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What to Do When Your Child's Friend is Struggling

  • Jennifer Maggio
What to Do When Your Child's Friend is Struggling

As an adult, and especially as a parent, nothing is worse than seeing a child who is struggling. If an adult has some type of hurt, trauma, disappointment, or devastating circumstance, of course we sympathize. (Hopefully, we move forward to lend a helping hand or a listening ear, too). But let’s face it. There’s just something special about a child – the beauty of what they could be, their innocence, and sweet faces – that fills us with immense heartache when they are hurting.

So, what do you do when your child has a hurting friend? You want to help, but how much is too much? How little is not enough?

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"... I felt helpless."

"... I felt helpless."

I was 14 years old, when my dear friend’s father left her mother. She was devastated. It had been tense at home, but she never imagined her parents would actually split. We stayed up and cried together many nights in those first weeks and months, mourning the loss of a family who would never live in the same home again. I listened as she shared her pain and fears. I just wanted to help her heal, but mostly, I felt helpless.

I knew the trauma of living without both parents because my mother died when I was only 18 months old. I knew the financial challenges that would likely lie ahead for her family, the parties or church events where it would hurt that both parents were not present, and the endless questions that would one day come from well-meaning friends asking where the “other” parent was.

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"...God placed loving adults in my life..."

"...God placed loving adults in my life..."

Through the years, God placed loving adults in my life who helped me successfully navigate the hurt of losing a parent, the trauma of living with an alcoholic, and more. Those adults included relatives and family friends, teachers and coaches, and parents of some of my best friends. Their parents became my parents in so many ways. Even now, I am moved to tears as I think of all my friends’ parents – how they acted as “mom” in my life through critical parts of my story.

Just like when my friend was hurting oh so many years ago and the special parents of friends that were there for me through my own trauma, there are some important do’s and don’ts that will assist you in navigating seasons with your child’s friends who may be experiencing struggles like an absentee parent, death, poverty, or a health issue.

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1. Be there for your child first.

1. Be there for your child first.

As your child is present for his or her friend, you be there for your child.

As you well know, it is an important life skill to learn to be a good friend to others, to learn to encourage others, and to sympathize when our friends are struggling. This circumstance is a perfect opportunity for your child to gain skills that will last a lifetime.

Open dialogue with your child about what they are feeling and what questions they may have. This also helps ensure that if there is something serious or harmful happening, they know they can come to you.

Be the support to your child, as he or she is the support to a friend. This will allow you to gently guide them through appropriate responses, while also letting them know that the things that concern them also concern you.

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2. Be a listening ear.

2. Be a listening ear.

Let your child know that you care by encouraging conversation when their hurting friend is over. Ask questions to display concern, but also be cautious to offer advice. There are multiple layers to a struggle, and depending on what the child is struggling with, there could be multiple sides to the story.

As a trusted adult, your focus should be on:

  • displaying love, care, and warmth to the child, and
  • being a listening ear that can exhibit the love of Christ by simply being there

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3. Don’t overstep your bounds.

3. Don’t overstep your bounds.

While it is important that you are supportive and that your child and his or her friend know that you are there for them, it is also important that you honor and respect their parents’ (or guardians) position in their lives. The struggles a child is facing could stem from challenges at home or circumstances that you do not fully understand or have comprehensive details on. It’s important that you recognize the authority figures in that child’s life (parents, grandparents, teachers, etc.) and respond with an attitude of honor and respect. Teach that child that it’s important to honor their authority.

(Caution: If the struggle the child is facing stems from suspected abuse, then it’s important that you notify appropriate parties to investigate.)

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4. Don’t try to fix it.

4. Don’t try to fix it.

Life gets messy and problems get complicated, very quickly. It isn’t our job to fix everyone and everything. Although as moms we certainly think so, don’t we? I don’t know about you, but some of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in life have been through struggle and disappointment. The same will likely be true for your child’s friend.

There are some life lessons that often come best through experience, pain, and struggle.

Struggles help us build resilience and a full dependence on the Lord. We learn the value of perseverance. We grow in many areas. Be careful not to attempt the fixing; rather, point them to the One who can fix it all. (Now, that’s not to say that baking some warm chocolate chip cookies or serving a great meal won’t go a long way to help heal them!)

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5. Point the child to Jesus.

5. Point the child to Jesus.

Only our Healer can mend the deepest sorrows. The largest mountains, our Savior can move. The tears shed are bottled up and stored. He cares more than we ever could.

“Record my misery; list my tears on your scroll — are they not in your record?” (Psalm 56:8)

Continue to point the child in the direction of his or her Savior. This is a prime time to move forward in either strengthening his/her walk with the Lord or introducing them to the Savior.

Certainly, we want to be age appropriate with such discussions, but Jesus instructed us to come to him when we are weary.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30).

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6. Pray with and for the friend.

6. Pray with and for the friend.

Take the time to pray together as a team. Let the child know that their trust can be in the Lord and the He offers peace that the world does not understand.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27).

The more frequently we pray with and for our children (and their friends), the more embedded this becomes into their lives and personal walks with their Heavenly Father as they become teens and young adults. Take the time to lift up the needs to the Lord and trust that He will direct the paths.

Exhibit how to pray. Show them that even the toughest of problems, for which you have no answers or solutions, can be taken to the Lord, and He can provide a peace that just flows like a river through the situation.

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"...He is always good..."

"...He is always good..."

While the pain of a child is heartbreaking, it can be a time of great growth for all involved – you, your child, and the friend. While we cannot always understand they why, we can trust the Lord that He is always good, all-knowing, and all-powerful to heal and rectify the pain.

Jennifer Maggio is an author to 4 books, wife of Jeff, and mother of 3 children. She is passionate about helping women find their full potential in Christ. She is a national speaker and Chief Executive Officer of The Life of a Single Mom Ministries. For more info, visit www.jennifermaggio.com.

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