Tell Me About It

My son’s falling-out with his best buddy has spread to us parents

I feel so much anger about being thrown into this situation, which I didn’t make happen

PROBLEM: I am at my wits’ end with a very unfortunate situation that has developed with my son in primary school. I would appreciate any advice you can give me, as I always get something out of your column.

Last year my son had a break-up with his best buddy; they are both in second class. I did my best to help him work through things. There had been some bullying situations involving this boy and his new friend, who joined the class during the year.

However, we have all become involved, as myself and my husband had become very friendly with this boy’s parents, so much so that we had begun to holiday together. Things came to a head when they pulled out of our planned holiday to France in July.

We thought a cooling-off period would help sort things out, but now that we are back in school I find myself being blanked by this friend and feel that she is not prepared to make any effort to move things forward.

I feel so much anger and rage about being thrown into this situation, which really has nothing to do with me and I didn’t make happen. I am so anxious about the school and how my son will cope with his new class that I am having sleepless nights, and nightmares when I finally do get to sleep. We live in a small town, so there is nowhere I feel I can get away from all this.

ADVICE: This is such a complicated situation, as you will have to remain in contact with this friend and her son for many years if your son is to stay in the school. It is very traumatic for children to experience rejection by a friend, and this is further complicated by having to face that situation on a daily basis. Usually children manage to rectify the situation themselves if they are given enough space to do so, but when parents are involved it becomes more difficult, as the children also want to protect them from hurt. Your son’s friendship extended to his home life, as you have been on holidays with the other family, so this needs a two -pronged approach.

One possibility is to have a meeting with the principal. The school can intervene by offering sessions on handling difficult situations and getting students involved in the discussions. Even children as young as eight to 10 are capable of very philosophical understanding and they also have a keen sense of justice, so group dialogue mediated by a teacher has a lot to offer. Your son’s teacher might be able to offer insight on the daily experience at school and you can ask that extra observation and care be offered to him at this vulnerable time.

Of course, you are suffering on behalf of your son, and your sleeplessness and nightmares signify the level of upset you are experiencing. Your inability to take action to alleviate the adversity is contributing to your anxiety because you are afraid that any action might make the situation worse for your son. But you too are caught up in this, as you are being blanked, and I wonder if there is an approach you might take with your former friend to at least create a cordial relationship. You are very angry at the moment, so a direct conversation might be risky but perhaps coffee with some other mums might be a beginning to recovery.

Your own attitude might need to be addressed before this happens, because rage could emanate from you, thus creating further alienation. Is it possible that your former friend is trying to protect her son from accusations, and she is afraid that if she talks to you she might have to face some truths about her child? The suggestion is not to put on rose-coloured spectacles but rather to allow for the possibility that she might also be suffering from the lack of friendship. She clearly has less ability to deal with it than you, which is perhaps why she has resorted to stonewalling you.

In another situation you might simply let this relationship go and put it down to experience, but this could affect you and your son for many years, so it deserves serious effort. There is no point in organising coffee with other parents in an effort to normalise the situation if you are masking a serious grudge.

Can you talk this over with someone who can help you express your feelings with the aim of neutralising your reaction so that you have the best chance of a diplomatic relationship for the next decade?

You seem unlikely to become close friends again, but both children will benefit from the effort you make now. The alternative is that school collection, events and concerts could be torturous for years. Recruit the school to play its part; perhaps future fall-outs between pupils will benefit.