Annie Fox's Blog...

Thoughts about teens, tweens, parenting and this adventure of living on Earth in the 21st century.

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

Friendship issues from the 2nd grade

March 12, 2012

A few weeks ago, I visited a school in St. Louis where the word “respect” is much more than a poster on the wall. (I love it when that’s the case!) Walking through the front door I sensed that social and emotional learning at this school was the real deal. Throughout the day, I presented five separate grade-specific sessions. And let me tell you, those 2nd –  6th graders were some of the most engaged students I’ve met in the dozen or so years I’ve been doing this stuff. The kids eagerly took my tools for dealing with friendship issues and in return, gave me their hand-written, anonymous questions to take home and ponder. I promised I’d address each one, right here, in my blog, so they could log on, with their parents, and have a serious conversation about what’s going on in their lives and what it means to be a real friend vs. the other kind.

Because I also teach the importance of keeping agreements, I’m starting today with part 1 of a 5 part series in which I will respectfully answer each of the thoughtful questions I received from those St. Louis students. See Part 2 Friendship Issues from the 3rd grade. and Part 3: Friendship Issues from the 4th grade

(NOTE: If you are one of the students who wrote a question and you don’t find yours in your grade’s blog post, I may have put it in the wrong place by mistake. Look for it in another blog in this series.)

My best bud lost to me in a state capital contest and hasn’t liked me since. What should I do?

Sometimes it’s hard to lose. Maybe once or twice you have felt angry at someone who beat you at a game. I know I have! It sounds like your friend may be feeling that way since you won the contest. I suggest you go to your friend, maybe at recess or lunch. Smile, and say, “Let’s be friends again” then invite your friend to play or to sit with you. See what happens!

What do I do if someone is only trying to play with my friend, not me? And I tell her “May I play with my friend?” and she says ‘No.” It sounds like you and this person are having a little tug-of-war! But instead of pulling on either end of a rope, you are pulling on your friend! This person does not ‘own’ your friend, but neither do you. If you and this person and your friend can not play well all together, then suggest you talk to your friend and set up a time to play with just her. You may have to take turns playing with her. And during the time when your friend is playing with the other person, you find someone else to play with.

What can I do if someone makes someone be a certain thing in a game? Make believe games are a lot of fun, but it’s not so much fun if one person gets a little bossy and tries to “make” other people be certain things they don’t want to be. Of course, if you’ve never told the person that you aren’t comfortable with all of his/her ideas, then it’s time to speak up! The next time this happens in a game, you might say, “No. I don’t want to be that. Instead, I’m going to be______.” Try it and good luck!

How do I find out if people like me, cause I want to be nice to them? I think you have this “being nice” stuff a little bit backwards. We aren’t “nice” to people just because they like us and we want to reward them! We should be nice to people is because we can be! Also it feels good to be nice to people and makes the world a better place! And you know something else? When you are nice to people, they are more likely to want to be your friend because you’ve shown that you are a kind and friendly person. So don’t worry about whether certain people like you. Just be nice and see what happens!

What should I do if somebody retaliates for something you did not do? You do your best to tell them that you didn’t do the thing that they’re blaming you for. If they won’t listen or won’t believe you, you should talk to an adult about this. Hopefully a parent or teacher can help you and this other person get to the bottom of this misunderstanding.

What should I do if someone tattles on my friend? You don’t need to “do” anything except to take yourself out of the middle of this one. It really doesn’t have anything to do with you. If your friend did something that wasn’t OK and got in trouble for it, then your friend is the one that needs to set things right. As for the person who “tattled”, well, honestly, I’m not so sure what that word means. If it means, “Someone was mean to me and I told the teacher about it.” I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think that is the right thing to do!

What if somebody pushes me into another person? If it was on purpose (and not accident) then you apologize to the person who got bumped and you talk to the person who pushed you. You might say, “If you’re angry about something, let’s talk. But don’t push me.”

What if somebody promises to sit with me at lunch but doesn’t? Sometimes people forget their promises and they need to be reminded. And sometimes people make promises when they really don’t mean to keep them. If this person is a real friend, then set up another time to sit together at lunch. If this person never seems to want to sit with you at lunch, I suggest you find some other people who DO want to sit with you!

What should I do when people give me the silent treatment because they don’t want to be my friend? I know that it hurts when people you want to be friends with act like they don’t want you as a friend. You can’t force someone to be your friend, but you can always remind yourself that you deserve to be treated with respect. Giving someone the silent treatment is disrespectful. If someone does this to you, I suggest you do two things 1) tell them “STOP. You’re being cruel.” and 2) look around you and find some kinder people to hang out with.

