By Dr. Stacie Bunning, clinical psychologist
My 8-year-old daughter has had the same best friend since preschool. In the past year, she has been quite mean to her friend on the playground and at the bus stop. When I ask her about her behavior, she says that the friend is "bothering her" by talking too much. To make matters worse, the friend sees that my daughter is not reacting well and comes on even stronger, trying to hug her or talk when it's clear my daughter doesn't want her to. I've had a few discussions with the friend's mother, who is quite rational and reasonable, about how the girls should split apart for awhile. However, this time, the friend will not stop trying to talk to my daughter, often chasing after her when my daughter walks away. Unfortunately, my daughter has resorted to physically hurting the friend, which is unacceptable. It's clear that my daughter no longer wants to be her friend, but how can I help her "dump" the friend in an acceptable way?
Evolving friendships is a sad but inevitable part of childhood. Unfortunately, I think this is a rite of passage that your daughter must simply go through on her own, though you can set certain limits and offer her some suggestions. First, make it very clear to her that physical aggression is not going to be tolerated; firmly let her know what the consequences will be (early bed time, withholding of privileges, etc.) if she puts her hands on the other child again. Similarly, let her know that verbal aggression (being "mean") is also unacceptable and will have consequences, too. Be clear and be specific.
Second, tell your daughter that it's okay if she wants to play with new friends, but she should always show kindness and respect to others, including her old friend. Ask her to consider how she would feel if one of her new friends treated her in this manner. Then, tell her that if she doesn't want to participate in a play date, she doesn't have to. Teach her to say, "No, I don't think I want to do that right now, but thanks for asking me." If she doesn't want to walk to the bus stop together, that doesn't have to happen any more either. But since they do ride the same bus, and they do attend the same school, your daughter needs to learn to be civil and how to set limits in an assertive (not aggressive) way.
Finally, have another talk with the other girl's mother, who was previously approachable and agreeable. Tell her the limits you've set with your daughter. Ask her what she thinks, and what suggestions she has for making this transition easier for both girls. Because children's relationships tend to be ever-changing and fluid, there is a good chance that the two girls will become friendly again later. Keeping a positive relationship with the other family is a smart idea.
Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.
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