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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.