What should I do if no one likes me? I wonder how you can be so sure that “no one” likes you. I’m sure that’s not right! But I can tell that you believe it and it’s making you feel sad and lonely. You need at least one good friend you can count on. And it sounds like you need some help finding that friend. Please talk to your parents about these feelings and talk to your teacher. Tell them “I need a friend.” and that will be the start of something better.

My friend says “I can do this and you don’t have the powers to.” What should I do? Invent some super powers of your own! It all starts with your wonderfully powerful imagination. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do!



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.


Friendship’s a two-way street

September 16, 2010

Most parents feel proud to see their kid being a good friend. But kids aren’t born knowing about respect, cooperation and empathy. They learn from us. And we teach our kids a whole lot about friendship by the way we help them and let them help us. Because of a parent’s consistent love and support little kids often say “My mom/dad is my best friend!”

That's what friends are for.

But as they grow, their friendships get more complex and our lessons need to be more pointed. We’ve got to help them connect the dots and understand that friendship is a two-way street.

If your  son or daughter is being bullied or in any way getting the short end of the friendship stick, you can help. Since (s)he’s desperately trying to figure out what friendship is about, it’s a perfect time for a calm, respectful sit-down discussion. You might say something like this:

Sweetheart, in a real friendship (the only kind worth having) both people need to treat each other with respect. If a friend is sometimes nice and sometimes not, then respect yourself enough to stand up and speak the truth.

It isn’t always easy to tell the truth, even to a best friend. But if you stay silent things are probably going to get worse. Also, if you keep your mouth shut when you’re hurting, you let your friend believe that you’re OK with what’s going on. You and I both know you aren’t OK with being laughed at or teased or ignored, so why let anyone think that you are?!

In case you’re wondering if speaking up guarantees that you and your friend won’t ever have any more problems, the answer is no.  In fact, if you tell your friend that you’ve had it with being disrespected, (s)he may get angry. (S)he may accuse you of trying to wreck the friendship. (S)he may turn others against you. (S)he may do all of that and more!

Because I’m always honest with you, I’m letting you know there are risks in telling the truth. But real friends can take the truth because they should know you’d never intentionally hurt them. And the truth often strengthens a real friendship, so there’s that.

Sweetie, I love you… which is why I want you to understand, now while you’re in middle school and for the rest of your life, that you’ve got to be your own best friend. That means letting people know where you stand and never giving anyone permission to be mean to you or others.


We kids would like to know…

February 7, 2010

Can someone help me out here?

Can someone help me out here?

For almost 13 years tweens and teens have been asking me questions. Usually they’re having problems with friends, former friends, mean kids… You get the picture. Their sadness and confusion gets to me. Sometimes I tear up at the keyboard. Sometimes I yell in frustration. They don’t understand why a friend would treat them this way. I don’t get it either. But I try my best to help by telling them what they can do to improve the situation.

That’s a tall order because well, an email is just an email. it isn’t a hug. It’s not someone who knows you standing close by, listening and nodding in sympathy. Giving kids the real help they need to deal effectively with friendship challenges involves real teaching time. That’s why whenever a school invites me to do a student presentation I’m there in a flash. I love teaching kids about self-esteem, the brain and the human stress response, decision-making, conflict resolution, peer approval addiction, and understanding the difference between real friends vs. the other kind.

Last week I did my thing for a couple of hundred kids in grades 2-8. They had an opportunity to submit an anonymous question for me to answer during the presentation. Unfortunately we ran out of time so I brought home all of their hand-written questions. There were 50 of them. I promised I’d post my answers.

Here’s what the kids wanted to know. I put their questions in categories since they seemed to naturally fall that way. If you’ve got a child who has had friendship challenges in the past, or is currently experiencing them, invite your kid, tween or teen over to the computer and talk about this Q & A. You may learn something about your child’s experience at school that you didn’t know. Your child may discover that he or she really can count on you for encouragement, support and advocacy. Whatever you can offer in that arena is worth much more than what I can give.

