Maybe your child's new best friend forever (BFF) is a bit of a bully. Or she's a "queen bee" who lives to cause drama. What do you do?
One mother of 11-year-old twins in California didn't mince words after her son came home crying each time he played with a certain boy, yet still begged for sleepovers with his tormentor. "I told my son this kid can be hurtful, that he's not a safe guy," she says. "If they play together at school, fine. But I avoid play dates. I won't invite him here."
Another mother from the Midwest chose a more covert approach when her 9-year-old daughter's "frenemy" regularly threatened to end the friendship when her every demand wasn't met. Instead of criticizing the girl, Mom talked with her daughter about the meaning of friendship -- how it's based on mutual affection and trust.
Together, they discussed "how people who say those kinds of [mean] things are often afraid of losing someone, so they try to have power over other people. As much as I wanted to say, 'Spend less time with her,' I'm glad I didn't. I think my stand-back-and-advise approach helped my daughter ignore those manipulative threats."
Frank Frankel, PhD, author of Friends Forever: How Parents Can Help Their Kids Make and Keep Good Friends, thinks the latter choice is better. While he understands parents' desires to intervene when a friendship seems toxic, he suggests staying on the sidelines -- at least from your child's point of view.
You want to give guidance, but "it can be treacherous telling a kid what to do," Frankel says. Parents of tweens risk their child's doubling down on the friendship if it's forbidden. Also, once a "bad" kid is considered off-limits, there may be a big friendship void to fill.
That's why Frankel suggests daily conversations with your child.
"Talk with your kids at the dinner table, asking them questions like who they ate lunch with," Frankel advises. "If your child gravitates toward a kid with behavioral issues, I wouldn't criticize that child. Don't forbid the friendship. Instead, suggest play dates with kids you like, set up activities with children whose parents you trust, and encourage your child to join clubs where they'll be exposed to new friendships. Once they start experiencing healthier friendships -- which you'll help facilitate -- they'll likely reject the less healthy ones on their own."
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