I’m in an Unhealthy Friendship – Now What??

If you have a feeling the tween in your life is dealing with an unhealthy friendship, you’re probably right. Check out: 

Signs a Tween is Coping with an Unhealthy Friendship

A huge component of our program is teaching children how to manage conflict so that they can improve the friendship and get it in the healthy zone again. However, if they do identify someone that’s in the toxic zone and it’s not going anywhere (despite following our steps), then the GirlPower & GoodGuys advice is simple… SPEND LESS TIME WITH THEM.

We talk to the girls and boys about what spending less time with someone at school looks like and how to continue to be civil and pleasant.

• Rather than hanging out every recess, hang out with this person every other recess.
• Rather than being their partner every time, be their partner every other time.

Our advice to boys and girls is to decrease their daily dose of unhealthy friendships and increase their daily dose of healthy friendships. As adults, we know these friendships will eventually fade OR they will improve with time and space apart.

It is important to remind children they can only control one person…themselves. They cannot control how another person treats them, but can control how they react to them.

Without fail, we always get this question: “But, but, but…What if this person is friend’s with my friends?” This is very common and we tell the kids they have two options:

OPTION 1: Continue to hang out with your friends at school, even when this other person is around. After all, you cannot tell your friends who they can and can’t be friends with and you don’t want to put them in the middle. You continue to stand up for yourself if this person is mean-on-purpose, but you co-exist while being civil and pleasant.

OPTION 2: You choose to hang out with other friends while your friends are hanging out with that person. Rather than your friendship with your friends being mostly at school, your friendship becomes mostly outside of school. You invite them over for a few more playdates and carefully choose appropriate times to hang out with them.

We tell the kids to truly imagine how it feels to be in both situations and go with the one that feels right. We tell them that Option 1 feels really bad for us (Hanging out with someone who’s not kind to me? I deserve better than that!) and that Option 2 sounds great (I get to invite my friends over for more playdates? That sounds awesome!).

With girls in particular, we have found that they would rather have an unhealthy friendship over no friends, but our hope is that after our workshops, kids would rather play on their own than hang out with someone who’s not nice to them. The research is very clear that children who spend the most time in healthy friendships perform better academically, have higher self-esteem, a more positive body image, get involved in more leadership roles, and make better decisions in future relationships. These are among the many, many reasons children need to spend less time with peers who make them feel bad.

We need to remind tweens that the research also shows “popular” kids are the ones who are kind…which actually goes against the ‘Queen Bee’ persona or ‘Sarcastic Bully’ that we typically imagine. Those kids don’t score very many points on the popularity metre, while pop culture would have us believe otherwise.

Written by Dana Kerford
Friendship Expert and Founder of GirlPower & GoodGuys

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  1. thank you so much for this post. My 9 yo daughter is stuck in an unhealthy friendship. Your workshop & working through the workbook has helped her come to this realization (a big step, she was previously hoping the other girl would change her behavior). She is now at option 1 stage but we are working towards option 2. Your workbook also has some great tips for “break-up” strategies which I’m hoping my daughter will drum up the courage to do. Thank you again.

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  2. Hi Anne! Thank you so much for your comments. I’m so glad to hear that the workshop and workbook are helping your daughter navigate this unhealthy friendship. It’s hard for children to ‘let go’ of these friendships because they so desperately want things to go back to the way they were. They hold on to hope that it will change – it will get better. In some cases, making a few tweaks will move the friendship back into the healthy zone again. However, if she’s tried and things continue to stick in the unhealthy zone, it’s time for her to move on. Encouraging your daughter to spend lots of time with friends who make her feel good and lots of time doing things she loves…focusing on what lights her up will make this process easier and she will start to naturally gravitate towards happy, healthy relationships. I’m so proud of her for understanding that she deserves better. Give her a HUGE hug for me!!


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