Friend doesn’t want to play

Question: My 10-year-old son has been playing with a friend he has had for the last four years and just in the last 3 months or so his friend never seems to be able to play. James, my son, mentioned to me that at one play date, when this friend’s cousin came over to play, it was like James was no longer around and did not play with him anymore. Then when he called him today to play, he couldn’t play and James commented that he never seems to get to play anymore. This just breaks my heart and I don’t know the correct way to tell him without hurting his feelings that maybe this friend has moved on, and no longer wants to be his friend? Please help! want him to maintain his esteem. Debbie

Answer: It is heartbreaking to watch your child experience potentially painful situations. By all means, take some time (when your son is not around) to feel your sadness. But remember that your sadness is the sadness of a mother who loves and adores this little boy. You son’s emotions, on the other hand, are the feelings of a 10 year old boy. He is young and just learning how much weight to give this experience.

You have the opportunity to teach him three valuable life lessons: 1. How to understand what is happening in his social world 2. How to understand his own feelings about this experience 3. How to problem solve his way to a solution

Your son will then have the knowledge and the skills that will establish a powerful foundation for self-esteem – a foundation based on the person he is and an honest awareness of the world around him.

First, discuss with him what he thinks is happening with the friendship. It sounds like he is already figuring out that things have changed. Ask him open-ended questions about why he thinks this happened – he can probably give you a fairly accurate explanation of how either or both of the boys are changing. Maybe they do not like doing the same things any more. Maybe there’s another child who’s entered the play scene. Listen well and jump in if you hear your son personalizing the problem in an inappropriate way (saying things like “Nobody likes me anymore anyway” or “Everybody thinks I’m a jerk”). Your goal is to help him to accurately “read” the situation without making sweeping personal judgments. If he did something to jeopardiz e the friendship, you can help him think of ways to try to fix it.

Then talk about his feelings. Has he expressed his sadness and loss? Is he angry that things changed even though he didn’t want them to change? Again, be a good listener by asking open-ended questions and letting him find the right way to express his feelings.

Once the feelings are expressed, you can ask him what he wants to do. Help him to evaluate what he can and cannot realistically accomplish. Is he ready to move on? Can he think of other children who enjoy being with him? What can he do to develop new friendships? You can facilitate the problem solving by helping him to strategize what he wants to do.

You also have an invaluable role to provide emotional comfort. While you cannot protect your son from life’s pain and suffering, you can still be there when he is sad. You can be there to hug him or to catch his tears. Your unconditional love and the safe haven of home will be a wonderful refuge from the hardships of the world.

Good Luck,
Karen Deerwester, Ed.S.

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