Some of this depends on why it’s happening in the first place

As adults, we know that friendships grow, change, and even end throughout our lives. We also know that no matter how old we get, those friendship “breakups” can often be tough to navigate. For children, however, the end of a friendship can be even trickier to navigate. The emotions around these situations can feel heavy, confusing, and even heartbreaking for some. So how do we help our little ones get through these experiences? How exactly can we as parents support our children when a friendship ends?

Why Do Friendships End?

Some of this depends on why the friendship ended to begin with. Children have little control over their young lives. A family might decide to move to another state, taking your child’s best friend physically far away, causing the friendship to fizzle out. A child might decide they would rather sit at the “popular” lunch table and not bring your kiddo with them, causing a rift. Or they might simply begin to grow apart as they get older and find that they have less in common than they once did. And don’t forget about general misunderstandings. Kids aren’t always well-equipped to explain their thoughts and emotions clearly, which can sometimes end up in arguments that lead to breakups.

Bullying and teasing are also often catalysts for friendship breakups, especially among school-aged kids. Vanessa Gordon, publisher of East End Taste and mother in Long Island, shares that’s what happened to her 9-year-old daughter.

“At the beginning of this school year, my daughter developed a friendship with another girl in her class…I remember my daughter coming home and talking about her and the games they played at school, the activities they liked to do together, and the like,” says Gordon.

Months later, Gordon found out both girls were beginning to have behavioral issues at school, and eventually, her daughter revealed she was being bullied by her “friend.” The mom even witnessed the bullying first-hand by observing them one afternoon at the library.

“This ‘friend’ of my daughter’s was hiding her jacket, creating a rise out of my daughter by taking LEGO pieces away from her while she was building her project, and turning around and sticking her tongue out at my daughter as we were leaving. My daughter would get so upset, and I can see how much it affected her. I knew right away that given my daughter’s age, I had to step in,” says Gordon.

So How Should Parents Handle Friendship Breakups?

mother talking to her daughter, who is sad


Experts agree that there are a variety of approaches in terms of handling a child’s friendship breakup, and much of it will depend on the circumstances around said breakup, as well as how you first learned about the situation.

What To Do When Your Child Comes To You About A Friendship Breakup

“Listen, comfort them, validate their feelings, normalize the experience, and create space for them to share what’s on their mind. Saying something like, ‘It can be so hard when friendships change. How are you feeling about it?’ can be incredibly supportive and open the door for kids to express the emotions that they’re experiencing,” says Michelle Felder, LCSW, Parenting Therapist, and Founder of Parenting Pathfinders.

Felder says whether they’re feeling sad, angry, worried, or even relieved, it’s important to validate those feelings and empathize with their experience. She also warns against making any assumptions, making judgments, or sharing personal opinions about the situation.

“Our instinct may be to try to make things better or solve their friendship challenges for them, but I encourage parents to pause, take a breath, and remember that this is an opportunity to help their child build the skills to cope with a loss in a healthy way,” says Felder.

Nathalie Fleitas, an LMHC based in FL who works with children and families, agrees that parents should avoid projecting their own emotions. “The priority should be helping the child understand their emotions and feelings about it if they are open to it, and if they are not open to it, letting them know the offer will stand if they are ready to talk about it,” says Fleitas.

If the child isn’t ready to share all the details just yet, Fleitas offers this as a response: “Alright, if you do want to talk about it sometime, I will be here to listen and help.”

Some kids might want time to sit with the situation and their emotions around it first, but may eventually come around and ask for help or comfort, so be ready for it once they do.

When You Find Out About the Friendship Breakup From Someone Else

Sometimes you might find out about the breakup from someone other than your child—such as a concerned teacher, the parent of the other child, or from friends and neighbors. Or you might also suspect something has happened if your child has suddenly stopped talking about or asking to see the friend. Fleitas recommends checking in with your child about the friendship (directly or indirectly) while also giving your child space to come to you about it if they want to.

“Generally, the older the child, the more autonomy should be respected,” says Fleitas.

Felder warns that if you heard about the breakup elsewhere, you’ll want to tread carefully. “Becoming aware that their parents or other people are talking about them could create even more negative feelings for your child,” she says.

She offers a few scripts depending on the situation:

“I’ve noticed that when you talk about school, you aren’t mentioning ____ like you used to. How’s that friendship going?”

“You know, it’s really common for kids’ friendships to change. Have you noticed any of your friendships changing lately?”

“Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?” or even, “You know love, friendships change all the time and it can be really tough to go through. I’m here if you want to talk about it, and it’s ok if you don’t.”

Should You Try To Help Your Child Make A New Friend?

a father helping a son deal with a friendship breakup


“It can be incredibly supportive to help children identify other relationships that they’d like to nurture, to strengthen connections they already have, or to be intentional about creating new opportunities for them to be exposed to different kids,” says Felder.

However, she says timing is key, and you don’t want to teach your child that friends are easily replaced but rather that there are always other opportunities out there to make good friends. Fleitas adds that you also want to allow the child some time to grieve their loss, depending on the situation.

“Check in with your child to see if they’d like some help coming up with ideas for how to create new connections with other kids, and if they’re open to it, support them in developing strategies to help navigate different social situations,” says Feldman. This might include things like helping them figure out who they can eat lunch with, play with during recess, or invite over for a playdate.

“Try role-playing these scenarios to give them a chance to practice using the words that feel authentic to them,” she says.

In The Case of Bullying
When a friendship ends due to bullying, the rules change somewhat. You still want to listen, validate, and be there for your child, but you may need to take a more active approach in supporting your child and their needs.

“In cases where there was bullying or some other type of abusive dynamic, repairing the friendship is not a safe or realistic goal,” says Fleitas.

In Gordon’s case, for example, she moved her daughter’s dance class to a different day and found new afterschool activities at other libraries to attend. She also spoke with her child’s teachers as well as the school librarian and social worker to formulate a plan to maintain distance between the girls.

“Though I do believe there are many times in life that we should face the problem heads on as opposed to ‘running away from it’, with this particular situation, given my daughter’s age and that it escalated rather quickly from a friendship to a bullying situation, I felt it best to remove or mitigate the stressful and anxiety-provoking situation as much as possible so that my daughter can enjoy her after school activities without those concerns or fears,” says Gordon.

Check out our guides on how to combat bullying, and how to prevent it for your child, and find more helpful advice at and

Some Final Helpful Tips for Dealing with a Friendship Breakup

Depending on the situation, Fleitas says it might be helpful to remind your child that not all breakups are final and that some friendships are meant to come and go. She offers scripts like, “Sometimes things can be worked out in time if you and your friend would like that, and sometimes it’s also ok for the friendship to come to an end,” and “Some friendships can last a short time and others can last a long time. It’s sad when we lose a good friend. There will be many more friends to come in the future.”

Fleitas also says you can also remind your child that “it’s ok to avoid or take time away from the former friend as much as possible.” Many kids (and grownups!) require space for healing.

“Losing a friendship can be a tremendous loss for kids—just like a relationship ending can be devastating for an adult,” adds Felder. She advises parents to keep an eye on how their child adjusts to the friendship breakup (such as changes in sleep routine, eating habits, emotional reactivity, etc.).

“Every child is unique and there’s no set schedule for how long it takes to move through the loss of a friendship,” says Felder. “It can be hard to experience your child going through a tough time, but feelings change, and having the support to move through this loss in a healthy way will benefit them more than being pushed to move on before they’re ready.”

Related: I Never Thought Parenting Differences Would End My Oldest Friendship

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