7 Ways to Deal Positively with Toxic Parent Friends

Be positive but set firm boundaries to deal with negative and toxic people

how to handle toxic parent friends
Focusing on positive thoughts can help you deal with toxic personalities. Cultura RM Matelly/Getty Images

Do you know a fellow parent, either a friend or an acquaintance, who has a toxic personality? Parents who are constantly competitive, prone to jealousy, dish out gossip, or engage in other divisive and negative behaviors are out there, and could be among the people you have to interact with. They could be one of the people in your group of friends or you may have to work with them at a school benefit, chaperone a class trip together, see them at a kids' concert or sports event, or run into them at a kids' party or play date.

And if your kid is good friends with the child of a toxic parent, your odds of having to cope with a difficult personality increase exponentially.

In other words, circumstances sometimes make it necessary for us to work with--or around--toxic people, just as we would have to do if the person with the difficult personality is a co-worker or a boss or a family member.

When dealing with toxic people, the rule to remember is to have a positive attitude but set firm boundaries. Do what you can to change the conversation or find a way to connect with them on some level that doesn't make you feel upset or emotionally exhausted. Some strategies you can try:

1. Think and act with compassion. You don't know what may be troubling that parent. They may be going through a tough time in their lives, such as coping with an ailing parent or struggling with substance abuse. Whatever the case may be, when you begin by framing your interactions with this person from a sympathetic and compassionate foundation, you'll be more likely to be defensive and angry when you react to their negative actions.

2. Focus on something positive about this person. Almost everyone who has a difficult personality has some positive trait that you can try to focus on as you deal with them. Perhaps this parent is really great at organizing fun activities for kids, or is someone you can count on in an emergency. Or maybe his behavior (constant competitiveness or trying to get his kids an advantage) really stems from wanting the best for his kids, and he simply needs to tune his impulses down a few notches.

Find whatever you can focus on that is good and admirable about this person as you try to deal with the negative behaviors.

3. Steer conversations to positive or neutral subjects. Does this parent try to talk about things that you'd rather not discuss, like the latest gossip about the people you know or how your kids did on their latest report card? Be polite but firm and say clearly that you'd much rather talk about other interesting topics, like a good book she's reading or a favorite TV show or movie she's seen. Ask about the latest news events or what her kids are into now--anything that puts the focus on topics that move the conversation away from things that might bring out the worst tendencies in the toxic personality of this parent and toward topics that are neutral.

4. Rise above. If a parent is spreading gossip about you or saying or doing mean things to you, try to remove yourself from the situation at hand both physically and figuratively. Find other friends or family to talk to, do something that recharges your batteries (like taking a walk or getting a massage or playing with your kids).

Take a step back from the person or people who are hurting you. Try to visualize the long view: Whatever the problem is, it will not last forever. Things almost always get better with time and perspective.

5. Give yourself the advice you would give your child. Support and take care of yourself the way you would your child. What would you say to your child if she was dealing with this problem? You would probably explain that whatever is difficult now won't last and will change, and that it's crucial that she focus on the great things about herself and her life that exist now, and will be even greater with time. Do for yourself what you would do for your child and find ways to remind yourself of the great things in your life. Do something fun with your partner to recharge your relationship and keep it happy, go outside and play fun games with your kids, take a fun trip either as a family or on your own with girlfriends, and more. And exercise! It will improve your emotional, mental, and physical health.

6. Ask your child's teacher or the principal for advice. Chances are, they've dealt with difficult parents before and may have some ideas for you on how to handle a difficult fellow parent with a toxic personality.

7. Change what you can, and let go of what you can't. There isn't much you can do to change the person who has the toxic tendencies, but there is something you can do about your own reactions and mindset. Remember to focus on what you can do, and not what bothers you. Not only will you feel better, you'll get more results.

Of course, there may simply come a time when you try everything but still end up feeling negative and exhausted after each encounter with a toxic friend or acquaintance. If all else fails, try to avoid them. If the toxic person is among your circle of friends, try to spend time with them only in a group situation. If your kids are good friends, try to arrange play dates while your spouse or a caregiver can watch the kids. As long as you maintain a positive and friendly attitude, no matter what happens, you will come out the better.

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