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Toxic Friendships

Witnessing your child in pain

Have you seen your child taking on a role in a friendship that seems toxic to you? A friendship where they seem to wield all or none of the power? Perhaps a connection where they seem to accept pain as requisite and part of repeatedly being hurt.

The first step is to ask your child how they feel about the friendship with open questions that are not leading them to an answer;

“Would you rate your friendship with …. as the best friendship, a good friendship or a friendship that is okay?”

If they seem oblivious to the situation, you can ask yourself, how do I model relationships as the parent? Do they see me normalising staying in a painful relationship?

They may have witnessed this with a friendship or family relationship where you seem hurt, exhausted, angry or sad or perhaps the other people look that way after being with you? If that is the case, your child may have learnt that situation is normal. Think about how you can shift your spoken and body language to change your interactions and shift your child’s experience.

If your child tells you that the relationship is just okay; you have an opportunity to ask them more questions and record or document their answers:

  • What makes a good friend?
  • How do they show they are a good friend?
  • What makes a bad friend?

Share some stories about being a bad friend so they feel safe to share and DON’T judge them if they say something horrid.

HINT – Try to sit next to them so they can’t see your face during this session if you blanch. Also, remember to maintain your body language; with every stiffening of the shoulders, your child reads a change!

All of these strategies are about developing a regular check-in with you about the status of different friends. Using a concrete tool like Friendship Circles lets your child learn that it is normal for people to move around in their extent of closeness and trust. It also enables them to form clear guidelines for deciding how to move out of a friendship. These are excellent skills to help them stay safe in romantic relationships when they get older!

If your child is still playing with figurine toys or dolls, play with them and take on some characters to explore these roles from movies. Talk about what it felt like to be the character. Let them share honestly, and you do too! They want the authentic you.

Your goal is to build an ongoing conversation about friends. You are not telling them what to think but instead supporting them on a journey, you are taking together.

In support of developing this safe sharing space, consider reading some stories about friends together to discuss. Also, you can watch some movies together and discuss the types of friendship:

  • Up (2009)
  • Lilo and Stitch (2002)
  • Big Hero 6 (2014)
  • Ponyo (2008)

Please add any other suggestions for movies or other media to help with discussing friendship in the comments below.

Friendship Waking to Grow Up - Blog Posts

Ego to Ego – finding a friend

At the age of 4,5, or 6, each of us had our first taste of what it meant to realise that what you felt, what you wanted, was not the same as everyone else. Yet, up until this moment, you assume that everyone is just, like, you. 

That realisation is one of the most challenging moves for a child to make. They shift their ego development focus into building social collectives. From the “I” to the “Us”. At this point, they often feel alone, isolated, and desperate to find someone who feels safe as a friend:

“…just like me!”

“…play the games I want.”

“They let me be the baby every time, which is what I want.”

“They laugh when I make horse noises!”

“They are just nice … you know, kind.”

This focus on the social group, the peer group, is normal and healthy. However, if your child has had a chance in their early ego development stage to learn to say “no” or “stop, I don’t like it”, the peer group will not subsume them. 

If, however, your child has not experienced using their voice to argue for their needs, the peer group can become their only focus. Your child may not have a deep sense of their inherent worth, leaving them very open to control. 

“Sonia said I had to!”

“But Mikey didn’t want to play, so I just went along with it; I didn’t want him to be sad.”

If we take this pattern into the following significant developmental shift, somewhere between 14 and 20, you will see the same language focus but around ideas and thought connection;

“They understand me.”

“We talk for hours. We believe in the same things.”

“We are on the same life trajectory.”

“They have the same sense of humour as me.”

“They just…you know, get what matters.”

At this later stage, your child may understand their interior world but don’t understand that those around them have different internal thoughts and feelings. Assumptions of ‘sameness’ can lead to many challenges as they embark on relationships and leadership roles if they have not had the opportunity to learn how to manage friendship dynamics. Fortunately, the early practice in primary school sets up these patterns to change by empowering them early. 

Our job as the adults in their lives is to support the development of these skills of differentiation, compromise, resilience, compassion, and empathy, from the earliest chance we get. We plant the seed and need to support its growth until it is strong enough to stand straight without us. 

Friendship Waking to Grow Up - Blog Posts

My child’s friendships hurt my heart.

Jen Haynes

That moment that you watch your child left behind by a group, to stand alone without support. That is the moment that hurts our hearts the most. 

Fear guides this response in us as parents. We fear a future of loneliness and pain, the one core fear we all share. The need for love and support from our community. 

Boy alone

Our responses often reside in our bodies as records of moments of loneliness in our early childhood. They are then cemented with words to describe the body feeling as we get older.





We watch our child with our somatic/body awareness, feeling it in our own shoulders, stance, chin, stomach and legs. We feel them. 

But do we? 

Our children learn these somatic cues and body responses from the community around them and us. However, they might not associate them with the same experiences as us. They may not have the exact word that, like a spell, lead us to believe that feeling “alone” is inevitable.

We can support our children when we feel these feelings in our body that bring up that language by NOT responding with an assumption that we know. Every one of our children is forming and developing their way of being in the world. Respect that and let them create their own response. Allow them to feel their own way in the world and then give them the space to share or not share it with you. Be their comfort, not their author. Explore the different ways that they may see this scenario and let them find their way.

Provide comfort and belief in their resilience if you see them turn away from their friends.

Retreat and regroup, 

Retreat and mourn or 

Retreat and redirect.