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Help! My Child is in a Toxic Friendship!

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!

Is your child in a friendship that is seriously unhealthy & dragging them down – but they don’t see it? Follow this 4-step process.

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There is nothing more heartbreaking (and frustrating) than watching your child put up with an unhealthy friendship…especially when they can’t see it themselves! As parents, we can sometimes forget that these experiences are what make our children stronger and more resilient. However, it’s still important that we coach and guide them to make healthy choices.

If your child is in a toxic friendship that is affecting their self-esteem and you can see this friendship is bringing out the worst in them, it’s time to give them some support.

Here’s a step-by-step guide, to be completed over the course of a couple of weeks, for coaching your child to ‘see the light’:

Step 1: Watch this Video with your child.

Even if you’ve been to a ‘Language of Friendship’ parent-child workshop before, sit down and watch this with them. A few tips for this step:

  • Avoid talking directly about their toxic friendship. Your child might get their back up, so simply explain that you wanted to watch this video as a little refresher.
  • Make it fun. Pop some popcorn or make a special drink. If you can, cast it onto a big TV or cuddle up in bed and watch it on a laptop. Your child has to view this as a positive experience and this will undoubtedly strengthen your connection with them.
  • Pause the video at various times and ask them if they can think of an example in their friendships.

Step 2: Do this activity with your child.

The Friend-o-meter is the easiest way to start talking to your child about healthy and unhealthy friendships. It’s important for them to really crystallize what qualities and attributes they value in a friend. Again, this activity doesn’t point the finger at any one friend, but gets them to think about what matters most. Here are a few tips when you do this activity:

  • Bring up behaviors that you’ve noticed in this toxic friendship. You could say, “What if someone is trying to control you? Is that a quality of a healthy friendship or would that go in the unhealthy category?”
  • Spend time exploring what RESPECT looks like in a friendship. Ask your child, “How do you know a friend respects you?” Remind them of Friendship Fact #3.
  • Be sure to take them for ice-cream after! Positive vibes all around!

Step 3: Complete this activity with your child.

We can’t underestimate the power of social boundaries. When a child allows a toxic friendship into their lives, they need to strengthen their boundaries.

TIP: If your child is still feeling a bit resistant, try printing out the handout that accompanies this activity and leaving it on their pillow with a love note. Write something like, “I love you and am always here for you. You deserve healthy, feel-good friendships. I thought this handout seemed interesting!”

Step 4: Watch this video with your child. 

Hopefully, once you get to this step your child has started to possibly recognize that they are in an unhealthy friendship. Watch this video with them and do the activities.

If your child is still having a hard time admitting or accepting their friendship is in the red zone of the Friend-o-meter, try to figure out what exactly it is that’s keeping them hooked. Are they afraid of being alone? Are they afraid this friend will sabotage them? What ‘need’ is this friendship filling in your child?