Ask the Experts: Addressing Jealousy in Friendships

Tips on acknowledging your child's social pain and helping them through it

Q: How can I help my kids with jealousy in friendships? I want to help out when they feel left out and excluded by their friends.

A: Usually exclusion and feelings of jealousy in friendship are a matter of normal social pain. It happens to almost everyone, but for each child, it feels like the first — and the worst — time ever. Just because it is universal doesn’t mean the pain isn’t real. But just because the pain is real doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world, either. When our children are feeling normal social pain, we need to acknowledge their suffering, bear the pain ourselves and to keep some perspective about it.

To acknowledge a child’s pain is to express empathy: “That must have hurt.” No lecturing about how they’ll get over it or it isn’t a big deal. Just listen. You can share your own experiences of jealousy or exclusion to help your child see that you truly understand.

Bearing your child’s pain means not becoming so overwhelmed that you can’t think straight. Emotional flooding happens when we add our own remembered social pain to what our child is experiencing. Parents who can’t bear their child’s social pain might interrogate their child, with the lawyer or principal on speed dial; show up at school hopping mad; or confront the other parent and “take matters in their own hands,” usually with disastrous results.

Putting the situation into perspective means believing your child will recover from this excruciating pain and may even grow from it. Don’t insist that your child have this same perspective. They are probably not ready for that. But if you are solid in knowing (silently) all will be well and that they will make new friends, then you can be a powerful emotional support.

You will notice I didn’t mention giving advice. Children don’t need us to tell them what to do. They need us to listen, to offer empathy, to maintain our own emotional balance, and then to listen some more.

However, if your child is constantly excluded and never feels a sense of friendship or belonging, this is beyond the level of normal social pain. They may need some help from school counselors or professionals, possibly working on social skills, or dealing with anxiety or trauma issues. 

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