I have three daughters. Three wonderful, sweet, fun girls to be around. We are blessed to live in a neighborhood with LOTS of girls. This means lots of friends to play with at any moment. But I have to tell you, I’ve found that not all girls are wonderful, sweet and fun to be around. Some like to stir the pot, exclude one girl when three are together, and play friends against one another.
Chalk some of this up to inexperience. Children need help navigating relationships that grow increasingly complex as they age. They don’t exactly know how they feel, or how to say what they want. This is where we can guide them with suggestions or step in as mediator if necessary. But we aren’t always there when these situations arise and our kids need to know how to remove themselves when a friendship isn’t friendly.
I don’t recommend explicitly banning a friend. First, your child might not recognize the behavior of her friend as hurtful, forgetting the tears from a snub at recess and only recalling the great fun they enjoy when she’s “in favor.” Second, your child needs to learn to trust her own judgment about friendships. You don’t want to get started on the path that leads to your children liking someone just because you don’t.
Instead, try to help your daughter recognize if a friend is really a “frenemy.” You will want to sound her out to get answers to some of these questions:
- Does your child feel valued by this person?
- Is power equally shared in the friendship or is one person calling all the shots?
- Does this person have your child’s best interests at heart?
- Do the children seem to be on the same team or working against each other?
- Is this normal behavior from this friend or a rare occurrence?
- Does your child feel happy to be with this person or sad after they’ve been together?
A Swedish proverb says, “Friendship doubles our joys and divides our sorrows.” If your child’s friend is decreasing her joy and increasing her sorrow, it’s time to reconsider the relationship. Extricating herself from the relationship might be harder than she is ready for at this age. Help her out. Stop making an effort to include that friend. Don’t go out of your way to see her. Encourage your child to make plans with other friends. Either the relationship will fade away, or the space will allow things to be more healthy when they are together.
You can probably think back to your own childhood and identify the “mean girl.” Or maybe you can think of one that your own child encounters today–the girl who uses her friendship as a weapon instead of a blessing. My heart breaks for these girls, who think of love as a commodity to be bargained with. As much as I am able, I want to show these girls kindness, courtesy and respect. However, I have a responsibility to protect and teach my child how to choose healthy relationships and how to identify those that aren’t.
I would like my children to be able to get along with anyone, but that doesn’t mean that they should put themselves into situations that aren’t good for them. So when these kinds of situations first came up, I shared Proverbs 4:23: Above all else, guard your heart. All the years of training to be kind to others and include everyone went against this advice. However, I believe that it is right to teach our kids that it is okay to be friendly and gracious to everyone, but to reserve true friendship for someone who has shown by their actions that they are worthy to be called friend.
Belinda is a regular writer for Pruning Princesses. She had a pet monkey when she was 8. In a past life, she was an adviser to college students. Now she’s taking an extended sabbatical to focus on her mom job. She lives in Michigan with her husband, three daughters – ages 10, 8, and 5 – and her son, who is 2. She enjoys travel, cooking, hanging out with her family, and the occasional game of competitive badminton. Read her other posts here.