Friendship Stress

When Friendships Change

When all’s well between you and your bestie, life feels grand. It probably feels like you’re skipping together down a smooth path on a sunny day, leaping through rainbows while birds sing sweetly. Ah, friendship! There’s nothing better!

Until you hit a rough patch. Maybe your best friend’s spending lots of time with someone new, or just acting differently but you don’t know why, or maybe you’re the one who doesn’t feel the same way anymore. During these times, you probably feel like you’re walking in the rain, on an uneven path, of cracks and potholes, with huge obstacles blocking the way and your best friend nowhere in sight. It happens, to pretty much all of us. When it does, it’s normal to feel upset. It’s normal to feel a whole bunch of things.

What did it feel like?

“I felt a bit betrayed.”

-Kevin, age 10

“I’m mad and melancholy. I try to forget about it but it never works.”

–Stella, age 10

“There are three of us and they are kind of fighting over me. Being caught in the middle is frustrating. And I’m sad because I really want them to get along.”

–Claire H., age 10

“My friend got a better friend – or, that’s what I thought. I felt mad and sad and really jealous – I felt all these feelings attacking me, almost.”

–Emma, age 10

“My best friend and I met a new friend and all three of us were hanging out together, but then they started ignoring me. I felt sort of excluded, and sad, and confused — I thought: ‘why are they doing this?’”

–Claire M, age 11

What helped?

“I confronted my friend and gave him a chance to apologize. When he apologized, I felt satisfied and we became friends again.”
–Finn, age 10

“Letting them cool off after a fight helps a lot. Time makes things better.”
–Claire H., age 10

“It helped to play with other friends so I didn’t have to feel the empty space between me and my other friend.”
–Emma, age 10

“I tried talking to them but I couldn’t find the right moment. I started talking to the people at my table in class and I made new friends. I still snuck a glance at how much fun they were having but it was much less of a problem.”
–Claire M., age 11

What to do when friendships change . . .

What do anacondas, tulips and friendships all have in common? They’re all living things. They start off small and they grow. And as they grow, they change.

It’s not always a bad thing that friendships change. After all, that’s what makes it possible for your soccer teammate, who you barely know, to become one of your closest pals. Of course, when things feel perfect, you want them to stay that way.

When a friendship’s changing and you don’t want it to, you probably wish you could just make your friend do what you want– hang out with you, treat you nicely, and be happy doing it. The trouble is, you can’t control other people – no, not even by hypnosis. No matter how hard you try, it won’t work — and it might even make things worse.

But here’s the thing: even though you can’t change your friend’s feelings or thoughts or actions, you can absolutely change your own. You can be okay, even if the friendship’s not. Here’s how:

–Know that it’s not your fault

You may wonder if it’s your fault that your friend is backing away. You may think, “What did I do? Why don’t they want to be my friend anymore?” There are a lot of reasons a friend might want space or to spend time with someone new, but none of them are your fault. Don’t blame yourself. This is just something that happens.

-Tell your friend how you feel

Other people can’t read our minds (which is usually a good thing!). Clue them into how you’re feeling, but not with accusations like, “You’re so mean!” or “You’re the worst friend ever!” That’ll just make your friend defensive. Instead, start your sentence with “I” and focus on your feelings, not what your friend did — like, “I feel left out” or “I want to spend more time with you.”

–Play with other friends

When it feels like something’s slipping away from you, what’s your instinct? Grab on tighter, right? Unfortunately, this isn’t a good idea when you’re dealing with people. The harder you try to get your friend to hang out, be nice, or like you, the more you may push them away. The answer? Reach out to other friends.

Now, you may not want to play with other friends, or you may feel like there’s no one else you can play with — but think of it this way. Would you rather sit and stew and feel lousy or try something a little nerve-wracking which will probably be a lot of fun? Did you choose the second one? Awesome!

Think about kids you talk to a little bit, or have played with before – these are the kids you should try first. Or maybe there’s an organized activity already set up that you can join. Either way, make a plan beforehand. It’s way easier to brainstorm when you’re calm, and not so easy when you’re stressed.

–Talk to a grown up

When you’re stumped about other kids to play with, a grownup can help. When you really want to scream at your friend, and call them every name you can think of, talk to a trusted grownup instead. You don’t have to deal with your negative feelings alone – and you shouldn’t.

–Do stuff that makes you happy

When it comes to being happy, no one knows better than you what will do the trick. Ask yourself, “what can I do to make myself feel better that won’t make things worse?” Maybe this means something you already know you love and are great at– like painting or shooting hoops. Maybe this means trying something new that excites you – like rock climbing or learning Portuguese. Maybe it’s something special you do with someone you love– a trip to the trampoline park with your brother or tea with your favorite grandma.

When times are tough with your best friend, it can make you feel alone, but know this: You are not alone. Not by a long shot. There are so many people who care, and will help you. And there are so many future-friends just waiting to meet you — more than you can even imagine. Cross my heart, hope to sigh, stick my nose in a rotten pie.