Bullying, teasing and other rude behavior

  1. Some people are bullying me and I can’t get away.
  2. What do I do if someone was already bullying me and stopped and then it happened again?
  3. How do I get someone to stop bullying me when she’s been bullying me for 5 years?
  4. A certain “friend” makes fun of me in math class. What do I do??
  5. What if I tried all the techniques and they don’t work?
  6. What if all the things don’t work? Should you sit by yourself if you don’t have any other friends?
  7. What if you use an “I message” and the bully says “Whatever”?
  8. What do you do when someone says “I don’t care.”
  9. The girls I have been hanging around are being really mean to me. It has gotten to me. I don’t even want to go to school anymore. I’m tired of her friendship but I feel trapped. Help!

A: Whether it’s light teasing, heavy duty bullying or something in between… if someone is treating you disrespectfully and won’t stop when you tell them, then you need some help from an adult. If you haven’t already told a teacher and/or your parents about this ongoing situation, you need to do that. You have the right to go to school without worrying about people giving you a hard time. The adults at school and at home care about you. Let them know what’s going on so they can help send a clear message to the bullies that this is going to stop or else there will be strong consequences.

Real Friend or The Other Kind?

  1. My friend doesn’t play with me at all and is sort of not so nice. What do I do?
  2. How do I deal with a situation where I tell a friend that I was there first to sit next to someone but they don’t move their lunch but move mine instead?
  3. What if your friend got mad at you and you did not do anything to them?
  4. What do you do if your friend stops speaking to you? Why?
  5. If your friend is always with someone else what should you do?
  6. If a friend is kind of mean sometimes but you are scared to tell them because you want to be cool, what do you do?
  7. My best friend is rarely, but sometimes, kind of mean. But I don’t want to move on from her because when she is nice, she’s awesome. What should I do?
  8. What if I can’t decide if I like a person or not. Also how do I tell a friend they’re being mean to me?
  9. What if you have a friend who’s nice to you but then they are mean to you?
  10. What if somebody tries to hurt you and your feelings. I had that happen to me by somebody in first grade.
  11. What if one of your friends is being mean to you sometimes?

A: The most important thing to learn about friendship is that it’s a two-way street. To have a real friendship (the only kind worth having) both people need to treat each other with respect. If a friend is sometimes nice and sometimes not, then you need to respect yourself enough to stand up and speak up. Isn’t always easy to tell a friend the truth. But if you stay silent, you are letting your friend believe that you’re OK with whatever they’re doing. Does that guarantee that your friend will be nice to you 100% of the time? No. In fact, if you tell your friend that you aren’t willing to be disrespected, your friend may get angry. He or she may accuse you of trying to wreck the friendship! That may not happen if you tell the truth, but it might. I’m letting you know that there are risks for telling a friend something he or she may not want to hear. But there are also risks for allowing a friend to be mean to you. Remember, you have to be your own best friend. Don’t give people permission to be mean to you.

My friend has changed and/or my feelings about my friend have changed

  1. I have a friend and she is now in the “popular” group. So everybody crowds around her and I don’t know if I can still be her friend. Help me!
  2. Once at school I had a best friend that I played with every recess and I had to work in class a few extra minutes and then I went outside and my friend was playing with someone else! My friend did not even recognize me. How should I get my friend to play with me again?
  3. I have a classmate that used to be my friend and now she plays with a bully. She gets in fights with some people and gossips about them about something they didn’t do. She still wants to be my friend.
  4. A certain “friend” keeps making bad decisions and getting me in trouble. What should I do?
  5. I have 4 “friends” who aren’t that nice to me. One of them is nice to me when we are alone, but tries to act cool by being mean to me. I think they talk about me behind my back. What do I do?
  6. There is only one of my peers that asks me how I’m doing. Should I stick with my other peers or not?
  7. All my friends get over competitive about soccer. Why can’t they just be quiet and have fun?
  8. Does a friend lie and then joke about it?
  9. If your best friend suddenly looks like she has picked someone else for her best friend, what should you do?
  10. What if your friend promised to play with you and is playing with someone else? And Why?
  11. One of my friends made a promise but it didn’t happen and that made me sad.
  12. One of my friends gets mad really easily and I don’t know what to do.
  13. How do I know if someone I thought was my friend is still my friend?
  14. Should good friends sit together and what should you do when friends whisper and I’m scared?
  15. What do I do when one of my good friends says I’m a cheater in soccer when she really is and her posse backs her up!? When they really don’t believe her! They just don’t have any friends. They only have her!
  16. What do you do if a friend declares he is not your friend?

