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Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

We kids need to know about friendship… Part 2

October 31, 2011

This is part two of my series on Friendship Q & A with kids. Today I’ll focus on specific friendship problems caused by ineffective communication (which includes no communication at all!) Part 1 of the series, which started last week, deals with general questions about friendship. All of the questions in this series came to me from a group of 4th-8th graders. Enjoy the exchange and please use them as discussion drivers with your own children and/or students.


Friendship can feel like a struggle for control

1. “My bff is super sensitive and sometimes when I’m not trying to be mean to her, it comes across mean and I’m trying to not do that but it’s hard because she’s more sensitive than me. So I’m wondering how to avoid hurting her feelings.”

Good communication is often a challenge… and not just for kids! From time to time even the most intelligent adults have trouble in this area too.  You have probably already noticed that words are powerful. They can be used for helping or hurting. For example, by choosing the right words, you can encourage someone when they’re ready to give up. With just your words, you can calm someone who’s upset.  You can use words to share your enthusiasm and to show love and appreciation. Positive words are truly amazing!

On the other hand, words can hold negative power and sometimes what we say and the way we say it hurts people. That can happen when we’re angry and purposely using words to try to “get back at” someone for something they’ve done to us. Or something we think they’ve done. But sometimes, even without trying to hurt anyone… without trying to “be mean,” our words can hurt people anyway.

You’ve asked a great question and I’m really proud of you for wanting to “avoid hurting” your bff’s feelings. With people who are “super sensitive” it pays to be super careful choosing your words, your tone of voice and your attitude. And you can do that! The other thing you can do is to talk to your friend about this situation. You might say, “You know how sometimes I say something, without trying to be mean, and your feelings get hurt? I feel really bad when that happens. What can we change so that doesn’t happen as much?”

When friends can talk to each other about misunderstandings they end up with all-around better communication. When you’ve got that, there’s a good chance both friends will do a better job taking care of the friendship.

2. “My friend does this thing when he’s done talking and I start to talk but then he starts to talk when I’m in the middle of my sentence. I can’t talk. What can I do?”

Sometimes people get so excited about what they want to say, they interrupt other people. When it happens once in a while it’s not a big deal. But it sounds like this happens to you often with this friend. It also sounds like maybe you haven’t yet talked to him about it.

You are your friend’s teacher. Sounds strange, but it’s true. We teach our friends how we want to be treated. If, for example, you keep quiet when your friend cuts you off in the middle of your sentence, then you are “teaching” him that it’s OK to do that. I know you don’t like it, but if you don’t speak up, he thinks you don’t mind. So… what you need to do is teach him that you don’t appreciate his cutting you off that way. You don’t have to make a big deal about it. You just need to say something like this, “Sometimes when I’m talking, you start to talk right in the middle of my sentence. That bothers me.” Then close your mouth and LISTEN to what he has to say about it. My guess is that he probably not aware of this habit he’s gotten into. So all you have to say is, “If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’ll just let you know next time it happens.” And make sure that you do just that!

Oh, and one more thing… be cool. If you jump on the guy and get angry with him, as in “There! You see!? You’re doing it again!!” You’ll probably end up creating a lot of stress in the friendship. Instead, the next time he does it (after you two have talked about it) just put up your hand and say “Hold on. Let me first finish what I was saying.” That ought to fix the problem.

3. “What do you do when you and your friend had a fight and you want to make up but you don’t know what to say?”

Friends have fights and people get angry. But if friends value the friendship, they’ll cool off after a while and agree to talk about what happened. That’s called Making the Peace. It takes two people to have an argument and it takes both of them to work together to get to the bottom of the disagreement. Sometimes it’s hard to say “I’m sorry.” Sometimes saying, “I’m sorry” isn’t enough. The first step in Making the Peace is to come together and talk, calmly and respectfully to each other (not about each other behind his/her back). Give each person a chance to tell his/her side of the story. When Friend A is talking, Friend B gets to LISTEN. No interrupting No correcting. No eye-rolling. No texting! When Friend B tells their side of the story, Friend A just LISTENS.  Learn what the other person was thinking and feeling during the fight. Figure out a way to handle things differently the next time. You can do it!

The following two questions are so similar so I put them together in my answer.

4. “What should you do when your best friend ignores you?”

5. “If one of my best friends is mad and nothing is making him happy and he won’t talk to me to make it better, what do I do?”

