Kids want to have friends. Whether they are girls or boys, they want to have a best friend or a group of besties. They want to have a person that they regularly hang out with. In fact, not only do they want to have friends, but the need for friendship is biologically wired into humans and many other species.
A bestie plays a special part in a child’s life. It is about belonging. Most kids do not care if they do something special and planned, or if they do nothing at all. A bestie is the first person your child calls when they have something to celebrate. It is also the first person your child reaches out to when they are having a hard time.
No matter what age you are, a friend, especially a best friend, has your back. In return, you have theirs. The most critical thing about friendship is that it’s a two-way street. You are there for each other, you support each other, and you celebrate each other.
But what happens when your child has a “friend” who is not a source of comfort, but a source of pain? The friend is not constant, but sometimes-y. What if the friend is not a friend at all, but a frenemy?
What Exactly is a Frenemy?
A frenemy is a person who acts friendly to you but who does not have your best interests at heart. They feel a sense of rivalry or jealousy. Frenemies often talk about friends behind their backs, spread lies and rumors, or share things that a friend has told them in confidence. They belittle or shame the “friend” in an obvious or subtle way or offer backhanded compliments. Sometimes a frenemy will maneuver to remove a friend from a mutual clique, to make them feel excluded, or they will control who the friend can hang out with.
It is sometimes challenging for kids to understand what true friendship is. Particularly when kids are shy, socially awkward, or new to the community, they often end up attaching themselves to kids who are mean to them or who take advantage of them. This is not friendship, but kids do not necessarily understand what is happening. They know that the friendship does not feel right, but some children who have only known people who love and care for them do not know how to handle someone who treats them poorly.
Teaching kids the meaning of friendship
Start off by helping your child understand what it means to be a friend. You can reference other friendships that your child has had, or relationships with their family members as examples. Talk openly about how a true friend respects other people and is kind to them. A real friend likes the other person and wants them to do well and be happy. True friends are equals and are there to help each other. They keep the other person’s information private and do not gossip. A true friend never tries to bully their friend into doing something that they do not want to.
It is helpful to talk to your child about navigating groups of friends. True friends can be friends with many other people. Sometimes groups of friends will overlap and sometimes they will not, and that is ok. They might have friends from a sport, from school, or from your neighborhood. Being part of multiple circles of friends does not take away from a friendship between two kids.
How to Help Your Child Deal with a Frenemy
If you have discovered that your child has a frenemy, you can teach them important life skills that will help them navigate this relationship and situations that arise in the future.
Teach your child to be assertive
Throughout their lives, children will face unpleasant people who seek to manipulate or bully them. Teaching children to stand up to a frenemy and not accept unkind behavior will serve your child well. It is not necessary for your child to meet meanness with meanness. It can be hard to understand the difference between acting assertive versus aggressive. To help you child learn the difference, try role playing, and show your child how they can tell someone to stop doing a hurtful behavior in a calm and controlled way.
Help Your Child Understand if the Friendship is Salvageable
My son had a lot of experiences with frenemies throughout middle school and high school. These so-called friends would reach out to him, include them in their group, and then turn on him. They talked about him behind his back and teased him. When my son finally confronted them about their behavior, they apologized. Isaiah accepted the apology as sincere. Soon after, they repeated the same mean behavior.
This is an excellent opportunity to talk to your child about whether an apology is sincere, and that sometimes actions speak louder than words. Encourage your child to talk about the problem with their friend, and to give the friend the opportunity to behave like a true friend. However, if the friend continues their mean behavior, it is time to cut off contact.
Teach Your Child it is Ok to Walk Away
Sometimes the best option is to simply cut off contact with the frenemy. Your child can simply walk away, stop responding to texts, decline invitations to hang out, and unfollow the frenemy on social media. Unfortunately, some frenemy situations occur in groups of mutual friends, which can make it difficult to cut off contact without losing the other friends. Depending on the behavior of the mutual friends, your child could be put in the situation in which they need to emotionally distance themself from the frenemy or find a different group of friends.
If your child will not cut off the friend, you may have to step in. If the other child’s parent notices that your child has stepped away and questions you about it, be honest, but gentle. Also remember that a mean girl or mean boy’s frenemy behavior may mimic the behavior of a parent.
Encourage Your Child to Pursue Healthy Friendships
Having a diverse, varied group of friends from different areas of life makes life interesting and more fun. Encourage your child to invite other friends over or get involved in new activities so that they can meet new friends. People enjoy spending time with people who make them feel good about themselves, so when your child has different groups of friends, they will naturally gravitate to the ones they are happiest around.
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Stacey Montgomery, Founder
Stacey M Design and Stacey Montgomery Publishing
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