Friends in the playground
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“Do you still play with Lila? You don’t talk about her much these days…”

“I don’t play with her unless Megan lets me.”

Parents can find out a surprising amount about their children’s relationships with their friends by asking a few simple questions about their days at school.

It can be a big dilemma for any parent, deciding whether to get involved in their children’s friendship issues. 

This is a sensitive matter because, while you want to teach your children to embrace all the different characteristics of the friends around them, you also have to educate your child to recognize a toxic relationship. 

Even though you might be hesitant to interfere in your child’s friendships, it might be wise to step in when there are signs of a toxic relationship that could harm them. 

Four types of toxic friends

1. Overly competitive

A healthy level of competition can encourage children to improve their performance, but if your child’s friend thinks that he or she has to be the winner in every situation, it is a problem. A friend who only feels content when he or she is better at everything makes for an unbalanced and unfair relationship, in which one side always dominates the other.

2. Narcissistic and bossy

A friend that thinks she or he is better than others can cause an imbalance of power in the relationship which will lead to manipulation. A friend who likes to order others around and has to be the center of the group all the time can affect your child’s self-esteem, and limit his or her chances of building their own leadership skills. 

3. Heavily dependent and demanding

As much as a dominant friend, one who is heavily dependent and relies on your child to be there for them in every situation can exhaust him or her emotionally.

4. Overly critical

Even though constructive criticism can fuel a person’s growth, it can be a tricky thing even for grown-ups to criticize someone in a positive and useful way. An emotional or jealous friend is likely to give toxic criticism, in a deliberate effort to attack your child’s self-esteem, whenever they feel threatened or envious.

If you have long-term friends you respect and rely on, you should be able to identify positive characteristics in your child’s friends as well as point out any signs of toxicity or negative friendship traits. But exactly what types of friends can be pointed to as “good” friends?

Jordan Peterson, psychiatrist and professor at the University of Toronto, points out two important traits of a good friend:

1. Someone you can tell the good news, and the bad

A true friend is someone who is there for your child, no matter what. Someone who can be happy and sad with them, showing their sympathy and care. 

2. Someone who facilitates your development

Your child will meet many types of friends, but a good friend will always encourage him or her to take on new challenges,  facilitating their personal development. Someone who always discourages your child from taking a chance or trying new things is not an ideal friend.

How to help your child get away from a toxic friend

1. Teach them to use more “No, thank you”

There will be many occasions when your child will have to put up with a toxic friend’s bossiness and demands. But the most important thing your child should know is how to say “no” and stay true to him or herself.  

2. Encourage them to spend time with a variety of friends to find the right fit

This is an indispensable avenue to explore, which may even help identify signs of trouble. If your child feels unable to freely explore friendship apart from a small circle, it could indicate a toxic friend who forbids your child from seeking out other friendships. It’s important to teach your child that it isn’t healthy to spend all their time with only one or two other people, and encourage them to broaden their friendship boundaries. If your child has a small number of friends, they are more likely to put up with negative friendships out of desperation.

3. Discuss how your child feels around the toxic friend

A toxic friend will often make your child feel lacking at something, or guilty of doing something wrong. If your child is constantly worried about being around a toxic friend and afraid to upset that person, it’s a sign of an unbalanced relationship.

4. Be alert for signs of frequent anger or resentment toward your child

If your child expresses concerns over a friend who is frequently upset at them over minor occurrences, it is worth investigating the root of the problem between them.

5. A toxic friend can ditch your child anytime 

A toxic friend is only interested in their own benefit  and will never show true loyalty. The relationship revolves around the toxic friend being the center of attention and gaining the lion’s share of opportunities.

toxic friendship
Photo by Pabel Danilyuk from Pexels

Things to consider when you educate your child about toxic friendships

1. It isn’t always black and white

Although a toxic friendship can harm your child, the conflicts in the relationship are not always clear to an outside observer. It is always important to listen to both sides of the story, keeping in mind that there will always be a limit to how clear a picture you will get as an observer. Sometimes subtle changes in your child’s behavior or mood along with your parental gut instincts can be the only clues you have to help you judge whether a relationship is toxic.

2. Individual expectations vary

Your child can be unhappy in a particular friendship or have more arguments with a certain friend simply because of a discrepancy between the expectations each child has from the friendship. When one’s expectations are greater than what the other can provide, it is natural for disappointment to occur.

3. Different personality traits clash

Personality differences matter in friendship, and while they can actually compliment one another at times, some conflicts are inevitable. 

4. Avoid limiting opportunities for self-awareness and socializing

Although it’s natural for parents to want to intervene in their children’s negative relationships, selecting your child’s friends for them can hinder their social development and self-awareness within a group.  

5. Long-term friendship is rare

Even if your child is engaged in a negative friendship at the moment, it’s highly likely that the relationship will end on its own due to life changes. Often families move away or kids are placed in different classes, which separates them. These types of events will give your child a chance to reflect on the relationship at a safe distance, within a new group of friends.   


As your child enters into a school environment, the majority of his or her time is spent around peers, and friendship becomes a very crucial factor in their lives. Because of that, the types of friends your child spends time with can affect him or her tremendously. If you see signs of toxic friendships in your child’s life, it is important to guide him or her to navigate them successfully and learn how to stand up for themselves.

Related article:

Peer pressure is real and it can push your child to make the wrong choices

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