8 Signs Your Child Has a Toxic Friend

What to look for if you are worried that your child's pal may be a bad influence

girls friends fighting
Excessive drama may be a sign of a toxic friendship. Jamie Grill/Getty Images

Children's friendships change as they grow. As babies, they tend to play side-by-side with some limited interaction. But the real fun begins as they get older, and by the time they hit school-age, kids are forming friendships and developing social skills at a rapid pace. As kids develop at different ages and their preferences and personalities take shape and grow, they'll rely less on parents to help form friendships and will pick good friends on their own.

But not every friend your child makes will always be a good person or a kind child. Just as with adults, kids may encounter toxic personalities among their peers, and someone who seems like a friend or has many attractive qualities may have some very negative traits that make it necessary for you to create some distance between your child and that friend.

Here are some telltale signs to look for that may indicate that your child's friend may be a bad or toxic friend:

  • She criticizes your child. Instead of being supportive and encouraging, she may find negative things to say to bring your child down. She may make fun of your child and put down things about her such as her clothing or hair or her looks. She'll wear down her self-esteem until your child becomes insecure and unhappy about herself.
  • He is jealous and/or constantly competitive. This friend may have a habit of always checking to see if he has the best test scores and may get upset if someone else does better than him. He may want your child's toys or games, and will jealously covet the things your child owns. He will not be happy for your child if he succeeds at something or gets a great gift for his birthday because this green-eyed friend will be too busy wanting those things for himself and being angry that the things are not his.
  • She thrives on constant drama. If your child's friend constantly pulls your child into fights and then makes up only to do it all over again, it's a big sign that your child is in a toxic friendship. Every friendship hits some bumps in the road, and it's perfectly normal for even the best of friends to fight occasionally. But a constant cycle of tears and trauma is a sign that something is wrong with the friendship.
  • He is overly clingy and possessive. If your child's new friend is almost immediately asking your kid if he's his best friend (and is demanding that the answer be "yes"), constantly calling or emailing or texting or trying to set up play dates, and declaring that he is your child's only friend and becomes angry and jealous when he plays with other kids, keep an eye on the development of this friendship. If your child seems uneasy with the neediness of his friend or if you feel like this could all turn in a dime and the friend could become angry with your child, get some distance between your child and this friend.
  • She is overly controlling. All kids go through phases where they want to assert their will and want things a certain way, and some kids are wired to be more bossy than others. But when a child always wants her way and steamrolls over anything your child says or wants, it's time to take stock of this friendship.
  • He is a bully. If your child's friend just loves to make other kids cry or ropes your child into helping him intimidate or mock others, this is a toxic friend you should separate your child from until the friend can stop his bullying behavior.
  • She lies and manipulates. All kids experiment with lying, but a child who lies constantly and does it to manipulate others into doing what she wants or to get her way could set a bad example for your child.
  • He hits or yells. If your child's friend is prone to losing his cool at the slightest setback and yells at or hits your child, separate them as soon as possible. It could be that this child's parents regularly use corporal punishment or yelling to discipline him, or he simply hasn't learned that aggression and violence are not the way to solve problems. Whatever the reason for this behavior, remove your child from the situation.

Once you've determined that your child is in a relationship with a toxic friend, take steps to separate your child from her friend. Work with your child to help her understand why the break was necessary, and be supportive while she adjusts to not having her friend around and forming new friendships.

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