If you have a daughter you will likely face a scary phenomenon at some point in time called frenemies. Here are some tips to help your daughter through this stage of school life.

A friend of mine has a seven-year-old daughter who out of the blue stopped wanting to go to school. She had been previously very happy and talked about different friends she had in class and in the playground.

Suddenly she was complaining of tummy-aches and crying and being constantly worried about having a bad day at school.

My friend suspects, sadly, that even at seven years of age, girls can start to experience what it is like to have frenemies at school.

Frenemies at school; why is this hard for her?

Little girls can be incredibly loving and lovely to each other one day, and then have a complete change of heart, finding a completely new best friend the next day and being actively mean to yesterday’s friend.

If someone your daughter considers a friend is negative or hurtful towards her, this can be much harder to deal with than if it was someone she didn’t really know or like. Having your friend suddenly change loyalties is upsetting in the short-term, and if it persists (which is when it becomes bullying) it can affect your daughter’s self-esteem.

This kind of bullying can be very hard to pick up on at the time as well, as there may not be active mean behaviour going on. It can sometimes be in the withdrawal of friendship or other omissions that your daughter is feeling badly treated, and it can be hard for her to put her finger on what is going wrong, or why.

What can you do to help?

In the world of little girls, friendships can switch overnight, and for the smallest of reasons.

How do you explain why a girl can be her best friend one day and then treat her badly the next?

You can’t always shield your children from the things or people that are hurting them, no matter how much you want to. Sometimes this is not resolved by getting the other child to stop what they are doing, but to teach your child resilience in facing this kind of treatment, and the strength and confidence to stand up to it or walk away.

Your child can’t always control how other people treat her, but can she can control how she reacts to it, and you can help her with this.

You may not want to weigh in too heavily in this kind of situation, because solving your daughters’ problems is not helping her personal development. But at the same time, you can’t just sit back and do nothing.

Experts agree that no child should be left alone to deal with this kind of hurtful conflict.

The first step, even if you can’t fix the problem, is to let your daughter know that she isn’t alone. Let her know that you are there and can give her the time she needs to debrief or talk through what is happening and how she feels. Even just to give her hugs if she’s not ready to talk. Let her know that she is seen, heard and loved at home; this is the best first start.

Teach your daughter to recognise the behaviour

Signe Whitson writes in Psychology Today, (see reference below) that you can help your child to recognise these kinds of bullying behaviours when they are going on. Some of the most common examples include:

  • Cancelling playdates, or inviting one child and not your daughter
  • Excluding your child from birthday parties
  • Keeping secrets from your child
  • Spreading rumours about your child
  • Calling your child names, mocking or teasing
  • Giving your child the ‘silent treatment’
  • Threatening to take away friendship or not play with her unless she does certain things (emotional blackmail)
  • Saying something mean and following this up with ‘just joking’.

This will all become more pronounced when the girls start to interact on social media, and can mean that the bullying behaviour effectively continues after hours as well, with no relief.

Is it ok to label this as bullying?

My friend wanted her daughter to pick up when she was being badly treated and grow resilient to it, but she was reluctant to outwardly say ‘Your little friend is bullying you.’ No one wants to label another little girl with this ‘b’ word or any other, no matter how badly she is making your precious child feel.

Is it ok to say this? What if your child still adores that girl, and will be best friends again with her tomorrow?

It may be that we are all a little bit too passively nice sometimes. It doesn’t really pay to pass this kind of niceness onto our daughters if it is teaching them subservience or to put up with being hurt by someone.

We don’t need to label bullies, but we need to teach our daughters to be assertive and not let others hurt them. Teach them how to recognise instead the people who are their friends.

Teach your daughter that her anger is valid, and good ways to express her anger. It helps to teach your daughter ways to be assertively strong, with simple responses such as ‘Stop it, I don’t like it,’ ‘Knock it off,’ or ‘Tell me when you get to the funny part,’

Model positive expression of anger as well

Don’t teach your daughter that anger is unfeminine, but that anger is better conveyed as assertive strength. This means not reacting physically or in similar verbal behaviour like name calling.

When your kids make you angry say, ‘I feel angry because of your behaviour right now, and I am going to walk away and take a few deep breaths. I deserve to be treated with respect, and I’m going to interact with you again when you treat me with that respect.’

They will pick up that this is a good healthy way to respond when they feel disrespected.

Frenemies at school

Teach them what to look for in a friend

Young girls (and let’s face it, even grown women) can have trouble working out their friends from their frenemies. Talk to your daughter (and all of your children) about the qualities and behaviours that make a good friend.

This could include:

  • Kind words and actions
  • Noticing when someone is hurting
  • Takes turn and shares
  • Offers help
  • Compliments me
  • Uses words to tell me how she feels rather than just taking the friendship away
  • Including someone who seems left out (or not excluding people in the first place)

Help her gather people around her who are genuine people and true friends.