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My Daughter Is Being Mean to Her Friend

By Dr. Stacie Bunning, clinical psychologist

Question:

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?

Answer:

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.


Dr. Stacie Bunning is a licensed clinical psychologist in the St. Louis area. She has worked with children, adolescents, and their families in a variety of clinical settings for 20 years. Bunning also teaches courses in child psychology, adolescent psychology, and human development at Maryville University in St. Louis.

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.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

11/29/2011:
"What do I do if my child is the one who is being mean to her best friend whenever another child is present? She completely ignores her whenever other children are there, but when the other kids go away, they are best friends again. She doesn't talk mean to her friend, but doesn't include her either. I have punished her numerous times for this behavior, along with limiting what she is allowed to do(ex. no TV, no playdates). The punishments last 2 or so weeks and she behaves nicely for awile, but then starts it again. What can I do? My daughter seems jealous of her friend and never congratulates her on anything, but the friend always praises my daughter. I am very disappointed with my daughter because I did not raise her to be this way. Please help. "
05/15/2009:
"What if it's the other way around, your daughter has a friend who talks bad behind her back, pushes her when no one else is around, etc. yet comes back and acts friendly towards our daughter. It's like a faucet, nice to our daughter for a short time and then not. The mother is not approachable. So far I've been letting my daughter handle the issues with my coaching and I remind her this girl will do it again and is not to be trusted. We cannot avoid this family as the girls see each other at the dance studio at least 4 times a week and are on the same dance team. "
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