The Talk: Age-By-Age, Loss of a Relationship
Grieving the Loss of a Friendship
By Laura Betts, LICSW, MSW
An inevitable part of growing up is experiencing the end of a relationship, sometimes due to a child moving, sometimes a conflict that creates distance, and sometimes just simply growing apart. As parents we often have the impulse to protect our children from difficulty (of course we do!), but learning how to identify, understand, and live through challenging experiences offer rich lessons, to your children, in how to approach challenges in the future. How you approach supporting your child will depend on your individual child and the specific circumstances of the loss. (Note: this guide is not intended to discuss loss due to death, but we have advice on how to communicate after the death of a loved one). Here are guidelines as you talk with your child about the loss of a relationship.
For children of all ages consider the following: approach talks with compassion and understanding – empathy for your child’s feelings is always a good place to start. Even if you don’t perceive the loss as big, your child is communicating feelings that are big and real to them. Consider sharing your own experience when it seems like it will be helpful – don’t take over all of the airtime, but this can be helpful, especially for younger children. Believe in your child’s strengths, and encourage them to dig deep within themselves as the going gets tough. Support your child in finding their own agency – what can they do to handle this situation and how they have handled situations in the past with your support. Think about striking a balance between acknowledging the sadness and/or difficulty and reassuring them that feelings do come and go like waves – it won’t always feel this hard to handle. Children can take time to grieve the loss of a friend and no two children deal with this situation in the same manner, but do express, to your child, over time that they will continue to make new friends, even best friends. Teaching your child how to have a meaningful, planned goodbye will be a helpful lesson that he or she will use as they grow into adulthood.
Remember you know your child, family, and values best, so this article is intended to be used as a starting point and offer general guidelines.