My 7-year-old daughter learned a harsh reality this week—people you trust will let you down.

It’s a fact I’ve known for years, but it took my daughter by surprise. Someone she trusted stole something special of hers and lied to her face. The look of complete shock on her face when she found out the truth showed me this wasn’t just any little kid drama that’s forgotten about the next day—this friend betrayal cut deep.

It was a tough lesson, sure. But more importantly, it was a great learning opportunity for both girls that made them both a little wiser and left them feeling satisfied in their own ways. 

A story of playground friend betrayal

A little background info: We attend a very small private school in a rural area. My kids have gone there for most of their lives and most of the parents and kids all know each other. I’m friends with the parents of my daughter’s friends. Everyone usually gets along. It’s like one big family—for the most part.

Which is why I was surprised when my daughter came home crying that her necklace was stolen at the playground.

Her best friend had given her the necklace the past weekend (they got matching ones). She wore it to school the next day with pride. She took it off to do a handstand while surrounded by other girls, then they were all called inside. When she went back to retrieve the necklace, it was gone.

Related: We shouldn’t feel the need to apologize for kids acting like kids

My daughter accepted her role in its disappearance—she wasn’t responsible and forgot about it. But as she was searching for it, one of the girls said they saw someone take it and bury it. My daughter frantically went to the supposed location and dug in with both hands. It wasn’t there.

The friend continued to let on that she knew something about it but wouldn’t tell my daughter who was involved or where the necklace was. At this point, my daughter wasn’t just upset about the necklace—she was upset that her friend seemed to be hiding something from her. 

According to my daughter, “That’s not how we treat friends.”

The outcome surprised us

I normally don’t get involved in my daughter’s friend drama. I believe if she has an argument with a friend, they need to work it out themselves. I do offer guidance when she asks for it because she’s 7 and still learning how to navigate friendships

I also wouldn’t have cared much about a regular necklace. But this one was special. It meant something different to her. Because it was so important to her, it was important to me, too. 

Related: Motherhood helped me learn who my real friends are

Having offered her several suggestions to find her necklace (e.g. asking for help from her teacher, confronting her friends, telling her exactly what to say, etc) with no resolution, I took a step outside of my normal boundaries

I texted the friend’s mom. 

I told her I thought her daughter might be able to help us and asked if she would speak to her. I never suspected the friend was the culprit.

But a few minutes later, the girl’s mom texted me back and asked if we were home. And a few minutes after that, she and her daughter pulled up in our driveway—with the necklace.

Related: 4 ways to help your child be a good friend

I barely had time to prepare my daughter. “Your friend took your necklace. She is bringing it back.”

I saw a full range of emotions flash through her eyes: shock, anger, sadness, confusion, disgust—and a little happiness that she was getting her necklace back.

The girl gave my daughter the necklace along with a heartfelt apology. The mom apologized to me and thanked me for bringing this situation up to her. Mom to mom, we both understood that kids make mistakes and that how we handle those mistakes can make all the difference in a bad situation.

Moral of the story: Grace always wins

I love that this mom listened to me and took action. She’s not the mom that says “My child would never…” because let’s face it, every child would ever.

I also loved that she brought her daughter to deliver the necklace and apologize in person. That’s exactly what I did a few years ago when my then-3-year-old son stole candy from a store. 

I was just as surprised as my daughter that this friend was the one that stole her necklace. But instead of projecting my negative feelings onto her, I thanked her friend for telling the truth and making it right. I told her we appreciated her courage—because being honest can be scary sometimes. 

Related: How to help your child deal with a bully, according to a child psychologist

After the friend left, I asked my kids not to talk to anyone at school about this. My daughter got her necklace back, the girl apologized, and the two made up. There’s no reason to tell their friends at school and potentially embarrass the friend or make them regret confessing. The situation is over, and I believe it’s time to move on—all of us.

I believe that the way we handled this situation shows that sometimes, kids need to be given the opportunity to correct their mistakes and learn from them. And sometimes, that looks like allowing them to learn right from wrong in a way that’s constructive and not punishing. I hope that my daughter and the girl remain friends and can work out whatever feelings they have.