Signs a Child is Struggling with an Unhealthy 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!

Has your child lost their spark? Do you feel like something is up on the friendship front? Watch for these signs.

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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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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