
Some friends just aren’t healthy for your child, and these friends are likely the ones who will disagree with your child, cause a blow-up and eventually become an enemy. Parents can often spot these friends because of how they interact with others. Children who judge others (“You are SO slow at maths, you must be stupid!”), children who use others (“I’m only friends with Hannah because her mum takes us to the cinema on the weekend,”), children who engage in one-sided relationships (“Shh! I have to tell you about why I hate ice cream and your story isn’t important.”) and children who boss around other children (“No, we won’t play football because I hate football so we’ll only play rugby.”) are all bad friends who may eventually become enemies.
Helping Your Child Get Through Fights With Friends
Children often feel things intensely, so best friends who disagree might quickly come to be viewed as worst enemies. When children are still young enough that they haven’t fought with friends before, it may feel like one disagreement is all it takes for a friendship to end. Talk with your child about a disagreement they’ve had with a friend, and let them know that all relationships run into rough patches. If appropriate, share a story about a fight you and a friend had, and how you two made up when it was over. Ask your child how (s)he thinks (s)he could bring about an end to the fight, and if there is anything (s)he could do to let the friend know that (s)he still cares about their relationship. Stress that physical responses are never appropriate, no matter what kind of fights friends get into, and instead remind your child that using words is much more important and effective when it comes to getting through a fight with a friend.
Talking With Your Child About Ending Friendships
Just as important as helping your child through a fight with a friend is talking with your child about ending friendships. Again, children who haven’t experienced many fights won’t know that some relationships can be saved and others are better off ending. Discuss ways in which your child could communicate to someone else that the friendship has ended and prepare lines for your child to have at the ready should they be tempted into renewing a friendship. Something as simple as “I’m sorry, I’m very busy after school and just don’t have time for rollerblading in the park right now” will politely get across the message that a friendship is over if it is repeated often enough. Being more upfront, for example saying “I’m sorry, but after you told Lisa about my fear of pencil sharpeners I can’t trust you and I can’t be friends with someone I can’t trust” might also work if more subtle approaches don’t. Just make sure that your child understand the finality of ending a friendship, and doesn’t end one without offering a second chance if appropriate.
Teaching Your Child to “Love Your Enemies”
Sometimes, no matter how children deal with fights or attempt to end friendships, some friends turn into enemies who just won’t go away. These enemies often engage in bullying behaviour, whether it’s physically aggressive (taunting a child, acting physically against a child) or emotionally draining (making a child feel guilty, playing on a child’s sweeter nature). Talk with your child about why someone may be acting that way. Help your child see what might be going on behind their previous friend’s behaviour and why your child should still be nice to that person. This doesn’t mean that your child should accept this bad behaviour though. Remind your child that such behaviour is never acceptable and talk about how they can deal with it and when to get other adults involved if needed.
When your child’s friends become enemies it can be a confusing, frustrating, painful time for everyone involved. As a parent you may be able to spot friends likely to turn into enemies take steps to help your child when this happens. Helping your child get through fights with friends, talking with your child about ending friendships and teaching your child to “love your enemies” should all help to resolve problems before they become unmanageable.