One of the most common complaints we hear from tween girls in their friendship world centers around the idea that someone is stealing their friends. The scenario is pretty easy to imagine: Two girls are playing together when a third girl comes up and pulls one of the girls away. The girl being pulled away (Girl #2) gives a look of desperation and helplessness, flashes an “I’m so sorry” with her eyes, and heads off with Girl #3… leaving Girl #1 sitting there feeling ditched, abandoned, and confused.
Although the question Girl #1 often asks us is, “How can I get her to stop stealing my friends?”, we need to help girls see this scenario from a new perspective.
The first sentiment that girls need to understand is this… The idea that someone can steal your friend implies you think you own your friend. How can something be stolen from you if you don’t own it? We would ask the girls, “Are you the boss of your friend?” to which they know they’re not. They cannot control how Girl #2 or Girl #3 act, but instead control how they react to the situation.
The second perspective-shifting idea we need Girl #1 to understand is that this situation is less about Girl #3, and more about a Friendship Fire® with Girl #2.
If she’s in the midst of a game with Girl #2 who would so easily be taken away, then of course this would result in feelings of abandonment and rattle the trust she had for her friend. It’s easy to point the finger at Girl #3 for taking her away, but it’s important for her to recognize that Girl #2 is in control of her own behavior and is really the one who ditched her. We would encourage Girl #1 to talk to Girl #2 about this, using our step-by-step approach:
- Retell the situation: “Remember how we were playing Tetherball and all of a sudden you ran away with Josie…”
- Explain how it made you feel“…That really hurt my feelings. I felt like you completely ditched me and we were mid-game!”
Not only did Girl #2 ditch her friend, she also allowed someone to treat her like a puppet at the expense of someone’s feelings, and most likely felt stuck in the middle. In this scenario, Girl #2 should have managed this sticky situation by saying, “Josie, I’m actually playing Tetherball right now!” She can then describe two options so that she’s still being kind to Girl #3:
- Offer to include her in the game: “You can help us keep score!” OR
- Let her know you can play a more inclusive game afterwards: “We’re almost done and then we can all go play Four Square!”
It’s not necessary that Girl #1 even say anything to Girl #3, as this is Girl #2s responsibility to get herself out of the middle and ensure she’s being a good friend to everyone.
As for Girl #3, the truth is, some children feel more comfortable in one-on-one situations and have a hard time navigating the social dynamics in a group. There are times, however, when exclusive behavior and possessive tendencies are rooted in fear (e.g. fear of having no friends, fear of not being popular, etc.). It’s important for these children to recognize that they are not Puppetmasters, and forcing their friend to abandon another friend is inappropriate, lacks respect, and puts their friend in an awkward situation.
We need to help children understand that school is a public place that should feel safe and welcoming. As the saying goes, there is a time and a place for everything! Once children wrap their heads around the idea that one-on-one time is best suited for playdates, the urge to ‘steal friends’ subsides and a more inclusive environment is created at school.
Written by Dana Kerford
Friendship Expert and Founder of URSTRONG