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HomeFamilyParenting AdviceWhen a friendship has run its course — Good Parenting

When a friendship has run its course — Good Parenting

Unhappy girlsDear Dr. Debbie,

My daughter has been friends with another girl since they were 4 years old. They’re now 11, and it’s not going well. I’m wondering if it’s my place to say something. They don’t spend much time together anymore, but when they do, this girl has acted as if she doesn’t much like my daughter. She has left my daughter waiting for a return phone call a few times, never to apologize for leaving her hanging. The only reason they get together is to do math homework, but otherwise are not involved in any of the same activities. I think it would be a shame to let this friendship wither away.

Wistful Mom

Don’t miss last week’s column How to say goodbye to an au pair — Good Parenting

Dear Wistful,

Childhood friendships are indeed treasures, but it looks as if this one may be on its way to the bottom of the jewelry box, or at least it may be taking a break. At this age, children are going through changes. They have changing interests, opinions, and are in the midst of that big physical, intellectual and emotional jump from child to teenager. It is not unusual for friends to change, too.

Check in with your daughter to see if she has any interest in keeping this friendship going beyond study buddies. It may be that both girls are using each other for homework help out of habit and convenience, with nothing more between them. There’s nothing wrong with having a one-dimensional relationship with someone, as long as both individuals are satisfied with what each is getting out of it. Your daughter would be the one to ask about this.

If your daughter, however, longs for the good old days of palling around with her old friend, help her come up with an outing or activity they would both enjoy. If the invitation is declined, that is a sign that something is amiss in the relationship. If she wants to confront her former friend, offer to role play a conversation that might help explore some of the possible reasons that things are different now. Have several responses ready. She may have new interests, new friends or family responsibilities. She may not find your daughter as much fun as she used to, or she may find your daughter to too silly when she thinks life is serious business. This will give your daughter a chance to practice a variety of reactions. Switch roles so your daughter can walk in the old friend’s shoes for a bit, too.

The girl may feel they have less in common than before, and may have found other friends with whom she shares new interests. Children mature at different rates, so a wide gap in maturity could be the reason for the distancing. But whatever the reason — and there could be more than one — help your daughter understand that a non-working relationship, which by definition is not mutually satisfying, isn’t worth hanging on to.

If she needs to fill a void, there are infinite opportunities to cultivate new friendships at after school clubs, recreational arts classes, sports programs, community theater, scouts, book clubs and the list goes on.

Your interest in supporting a friendship is admirable. Just make sure it’s a friendship that meets your daughter’s needs.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She has a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long-time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

Click here for more parenting advice by Debbie Wood.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy[at]jecoannapolis.com.

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