My Daughter’s Friend is Toxic – Help!

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.

More Resources

OddGirlOut_TheHiddenCultureOfAggeressionInGirlsOdd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls (Revised and updated) by Rachel Simmons





Odd Girl Speaks Out: Girls Write About Bullies, Cliques, Popularity & Jealousy by Rachel Simmons




  1. Tina

    I am going through this now with my 13 year old daughter. She has admitted the friendship with this particular girl is not what she wants, but then a week later it changes and they’re buddy buddy again. It is a vicious cycle and toxic so I feel I should minimize their time spent together. I don’t want to choose her friends for her, yet this has gone on for over a year and I feel my daughter is getting sucked into this friend’s group of girls that can be harmful for her. What would be the healthiest and most effective action to take?

    • Dorothy Ponton, Digital Marketing Manager

      Hi Tina,

      Just now seeing this comment! This situation sounds tough, and I’m sorry to hear your daughter is experiencing that. Going back and forth with feelings is pretty common for girls at this age. Even during weeks when they’re not buddy buddy, it sounds like she’s not ready to end the friendship. Invite her to think about what true friendship is for herself, and equip her with tools to talk about what’s important to her with that friend. That way, she can decide for herself if this relationship is meeting her own definition of friendship. This recent blog covers what we teach about this in our middle school curriculum, and could come in handy for you and your daughter.

  2. Jen

    Just went through this with our daughter! Her best friend suddenly started alternating between great and horrible within one afternoon. After months of this during weekends, my daughter got fed up. She didn’t have to tell her friend to leave because this girl keeps storming out of the house saying she doesn’t want to be her friend anymore… Then calls two weeks later like nothing happened. My daughter was more angry this last time than upset. The whole time my Hub and I used it as a learning experience. It was amazing to hear her realize that this behavior was wrong and that she deserved better. Wish I had learned that at such a young age!

  3. Nan Russell

    Please send me your newsletter

    • Dorothy Ponton, Community Engagement Manager

      Hi Nan,

      I’m happy to send you our newsletters, and I’d like to know a little more to be sure we sending you the best news for you. In addition to our main newsletter, we also have custom news for each of these regions: New York, New Jersey, Colorado, California. Would you like to hear news and specials from any of those areas?

      We also have special content we just share with Parents, by the grade of their daughters, and special content for Teachers & Trainers. If any of those topics interest you, let me know that too.




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