Navigating Middle School Friendships: Part 2 - Changing Friendships
Posted by Jennifer Licate, Boys Town Press Author and School Counselor on Feb 16th 2022
The middle school years can be an exciting time. Preteens are becoming more independent and meeting so many new kids. Unfortunately, not all changes are exciting. Changes in friendships are common, but so difficult. Your child will need your support during this time.
Many middle school students will struggle with their identity.
Who am I? Who do I want to be? When your child explores her identity, this will also impact her opinion on the types of kids she wants to spend time with and the behaviors she finds acceptable. Maybe she has a friend who is quick to criticize or always turns the attention to herself. Some patterns that were acceptable in the past may feel disrespectful now.
If your child is being treated disrespectfully, it’s time for her to have a conversation with her friend about boundaries and how she expects to be treated .
Your child may not feel comfortable starting a private conversation on this topic, if that’s the case, she can address the behavior as it happens. However the message is delivered, it’s important for your child to express that she feels disrespected and finds the behavior unacceptable. Even a small remark like, “that’s not cool,” will send the appropriate message.
Both children will grow through this exchange; they are both learning about friendship. Your child’s friend was probably unaware how her actions could negatively affect others. And, your child will gain confidence through self-advocacy. This conversation can create positive changes in their friendship by giving them the opportunity to establish healthy boundaries so both friends feel supported. Unfortunately, it does not always end positively. The other child may not want to change (or may not know how to change). If the disrespectful behavior continues, even after a few conversations, your child may need to distance herself from this friend.
In some cases, your child will even decide she wants to end a friendship.
Ending a friendship can be hurtful and should only be done if your child is sure. Examples might be when the friend's behavior is disrespectful to your child or to others, or when the friend fails to support your child or other friends. Friendships can end based on circumstances; the friends drift into different activities or classes and don’t see each other as often. Both friends understand their friendship is changing but they let it dissolve with no hard feelings. That will be easy for your child to navigate.
But, what happens when one friend is fighting to stay close when the other wants the friendship end? In this unfortunate case, it’s important for both friends to be honest with one another. This shows respect for the other person, the friendship they shared, and speaks to the kindness of each child. Advise your child to be honest in a gentle way. You don’t want your child to unnecessarily hurt another child’s feelings, but honesty will help your child’s friend understand the situation and expect the changes. Saying something like, “I’ve made some new friends over the last couple of months, and we’ve been hanging out a lot. So, I won’t be free to hang out on the weekends like we did before,” gives enough of an explanation. All children deserve friends who respect and value them. This closure allows the children to move on and make new friends.
What happens when your child is the one who wants to stay in a friendship but feels the friendship slipping away?
He should invite his friend to hang out. This provides an opportunity to reconnect and bond over new experiences. If his friend declines, the next step is for your child to ask his friend about the changes in their relationship. He could say to his friend, “I noticed you’ve been eating lunch at a different table and hanging out with some other kids. Why aren’t you sitting at our usual lunch table?” This opens up the conversation. Hopefully his friend will be honest. If your child learns his friendship is ending, he will need lots of support at home. It can be devastating to preteens when a friendship ends, especially a close friendship. In order to normalize that friendships will change or end throughout his life, share a similar personal experience and read books together about children who’ve navigated friendship changes. Remind your child of all his great qualities and that he will find new friends. Help your child create new friendships by inviting someone over who he always has fun with, but a friendship hasn’t been established. Make the hangout at home extra special, such as having a dessert bar with all the toppings or plan an outing that any preteen would love. It’ll spark easy conversation.
If any of these situations are not resolved through your support and your child continues to struggle, call the school to ask for assistance, especially if the disrespectful behavior becomes a bullying situation.
If you haven't already, check out the first part of this blog series Navigating Middle School Friendships: Part 1 - Handling Conflicts. Jennifer Licate's Navigating Friendships book series is full of great resources for helping middle school children work through these friendship struggles. We also offer teacher and counselor activity guides to supplement the learning for each book in the series!