Based on an interview with Dana Kerford, Friendship Expert and Founder of URSTRONG, this information was originally published in the August 2016 issue of Girlfriend Magazine.
Batman and Robin. Harry Potter and Ron Weasley. Elsa and Anna. Everywhere we look, when best friends come in pairs there tends to be one who…dominates.
She’s the captain of the soccer team, or he’s the guy that everyone wants to talk to between classes. Being the popular one comes with its own set of challenges, but let’s consider the other half of the pair: the sidekick. In a well-balanced, healthy relationship, there’s nothing inherently wrong with having one friend that’s more outgoing and another that prefers to stay a little further out of the spotlight. Unfortunately, that dynamic of “Superstar” and “Sidekick” can often leave the latter half of the duo feeling left out or ignored altogether.
Do high-energy kids seek out quieter ones as friends? Or does it just “happen”?
In URSTRONG, we teach children our 4 Friendship Facts. Friendship Fact #2 centres on understanding that every friendship is different. We are drawn to different friendships for different reasons. For instance, we might really “click” with someone academically at school and feel like we’re always on the same page as them; naturally, they become our first choice when our teachers say, “Find yourself a partner!” If we’re looking for a fun night out, a different friend might pop to mind — someone we laugh with and let loose with.
For kids with big personalities, it’s natural for them to find friends with an easy-going, go-with-the-flow kind of personality to be more appealing, because it feels good to be with them. Because they’re quieter and take up less “space” in a room, they allow louder person the freedom to be where they feel best…as the centre of attention, with all eyes on them! There’s no sense of having to compete with their friend in order to be noticed, which lets their big personality shine.
What are signs that a child is feeling used by a more dominating friend?
It’s so important to help kids pay attention to how they feel during and after time spent with a friend. Like healthy food, a healthy friendship will make them feel good, give them energy, help them grow and feel strong.
In general, healthy friendships give us what we need and lift us up. Unhealthy friendships, on the other hand, are like junk food. They make us feel bad, drag us down, and don’t give us what we need.
While a friend with a big personality can have its advantages, the kids who represent the gentler half of the equation should still feel respected and heard. How can you help children to explore this idea? Consider a conversation that might go something like this:
“If you feel invisible when you’re with your friend, like your voice and opinions don’t matter, pay attention to those feelings. Your friend can be vivacious, but that shouldn’t dim your light. If it does, pay attention to the moments where you feel that way. Do you only feel that way when you’re hanging out in a group with other people too? If so, skip those situations and redefine your friendship to focus on what works. If movie nights and shopping trips and chatting on the phone feels good, then do those things with your friend and skip the parties.”
A respectful, healthy friendship should feel fair. That fairness can come in many forms, but the idea is that you feel you get back as much as you give. Everyone contributes to a friendship in a different way and it’s important to understand that we all show love and connection differently.
Are there any practical tips on helping kids know how to deal with a friend who has a dominant personality?
If your child is feeling overshadowed by a friend, you can ask them to reflect on this question: “Do I feel this way because of things my friend is doing or do I feel this way because of how I feel about myself?”
If it’s because of specific things that their friend is doing, then we would call that a Friendship Fire®. Fires like this can easily be put out by having an open, honest conversation. When the time is right, encourage your child to sit down with that friend (face-to-face, not through text!) and (1) retell the situation, and (2) explain how it made them feel. A key component of this kind of conversation is using statements starting with “I felt…” rather than “You were being…” Here’s an example:
“Remember when we were hanging out with that big group after school and deciding where to go? I felt like you didn’t listen to my suggestion and it was hard for me to explain myself in that moment. I sometimes don’t feel heard in situations like that!”
If this is someone who truly cares about your child’s feelings and values the friendship, they will try to understand — and, better yet, this Fire will be put out by talking-it-out (an important phase of our Friend-o-cycle!).
On the other hand, if your child can’t really think of anything the friend has done to make them feel overshadowed, perhaps this has more to do with their own self-esteem. Your child’s task then becomes learning to accept who they are, to be proud of the fact that they take a more tender approach to life. The world needs people exactly like that! Teach your child that their voice matters, even if it’s not as loud as their friend’s — because strength that comes from within is a gift in and of itself, a “superpower” in its own right.
Interview with Dana Kerford
Friendship Expert and Founder of URSTRONG