By Dr. Susan Bartell

Best Friends Forever

August 27, 2013   |  CHILD RAISING   

How is it possible your child could have developed such an intense friendship so quickly, you wonder—and will it even last? A child psychologist and award-winning author addresses the keys to a best friendship and how to talk to your kids when their friendships dwindle.

You’re my BFF.

bffAs your child settles into the new school year, she will likely begin to meet new kids—those that weren’t in her class prior years. Before you know it, she will be talking about her ‘best friend’—someone who she’s known for only a month or two. How is it possible, you wonder, that a child could have such a close friendship so quickly…and is it even real?

In general, girls are more likely than boys are to characterize their friendships in this way. Particularly in the elementary years, boys tend to hang out in casual groups formed around shared interests, such as favored activities or a passion for a professional sports team. However, even amongst boys, there can be a seemingly quick and strong connection to a new friend or group of friends.

As a parent, how should you understand this intense friendship, and can you expect it to last? If you’re not a first-time parent, you may already have helped a child through the painful ending of a “BFF” friendship. In many cases it is inevitable—a friendship that forms with lightning speed may burn out just as quickly. In fact, interestingly, you might observe a very similar scenario when your child goes to college for the first time. First-semester friendships can fade and then new, more reliable ones, emerge.

Nevertheless, the fact that an intense friendship may not last very long is not a reason to discourage it in the first place. For one thing, passion is a special commodity that tends to dim as we get older. It involves emotional risk-taking (yes, even if your child is only 5 or 6 years old) and it includes dedication and idealism, all traits that we want to cultivate in our kids.

In addition, no matter how young your child may be, he needs to have the opportunity to try out relationships and make his own mistakes. This is true now and will be for the rest of his life. Being able to try out intense relationships at a young age, when the stakes are very low, is one of the ways that a child learns to judge people in order to determine whether they will be good long-term friends or partners.

As the adult, you will recognize that the friendship may not last forever. It may even be obvious to you right from the start. Of course, you can and should counsel your child gently about your concerns. However, it is inevitable that your child or teen will eventually make a friendship mistake (amongst all those other mistakes!), and it is critical for her to feel that she has a safe place to land, regardless of whether she has taken your advice.

She will need you to be there to pick up the pieces when she feels betrayed and lonely, and you will need to do so without judgment or an ‘I told you so.’ When you offer your child this kind of support, it leaves room for her to take small risks and continue learning from them—so that by the time she is an adult, her BFF really will be forever…and it might even be you!

Dr. Susan Bartell is a Long Island-based, nationally recognized child psychologist, speaker, and award-winning author. Her latest book is The Top 50 Questions Kids Ask. Read more of Dr. Bartell’s advice at nymetroparents.com/bartell.

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