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It can be hurtful and confusing when a child’s friends suddenly turn on them, rejecting a child, teasing or bullying them, or generally acting mean. This type of thing is more common among girls, who can be very conniving in their attempts to jockey for social position, but boys sometimes experience it too. it’s especially likely to happen during social transitions such as the move from elementary school to junior high, or when kids transition from junior high to high school.

Why a child’s friend might suddenly turn on them

There are a number of things that could cause a sudden change of attitude in a friend:

  1. Your child’s friend has a new friend of their own who dislikes, disapproves of, or holds a grudge against your child, and so your child’s friend is going along to try and impress this other person.
  2. Your child inadvertantlly upset the “Queen Bee” of her school who is now using her social power to ostracise & isolate the child.
  3. Your daughter talked to a boy her friend has a crush on, or that boy is showing interest in your daughter and is giving her attention, which is making her friend jealous.
  4. Your child’s friend may assume (either correctly or incorrectly) that your child did something upsetting, like start a rumor, devulge a personal secret, or take someone else’s side in a dispute.
  5. Your child did or said something that their freind took offense too without them realizing it.
  6. Sometimes a child’s friend may be teasing them in a way they don’t intend to be mean-spirited or cruel. Kids can be very degrading and aggrissive to each other in their sense of humor. (In some cliques, girls often refer to friends as “bitch” or “skank,” for example, and boys can relentlessly tease one another.) Often times this style comes out as the friendship deepens and your child is seen as “one of the boys,” someone they can poke fun at safely.
  7. Your child’s friend found a new interest or hobby and is now hanging out with other kids from a different clique who share this interest. It’s possible that what your child is interpreting as rejection isn’t meant to be cru_l, but is an innocent shift in interests that inadvertently left your child the odd person out.
  8. It’s possible your child’s friend could have issues going on at home that are making him or her act this way. When we’re h_rting inside, sometimes we take it out on those closest to us.

Understand that children are often reluctant to give you the full story. There may be things they’re embarrassed to talk about, and they may be reluctant to tell you about something crummy they did that provoked their friend’s ire. So don’t automatically assume this other child is acting like a twerp or is fully at fault. You’re only hearing one side of the argument, and likely a highly selective one.

What to do when a child’s friends are rejecting them or being cruel

You can’t force others to like your child, and trying to do so will only cause further injury to their dignity while creating additional friction in their peer group. Here are some tips and suggestions for how to handle the situation:

A) Don’t retaliate
Don’t tell your child to be mean to a friend in return. Not only is this petty and, well, childish, but it’s likely to make things worse, especially if there’s some sort of social jockeying that’s at play. It’s never a good idea to burn bridges, especially with someone your child got along with well in the past. Take the high road, and this may all soon blow over. Even if it doesn’t, at least your child will come away as the bigger person.

B) Protest
If a child is being belittled or subjected to subtle put-downs, encourage them to stick up for themselves in non-combative ways. For instance, if a friend says something cruel, a simple, “That was a rather hurtful thing to say” can be more powerful than rebuttal or getting all upset. Don’t overestimate the power of blunt emotional honesty, and encourage your kids to say exactly what they feel:

  • Stuff like that makes me wonder if you’re really my friend.
  • Remind me why I hang out with you again?
  • That’s not very respectful.
  • If all you’re going to do is tear into me, then maybe I should leave.
  • I’m not sure if you’re joking or being serious, but that’s really hurtful.

Or if a child has been cast out from their peer group:

  • Is that really all our friendship is worth
  • So have you been pretending to be a friend all this time?
  • If that’s how easy you ditch people, I’m glad I’m not in your group.

C) Confront them
If a child’s friend suddenly started rejecting them, or acting hurtful, have your child confront their fried and ask them about it: “Did I say or do something that upset you? If I did, please tell me and know that it wasn’t on purpose. I miss the way things were, and I don’t understand why you are suddenly acting like this toward me.”

D) Make amends
If your child did do something funny, (which we all do from time to time), have them apologise and ask their friend what they can do to make amends. Hopefully their friend is amicable to a reconciliation.  If not, then they should say something like, “I really am sorry, and I really want to make it up to you, so please let me know if you change your mind.”  Then give them their space, and give it some time.

E) If all else fails, withdraw
Social approval is a two-way street. As painful as it might be, often times the best thing for your child to do is to walk away and make a dignified exit. Trying to chase after someone’s approval only puts that person in a greater position of power. Move on and find new friends, leaving the door open for reconciliation down the road.

Comforting your child & helping them cope

Being rejected hurts, and being treated poorly by people you once considered friends is especially painful. Here are some tips that will help them cope:

A) Do your best to de-personalize the pain. Help them understand that there could be any number of other things going on that are causing this, many of which have nothing to do with them. If this person liked them at one point and is now rejecting your son or daughter, and if she hasn’t changed or done anything to deserve it, obviously it isn’t about her.

B) Focus on the memories you made together rather than on how things ended. We humans have a bad habit of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, invalidating our experiences because things didn’t end the way we would have liked. Try to help them view the situation in a way that isn’t so bleak: They had valuable experiences along the way that enriched their life.

C) They’re going to make new friends. This is just part of the ebbs and flow of life, and while it may suck now, this pain will pass and they’ll find themselves in a better situation.

D) Focus on what you can do. When hurting or feeling rejected, we all want to do something. Unfortunately, we often want to do all the wrong things (like bang our head against a closed door trying to force someone else to like us). Instead, keep your dignity, find productive things you can do (hobbies, making new friends, etc.), knowing that karma catches up to all of us, and if they’re being treated unfairly, this is likely to work itself out in the long run.

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