Friendship Fire or Mean-on-Purpose?

Article Glossary

Glossary of Terms

At URSTRONG, we believe it’s important to use kids’ language for kids’ problems. That’s why we have our very own, unique language of friendship. Here are some important terms that children, parents, and teachers learn in our program.

Friendship Fire®: Any situation between you and a friend that results in negative feelings.

Mean-on-Purpose: When someone is intentionally unkind to someone else.

Quick Comeback: A very short word or phrase that is used when someone is Mean-on-Purpose. Quick Comebacks are designed to let the other person know that you heard/saw what they did and you’re not okay with it.

Friend-o-meter: A visual tool that assesses the health of friendships, ranging from the healthy zone to the unhealthy zone.

Friend-o-cycle: The normal cycle in a friendship that brings the friendship back to the healthy zone after experiencing a Friendship Fire. The phases of the Friend-o-cycle are: Healthy Friendship – Fire – Confront the issue – Talk-it-Out – Forgive & Forget – Closer & Stronger – Healthy Friendship…

4 Friendship Facts: A set of four facts that help us have realistic expectations in our friendships so we understand what is normal.

  1. No friendship (relationship) is perfect.
  2. Every friendship is different.
  3. Trust & Respect are the two most important qualities of a friendship.
  4. Friendships change…and that’s okay.

Red Shirt Girl and Striped Shirt Boy: Two characters that remind us about the importance of body language.

Friendship Ninja: A Friendship Ninja is someone who surrounds themselves with friends in the healthy zone of the Friend-o-meter. A Friendship Ninja is kind and friendly to everyone. A Friendship Ninja understands the 4 Friendship Facts and puts out their Friendship Fires when they ignite. A Friendship Ninja stands up for themselves and their friends. A Friendship Ninja makes new friends and understands that friendships change…and that’s okay. Above all else, a Friendship Ninja is someone you want to be friends with because they’re true to who they are!

Conflict is tricky! How can we tell the difference between Friendship Fires, Mean-on-Purpose, Mean-by-Accident, and Bullying?

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We classify conflict into just two categories to keep things as easy as possible for kids: Friendship Fires® (normal conflicts between friends) and Mean-on-Purpose behavior. By making this distinction and establishing a common language, we can better coach and guide our children towards healthy friendships.

Is it a Friendship Fire or Mean-on-Purpose?

Kids and their parents sometimes mistakenly believe that any conflict with a friend is “bullying” (a word that is typically misused and misunderstood). Instead, however, we want to use simple, kid-friendly language. Here are a few common questions:

So, how can we tell the difference between a Friendship Fire or Mean-on-Purpose?

The difference really lies in intent—was it a misunderstanding or were they really trying to hurt your feelings? From the data we’ve collected so far, the majority of conflict that exists in schools are Friendship Fires (approx. 90%).

Can a friend be Mean-on-Purpose too?

Yes, absolutely, and it really hurts!

Can a friend be Mean-by-Accident?

Yep, this is a Friendship Fire.

Can a Friendship Fire escalate into Mean-on-Purpose?

Definitely. This is why we teach kids that timing is important when we put out our Friendship Fires. Sometimes we’re not ready or our friend isn’t ready to put out the Fire. If we continue to try and Talk-it-Out when the time isn’t right, we will inevitably make the Fire bigger.

Can we de-escalate a Mean-on-Purpose moment into a Friendship Fire?

For sure. Sometimes we misinterpret someone’s behavior as Mean-on-Purpose. When we respond with a Quick Comeback, the person knows we felt it was mean. This then allows that person to respond in a way that explains that their intent wasn’t to be mean. By doing this, they move into the Talk-it-Out phase on the Friend-o-cycle and, thus, it’s downgraded to a Friendship Fire.

Here’s a scenario that demonstrates our step-by-step friendship strategy in-action:

Your friend starts calling you the nickname, “Sweatpants,” because you always wear comfy pants to school. At first, you think it’s fun and it makes you feel closer to your friend. You both laugh about it and think it’s cool.

After time, it feels less funny and more like your friend is making fun of you. You start to feel offended and it’s really bugging you. THIS IS A FRIENDSHIP FIRE®.

In URSTRONG, we teach kids to (1) Retell the situation, and (2) Explain how it made you feel. This is a conversation.

You ask to talk to your friend and let them know that the nickname is actually making you feel bad. Through the conversation, you explain how you feel and you respectfully ask your friend to not call you “Sweatpants” anymore.

The next day, your friend continues calling you the nickname, fully knowing you don’t like it. THIS IS MEAN-ON-PURPOSE.

In URSTRONG, we teach kids to say their Quick Comeback in a strong voice and then walk away. This is not a conversation.

When your friend calls you the nickname again, knowing it’s hurtful, you say your Quick Comeback: “Stop.” You walk away and try to keep your focus on something that makes you happy.

At this point, we would let kids know that if this is a healthy friendship, your friend would respect you enough to stop calling you the nickname. If your friend continues calling you the name, trust and respect (Friendship Fact #3) break down, and this friendship would be in the unhealthy (red) zone of the Friend-o-meter. 

The URSTRONG advice: Spend less time with this friend. You deserve healthy, feel-good friendships and remember Friendship Fact #4: Friendships change…and that’s okay.

If your friend continued to be Mean-On-Purpose, despite standing up for yourself and communicating it’s not okay (through your Quick Comeback), then THIS IS BULLYING.

This requires the support of adults to provide deeper interventions. We would encourage schools to follow our Bullying Prevention Plan that outlines the procedure for both the victim and the perpetrator. 



Written by Dana Kerford

Friendship Expert and Founder, URSTRONG