It’s a friend problem as common as it is painful:
Your daughter has a close friend who alternates between kindness and cruelty. On the bad days, your girl is bereft; on the good ones, it’s as though nothing was ever wrong.
As a parent, you may be outraged by her friend’s behavior; your daughter may feel otherwise. Perhaps she wants to focus on the good in the friendship, or thinks time will change her friend’s behavior. Either way, you probably both feel trapped in a frustrating cycle of toxic friendship: kindness, meanness, rinse and repeat.
This is a powerful, if painful, learning opportunity for your daughter
She has the potential to learn what she deserves in a relationship and what a healthy friendship should look like. As a parent, you have a tricky line to walk. Here’s what we suggest:
- Strike a balance between judgment and support. It’s your job as a parent to call out mean behaviors when you see them. To do it, focus on the offending actions you’ve observed or heard about. Avoid character attacks such as labeling your daughter’s friend (Mean Girl, Queen Bee, Bully) or labeling your daughter (Doormat, Wanna Be) to minimize her defensiveness:
“I know you really care about her, but I’m worried about you. I’m concerned about the way she’s treating you.
Here’s what I’ve seen: some days she’s the great friend you know and love. But then one day she won’t let you sit with her at lunch, or hang out with her at recess. She doesn’t tell you why, and it’s hurting you.
That’s not what a healthy friendship should feel like. A good friendship is consistent – you should be confident that you’ll be respected every time you’re with her. And when it doesn’t happen that way, you’re supposed to get an apology. Neither of those things is happening here.”
- Ask questions – and really listen to the answers. Ask your daughter to explain what she loves about her friendship with this girl, and then, ask why she continues to maintain the friendship in the face of meanness. Encouraging your daughter to defend unkind behavior aloud will push her to own and think critically about her own her choice – and may bring her closer to rejecting it.
Ask your daughter what she wants to do about the situation
And don’t rush to shut down a response you don’t agree with. Remember: she is learning what she wants in a healthy friendship, and how to find and keep one. Her first thoughts may not be fully formed, or evolved; it’s your job as a parent to help her think it through. Have faith that she will arrive at the right answer.
- Try to stay calm. Even though she may not admit it, your daughter knows she’s in a bad situation. She’s less likely to take in your message if you’re agitated when you speak with her. Let your words convey your concern, not your tone. Avoid labeling her behavior (“Why are you letting her walk all over you?”) and stick with the facts.
You’ve had a few decades to figure out what you want and deserve in your relationships. Your daughter’s experiences can teach her the same. She’ll truly believe and retain those lessons when she arrives at them herself. To help her on that journey stay connected to her, identify hurtful behaviors when you see them, and take care of yourself with good friends, plenty of venting, and self care.
Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls (Revised and updated) by Rachel Simmons