I would guess that a large percentage of adults, especially women, would admit to having at least one unhealthy friendship in their lives. Often times we hear this friend referred to as the High Maintenance Friend (HMF). This person requires more than you can give, takes up a lot of your time/energy, and stresses you out. After you spend time with this friend, you maybe feel less accomplished, bad about yourself, or downright exhausted.
But, that doesn’t stop you.
Even though you don’t answer the phone when this person calls or you cringe when you see a text from him/her, after a while, the guilt sets in and you feel obligated to reach out.
Well, this experience is not unique to adults – kids are the same. The difference is that children have much less control over their relationships and, in some cases, have to spend ALL day EVERY day enduring these unhealthy friendships at school.
Children often ‘put up’ with an unhealthy friendship for a long time before seeking help from an adult. They desperately hang on to the hope that one day they’ll revert back to the ‘Good Ol’ Days’ when their friendship was easy and fun! This is especially the case (with an even tighter grip) when their HMF is considered “popular”, making it that much harder to let go and accept that the friendship has changed.
If you have a feeling the child in your life is dealing with an unhealthy friendship, you’re probably right. Along with that gut instinct, here are a few signs that a child might be coping with an unhealthy friendship:
- They don’t want to go to school or seem less excited/interested than they used to.
- They are spending a lot of time in their room or by themselves.
- They seem less confident, maybe even saying negative things about themselves.
- They have been complaining of stomach aches or headaches.
- They’re not performing as well in school.
- They seem distracted.
- They don’t want to attend birthday parties, sleepovers, etc.
- Their friendship circles are getting smaller.
- They don’t talk about their friends.
- They start to ask strange questions, like: “Do you think I’m bossy?” or “Do you think I’m weird?“
- They make decisions that aren’t aligned with their core personality.
If a child is showing one or many of these signs, it’s time to step in. Some children do not innately know strategies for making relationships healthy again and they need your help. Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Tune in and ask direct, specific questions. For example, “How are things going with Lisa? Is she a good friend to you?” Or, “I noticed you haven’t mentioned Jason lately. Are things still cool with you two?”
- If you’ve attended one of our workshops, ask them where this friendship would be on the Friend-o-meter and get them to explain. Let your child know that you care and you’re there to help.
- Share your experiences when you were their age so they can relate to you on a personal-level and view you as someone who knows a thing or two about the rocky roads of friendship.
- Encourage them to spend time with friends who make them feel good and treat them with respect. Let them plan a playdate or something fun like a Movie Night with friends that are in the green zone of the Friend-o-meter.
Put on your ‘Coach hat’ and give them tips and suggestions for how to manage this unhealthy friendship. Do what you can to offer love, support, and encouragement so that your child will feel safe opening up to you and be sure to check out our Resources for lots of ways to help them!
Written by Dana Kerford
Friendship Expert and Founder of URSTRONG