4 Ways to Handle Your Child's Toxic Friendships

As your child prepares for his new school year, Mighty Mommy shares 4 ways he can be armed and ready to handle any troublemaker’s that cross his path so the focus can remain on the positive influences in his life rather than the negative ones.

Cheryl Butler
6-minute read
Episode #442

As summer winds down and a new school year rounds the corner, it’s quite normal for the entire family to have mixed emotions.  The more relaxed, carefree days that encompass our summer schedule are about to be traded in for a more rigid and structured timeframe.  And as much as my kids enjoy their laid back summer routine, after 8 weeks at home they start to get a bit stir crazy and actually look forward to heading back to the classroom.                                        

One big reason my kids  welcome this transition is because they are reunited with their school friends—the kids they don’t get to interact with on a regular basis if it weren’t for the time they spend with them in a classroom setting as well as on team sports and other club activities.  Yet just as they anticipate kindling school friendships they also realize they will also come in contact with classmates that aren’t always kind and can cause them grief throughout the year.

As your child prepares for his new school year, Mighty Mommy shares 4 ways he can be armed and ready to handle any troublemaker’s that cross his path so the focus can remain on the positive influences in his life rather than the negative ones.

#1:  Set and Review Your Family’s Acceptable Behaviors

Most kids crave one thing in common—acceptance.  They want to fit in and be accepted by their peer group.  Because of this, they don’t always think about the consequences of bad behavior and poor choices as a result of caving in to peer pressure.  

In Bad Influences? Advice For Parents Who Think Their Kid’s Friends Are Weird, Dirty Or Troublemakers Matthew Goldfine, PhD, a clinical child psychologist explains that the potentially bad influence is a classmate that acts out, makes the kinds of poor choices that you’re always cautioning your children about, and are often reprimanded by the teacher. “Studies show that delinquency can be almost contagious. Your task is to figure out what kind of troublemaker this one is. There’s no magic trick to help you with this, but you can start with the list of behaviors that are unacceptable to you and your spouse, and if you hear that this new friend is engaging in them—and worse, egging on your kid—then you shouldn’t feel bad about breaking up the friendship ASAP. Goldfine says that other warning signs are “clear intentions that this child wants to make other people angry, unhappy or hurt through their actions.”

At the beginning of this new school year, sit down with your kids and review what your family deems acceptable behaviors by not only them but by their school friends and potential new friends.  They need to be reminded about your family’s values and that you will not be encouraging any friendships with classmates that don’t make the grade in this area.

#2.  Combat the Cyberbully Friend

Toxic friends run the gamut from being a constant tattletale to being bossy on the playground.  Many times they are simply distracting to those around them and are quite frankly considered annoying little pills. As aggravating as these traits are in a classmate, unfortunately there are more serious behaviors they can display on a regular basis taking things to a whole new level—that of bullying.

In Bully-Proof Your Child: How to Deal with Bullies  it states that bullying in schools has become a national epidemic. A study published in the Journal of School Health found that 19 percent of U.S. elementary students are bullied. And each day, more than 160,000 kids stay home from school because they fear being bullied, according to a survey by the National Education Association, a public-education advocacy group.

If you suspect that your child is being bullied, talk to them right away.  Let your child know that it's not his or her fault, and that bullying says more about the bully than the victim.  For example, last year, my middle school daughter admitted she was being bullied on Instagram from a supposed friend. After some discussion, we realized this was serious so we addressed the matter with her school guidance department and assistant principal. Our school has a no-tolerance policy for bullying, but most students are afraid to speak up because of fear of retaliation as well as humiliation amongst peers. 

The school handled the matter swiftly and with confidentiality. As it turned out, several other students were also the targets of the same bully, and we also learned that the student who was bullying was the victim of abuse in her own home, which is often the case.   If I hadn’t probed into what was bothering my daughter, however, I doubt she’d have come to me on her own terms.


About the Author

Cheryl Butler

Cheryl L. Butler is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. Call the Mighty Mommy listener line at 401-284-7575 to ask a parenting question. Your call could be featured on the show!

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