A: People change. And sometimes people who were once close friends grow in different directions. It’s normal. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing to “outgrow” a friend. It can be hurtful, though, if one person moves on and the other person feels left behind or left out. If you have a friend who is changing in ways that make you wonder if you two are still friends, it can help to talk about it with him or her. Find out whether you and your friend still have all the elements of a healthy friendship. That would be 2-way respect, trust, honesty, open-communication, and shared values. After talking, you may decide to take a break from the friendship. That is always your right. It’s your friend’s right to take a break too. If you can’t talk to your friend about what’s going on, it can help to write down all the PROS and CONS for staying in this friends as well as the PROS and CONS for taking a break. It can also help to talk things over with your parents.

Someone is getting between me and my friend!

  1. What do you do when you have a friend that has a friend that you don’t like?
  2. Someone is trying to not let me be with my bf.
  3. A friend of mine can be mean to my other friend. I want to be friends with both people. What do I do?
  4. I have a lot of friends and can’t play with them all at once. What should I do?

A: Friends are not objects. They don’t belong to you. They make their own choices. Sometimes a friend you used to be very tight with starts to get close to someone else. If the three of you can form a new friendship clique, great! But if for whatever reason you don’t get along with the new person or don’t want to hang out with them, then you may have to figure out a way to “share” time with your friend. Your friend has the right to have other friends besides you. You have that right too. I understand that isn’t always easy. Especially if you don’t have any other close friends and/or you feel kinda jealous of the new person. But sometimes a change in a friendship offers an opportunity for both friends to branch out, meet new people and get involved in new activities.

I need new friends!

  1. I am sort of in between friends. How do I know when I may be making a new friend?
  2. What about if no one wants to be your friend?
  3. How do I tell if someone is my friend?

A: At some point or another everyone needs some new friends. Sometimes your attitude about that situation can make all the difference. For example, you might think of it as a problem “Oh, man! I’ve got no friends. I need some new ones! But I don’t know how to find ’em. This is a really bad situation.” OR… you might think of it as a challenge. “OK, I really don’t have any close friends right now. I want some. I’ve made friends before so I know how it’s done. I’m up for the challenge.” A positive attitude always makes you the kind of person that other people want to be around. The first step to making new friends is to know what kind of person you’re looking for. To figure that out it can help to make an actual list. You can get started by filling in the blank in this sentence… “A good friend for me is someone who ______________.” (Likes sports, has a good sense of humor, is smart, is honest, etc.) Keep filling in the blank until you run out of ideas. Then after you have your list, start looking around for people at school who might fit your description. When you find someone who has friend potential, be friendly and see what happens!

Other Questions

  1. Why are people mean to each other?

A: This is a deep philosophical question. My short answer is that people who are hurting inside often take things out on others. They don’t understand that being mean is not going to make them feel better. Just the opposite. Being mean usually makes a person feel less good about herself. It’s also no way to live your life. Now let me throw the question back at you… why do you think people are mean to each other? Please post your comments at the end of this blog.

  1. What is the definition of gossiping… specifically?
  2. There is a terrible rumor going around, and I know it’s not true. What do I do???

A: Gossip is using information (true, partially true or totally false) to bring someone down. It is a form of violence. Usually people who gossip are trying to look cool and/or to get back at someone else. Gossip adds to the social “garbage” in any school. My best advice about gossip… “Don’t ever add to the garbage!” If you are the target of a rumor, talk to the adults at school and/or at home. Being gossiped about is a form of bullying and needs to be dealt with strongly.

  1. A friend of mine is in a relationship with another person. They’ve been together for the past 3 months. I really like that person. What should I do?

A: You don’t need me to tell you that the person you like is currently not available. They aren’t looking for a bf/gf… they already have one. It sounds like you have a choice. Either you continue to spend time with your friend and this other person and deal with whatever feelings that might come up when you see them together… Or, you create some distance so this relationship isn’t always in your face. You can do that by spending more time with your “single” friends.

  1. Why are friends either friends or allies or enemies?

A: I’m not sure I understand exactly what you’re asking here. The three categories are what they are. Are you wondering why all friendships aren’t the same? Or are you wondering how friends get categorized in the first place? If you explain your question more clearly in an email, I’ll try to answer.

  1. How many years have you been doing this job?

A: Since 1997.

  1. What if I don’t have much time to eat my lunch?

A: I don’t have enough information to answer your question. I’m wondering what is taking up your lunch time? Are you getting to lunch late for some reason? Are you using lunch to do homework for a class that meets after lunch? Maybe you could email me some more details so I can better answer the question.

  1. Will we be making pizza again?

A: I hope so!

Filed under: Parenting,Teens,Tips — Tags: , , , — Annie @ 8:43 pm
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