It’s very difficult for two people to communicate effectively if one person isn’t talking. Two friends can’t get to the bottom of the problem or work on it together if one person has shut out the other one. Maybe writing an email or an old-fashioned letter would help in both of these situations. The message would be simple and straight forward: “What has happened to our friendship? I want to talk to you about it.”

If you don’t get an answer, then maybe it’s time to take a vacation from the drama of this friendship. Instead, of stressing out about getting the silent treatment, reach out to other friends and/or try to make some new ones. Real friends don’t ignore each other and don’t shut off communication when they’re mad. You deserve to be with friends who treat you like a real friend.






We kids need to know about friendship…

October 19, 2011

Last week I had the honor of speaking to several groups of very articulate 4th-8th graders. The topic was one of my favorites: Real Friends vs. The Other Kind. The students submitted questions but because I didn’t have a chance to answer them all during our time together, I promised to post them in a series of blogs. Here’s the first installment of that series. I hope parents and kids will read these questions together. I also hope my responses will open the channel for ongoing conversations about friendship challenges. Click here for Part 2 of the series.

This friendship stuff can be really confusing


General friendship questions:

1. “How do friends become friends?”

That’s a great question! How people become (and stay) friends is a little bit magical. You meet someone and there’s something about him or her that you just like. And that person feels the same way about you. Maybe you two share a special interest. Or you have a similar sense of humor. There are many ways and many reasons people are drawn into a friendship. Whatever is the “glue” that brings two people together in a friendship, it is often a great opportunity to learn about yourself and others.

2. “How long do friendships last?”

Friendships are not like milk or cottage cheese. They do not come with an “expiration date.” Friendships between kids, tweens and teens usually last as long as both friends feel respected, accepted and safe in the friendship. When one or both friends no longer feels comfortable in the friendship (for whatever reason) it makes sense to talk about it with your friend. (Talking about it behind your friend’s back is not a good idea. I’ll bet you can guess why.) Sometimes an honest conversation can help friends realize that they need to make some changes in the way they treat each other. When both people are willing to make those changes, then the friendship can grow to the next level. Sometimes what comes out of that kind of conversation is a decision to take a “break” from the friendship. That’s ok too.

3. “How do you figure out a problem fairly?”

You probably don’t need me to tell you that it’s not always possible for someone to get his/her way all the time. That’s true in a friendship and in all relationships. When you want one thing and your friend wants something else, that’s a conflict. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. Think of a conflict as a good opportunity to work on unraveling a problem and making the friendship healthier. Here’s how: The most “fair” way to sort things out during a conflict is by taking turns LISTENING to each other. We listen best with a closed mouth, an open heart and an open mind. After we’ve each had a turn saying what we want and how we feel, work together and figure out a compromise. Try to stay calm. That’s important for good problem-solving and respectful behavior. By talking respectfully and working together in this way, you and your friend have made your friendship stronger. When each friend gets some of what he/she wants, it’s more likely to feel fair.

4.”Why do these friendship problems happen?” “Is it normal to have a fight with a friend?”

Problems between people happen because each of us has his/her own ideas and opinions. It is totally normal to disagree with a friend from time to time. As long as you and your friend are always treating each other with respect (even when you’re disagreeing) then it’s fine. In fact, dealing with friendship problems can be very educational! There’s no reason to get stressed or worried if you and a friend aren’t getting along right now. Calmly talking about the problem with your friend and LISTENING respectfully to each other is a good way to resolve problems. Even though talking is good, it isn’t always going to instantly fix what’s wrong in a friendship. But it’s usually a great place to start. But sometimes, when people are feeling very angry or hurt, it’s a good idea to give each other some space. Then when emotions cool down, you and your friend are in a better place to talk and to listen. If you need help sorting things out between you and a friend, talk to your parents or email me.

5. “How do you know when a friend is a friend?”

That depends on how you define the word “friend.” I define a real friend as someone I trust who I feel totally comfortable and safe with. I always know I can talk openly with my friend and he/she feels the same way about me. Me and my friend share interests and values. We enjoy spending time with each other and can freely share the good times and the sad times. But that’s just me. Take a minute right now and think about your own definition of the word “friend.” Now think about all the people you call your “friends.” When you think about a real friend, you may feel happy. You may even get a little smile on your face when you think about this person and the special friendship you have. If you’ve got a friend who makes you wonder “Is this person really a friend?” chances are you may not smile when you think of him/her. Instead you may feel confused or worried or jealous or stressed. It’s a good idea to pay attention to the way you feel when you’re with someone. Positive feelings are good clues to let you know if someone is a friend. Negative feelings are worth paying attention to also. They can be clues that something is not right in the friendship.

