Subscriber OnlyYour Family

‘My daughter fell out with a friend during lockdown and no longer enjoys school’

Ask the Expert: ‘They fell out just before the return to school. She is very upset by this’

Question: My daughter is nine. During the recent lockdown she developed a very intense friendship with a classmate – they were each other's only available friend for the period and spend hours every day together.

They fell out just before the return to school. We can't quite pinpoint why. My daughter is very upset by this; she is struggling to settle back in school and dislikes having to be near her former friend. Up until now my daughter has loved school and considered this her safe space, but now she does not want to go to school and is complaining of tummy aches.

We have spoken to her friend’s parents, who report their daughter feeling much the same way.

What can we do to help them?


Answer: In my experience, intense one-to-one friendships for young children can be problematic, as they are always vulnerable to a falling out which can bring great heartbreak. For this reason, I think it is best to encourage your children to develop at least two or three good friendships so there is room for changes and movement without necessarily the same heartbreak.

However, you can’t totally protect your child from upset in friendships and there is always the opportunity to learn from these experiences. As a parent, you can be there to support her through the process and below are some ideas as to how you can do this.

1) Offer your daughter lots of support and kindness. Listen to how she feels and let her know that her feelings are completely understandable. Explore with her what she would like to do next and what would help her feel more comfortable going to school and being near her former friend. Be very patient and supportive – it might be that she simply needs a bit of time to adjust.

2) To help her be comfortable going to school, it might be an idea to arrange a short informal meeting with her former friend (perhaps where they bump into each other for a few minutes). The goal of this would be to help them start talking again without any pressure to return to their former friendship. This would be delicate to organise well and would require you to be able to co-operate well with the other child's parents.

3) Encourage your daughter to make other friendships and connections with other children. You can facilitate this by helping her identify other children she might like to know and arranging playdates and other activities that help. This is a good time to draw upon cousins and other supportive relationships she might have. Also, with school ending for the year, focus on exposing her to new social opportunities and experiences during the summer that will help her move on and develop a new network  of friends.

– John Sharry is founder of the Parents Plus Charity and an adjunct professor at the UCD School of Psychology. See for details.