"Mom, Dad! I don't have any friends!" - Helping Children Navigate Friendships

Many parents can relate to the experience of having a child come home from school in tears because she was not invited to the same party as her friends. Or, suddenly your son’s best friend is no longer interested in hanging out with him. In these situations, it’s common for parents to feel anger, sadness, and helplessness at watching their child feel bad. These feelings are understandable since the ability to make and keep friends is integral to our well-being and happiness.

Parents often struggle with the best way to ease their child’s pain, ranging from stepping in to take action and “fix” the issue to feeling worried and unsure of the best way to help. But, parents can play an important role in helping children navigate this very natural, if painful, part of growing up.

Why All the Drama?

It can be jarring to watch children experience so much upheaval when it comes to friendships, but this is part of developing from childhood into teens and young adults. Children, especially those in early adolescence, are trying to figure out who they are as individuals, apart from their parents. Since doing so requires a lot of experimentation with new things, such as clothing, hairstyles, and music, it makes sense that “trying on” friends is part of the process of finding out what “fits” them and their interests.

How Parents Can Help

Smart Love explains that children relate to their peers based on how their parents treat one another and how they relate to them. This becomes their template for how to relate to friends and future relationships. As Drs. Martha Heineman Pieper and William J. Pieper explain, “A person carries this internal model of relating into all kinds of relationships that occur throughout life. The relationship ideals of a child whose developmental needs have been met will include a respect for other people’s motives even when they are incompatible with his own, the ability to care deeply and appropriately for significant others, and the capacity to resist attempts by others to derail his own healthy intentions.”

Having a positive, close relationship with parents can also help:

Minimize the Effect of Peer Pressure—When a child’s emotional needs have been adequately responded to, she’s more likely to seek appropriate relationships with her friends and is less likely to be swayed by arguments that she should engage in self-destructive activities, such as drug use and premature sexual activity, because everyone else is doing them.

Build Resilience—Although a child may feel hurt and disappointed if he is excluded by