Questions about 3-way friendships
• What do I do when I have two close friends who don’t like each other?
• What do I do when I have a friend who has another friend that I don’t like and we have mini-fights over the person we both like?
• What should I do if my BFF and me don’t get to hang out at all and he/she plays with someone else that is not me.
• What do you do if your close friend is also a friend to someone you are friends with but not as close and you are fighting over the other friend?
• What happens when you are fighting over a friend with someone else?

Answer: All of these questions refer to “triangle friendships” that is, three people in a friendship where Friend A feels really close to Friend B but not so close to Friend C. When that happens, sometimes Friend A and Friend C argue a lot and Friend B can feel like (s)he’s stuck in the middle! It can get very stressful and complicated for everyone involved. Each situation is different, of course, but usually a good idea to calmly sit down together and talk to each other about what’s going on. It’s rarely a good idea to talk about people you’re not getting along with. That just adds to the “social garbage” in a friendship and in a school. The world is already  filled with enough social garbage, so please try not to add to it! After a respectful conversation, it may turn out that all three friends figure out a way to be in a healthy triangle friendship. Or it may turn out that the best solution is to split up the triangle into two groups of two. For example, Friend A and Friend B spend some of the time together while Friend C spends time with Friend D (a new friend who wasn’t part of the triangle). Then on another day, Friend A and Friend C hang out together (just the two of them) while Friend B spends time with Friend E. Friendship conflicts are an opportunity to grown. Learning to compromise is a good life-skill. It gives each person some of what they want and helps you feel more grown-up and in charge of your behavior.

That’s all for now. Next Wednesday I’ll be posting some more friendship questions from these amazing students.


“I get really jealous!”

October 18, 2011

We've all been there, and it sucks!

We've all been there, and it sucks!

Got an email the other day from a girl burning with jealousy because she and her friend like the same guy. Well, actually her friend used to like him, but now she’s not actually sure if she still does because it seems the guy said… But the two of them still… And this makes the girl who wrote to me feel like… Never mind, read it yourself:


Hey Terra,

A girl in my class and I like the same guy. Actually I asked her yesterday if she does like him and she said she dosen’t really know. This is because she told him last week that she liked him. He said he didn’t really like anyone right now. Then about a day later she told him that she didn’t like him. Now she told me that she stopped liking him because he didn’t like her back. So that’s why she dosen’t really know if she truly does or not. I know I really do like him. Here is the problem, they sit next to each other in many classes and they always talk! I get really jealous.

What should I do?

Jealous Jillian

Hi JJ,

Whenever you feel yourself boiling or burning with jealousy, notice the feeling. Then STOP whatever you’re doing. (When you abruptly put on the brakes, that’s a wake-up call to your body and your brain that says: “Wait a sec. I don’t have to go down Jealousy Street. It brings me down and makes me feel worried and insecure and unhappy. I’m not going there.”

Then take some SLOW DEEP BREATHS. This will calm you down. (It really works!)
Now… you say to yourself ,”What am I trying to do?”
You’re probably trying to:

a) get the girl and the guy to stop talking to each other

b) get him to start paying attention to you

c) ??

Most of the stuff that bends us out of shape is OUT OF OUR CONTROL. Really! If this guy likes this girl as a friend or something else, then that’s his choice. Same with her and whoever she likes. It’s her choice. You don’t get to control the emotions and behavior of other people.

You want a bf. I get that. It’s cool to have someone you like, like you back. But you can’t make that happen. It’s either going to happen or not. At this time or not. With this guy or not. What you can do is control your behavior. If you don’t like feeling “really jealous” then notice when it comes up, put on the brakes, take some slow deep breaths and turn your attention away from these two.

In friendship,

Hey Terra,

I got it. Thanks for the advice! I’ll tell you how it goes when it happens. 😀


UPDATE: Just heard from Jealous Jillian: “OMG!!! It worked!!! I saw them talking today and I just turned around, took some deep breaths and told myself, ‘If he likes me, he likes me and if he doesn’t, I can’t change that.’ And I just got over it!!! Thank you so much! :)”

Wow… that just made this teen advisor’s day!!

Filed under: Parenting,Teens — Tags: , , , — Annie @ 8:59 am
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