Got an email from Concerned Mom whose smart, funny daughter has no trouble making friends, but lots of trouble keeping them. The pattern is this: Daughter gets close to other girls and feels accepted by them. Then, within weeks new found friends exclude and then ignore the girl. Naturally, she feels upset and alone, which, of course breaks Mom’s heart. She turned to me for advice and here’s what I told her:
I understand that it breaks your heart to see your daughter so unhappy. Of course you want her to make real friends who treat her with affection, kindness and respect. But it feels like something is missing in your email.
Each time your daughter is disappointed by a new friend you’ve listened to her side of the story, sympathized and offered comfort and support. All good! But there are at least two sides to every relationship story. That’s why I am curious about what’s going on from the other girls’ perspectives. Maybe you’re also wondering why each of these new friends turn against your daughter after such a short time? It’s a mystery worth exploring.
What might your daughter be doing (knowingly or unknowingly) to contribute to this reaction she often gets? How about if you ask her: “Why do you think ____ stopped wanting to be your friend?”
This question may bring up a lot of emotion, so please ask it in a neutral tone of voice. You’re not accusing your daughter of anything! You’re simply inviting her to put aside her sadness and think about what may be going on here. Right now, she’s hurt and confused and probably feeling powerless. She can regain some of her power by understanding how she functions in friendships because she plays a significant role in every one of them, whether she’s aware of it yet or not. To encourage her to think about that role you need to ask thoughtful, open-ended questions that have no “right” or “wrong” answers. Questions like “Why do you think this girl stopped being your friend?”
Listen to your daughter with an open heart and mind. Try not to interrupt. Initially, she may not say much. She might just shrug and say, “I don’t know.” In which case you might nod understandingly and say, “It’s hard to know why other people do what they do. But we usually have a reason. Your friends have been rude to you. If you could just guess why, what would you guess?”
Your daughter may have fallen into the habit of thinking of herself as a powerless victim to whom other people do unkind things. That’s not a good mental place for her to be. We want our girls to understand emotions (their own and other people’s). We also want them to feel confident in their ability to make and keep real friends. That includes learning to rebound from set-backs and to negotiate the ups and downs of relationships.
I hope this helps.
UPDATE October 3, 2014: The Girls Q&A Book on Friendship: 50 Ways to Fix a Friendship Without the DRAMA is now available in print and on Kindle (the ebook can be read on any device, your mobile phone, tablet, or computer with the free Kindle reader app). Visit GirlsQandA.com for an excerpt, reviews, and to order your copy.