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Dr. Irene S. Levine Headshot

Children of Divorce and Their Friendships

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When parents go through a divorce, there can be friendship fallout for kids

QUESTION

Dear Irene,

My formerly popular 11-year old granddaughter is being shunned by her BFFs to the point that she doesn't want to go to school (which she formerly loved). Her parents are going through a divorce, and it's hit her the hardest. It could be that she's done something to annoy her girlfriends but the ringleader has cut her off from everyone (small, private school). Should her mom consult the school counselor? Teacher? Or just let the kids work it out?

Signed,
Sue

ANSWER

Dear Sue,

Preteen girls can be pretty tough on each other, especially when they are in groups. That said: The allegiances in middle school change quickly.

If your granddaughter is avoiding school or finding it painful to attend, it might be useful to give her the opportunity to speak to a trusted adult about her specific concerns. A good start might be a talk with you or her mother. For example, she may be embarrassed or be having a hard time explaining the divorce to her friends.

This conversation might give the adults who care about her more insight into what is creating the distance between her and her former friends. In addition, an adult may be able to coach her on some helpful strategies for resolving her friendship issues. If neither her mother nor you feel adequate at this role, you can have her speak to a counselor at school. The emphasis should be on giving her the tools to work it out on her own rather than working it out for her.

Divorce can be painful for kids of any age but since it is more common than it was when you or I were growing up, there's a bit less stigma attached to it. In fact, many schools have counseling groups for kids living through a divorce. If your granddaughter's school is too small to have such a group, it could be helpful to let the guidance counselor and teacher know what has happened within the family.

In the meantime, encourage your granddaughter to invite a friend over to do homework or for a sleepover. Perhaps, if she feels close to one or two kids from school, she'll be more comfortable leaving the house in the morning.

If this turns out to be a more intense type of school phobia, she might benefit from seeing a psychologist, psychiatrist or psychiatric social worker.

Hope this helps. She is lucky to have a concerned and vigilant grandmother like you.

Warm regards,

Irene