One-Sided Friendship — Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

My eight-year-old daughter has been in a friendship since kindergarten that seems to me to be a bit one-sided.

The other girl will frequently cancel plans with my daughter at the last minute and is less likely to do the inviting. There are occasional spats I’ve had to intervene in, which have mostly been centered on the other girl not getting her way. How much should I be meddling in this, or is it best to let my daughter figure things out for herself? She has a couple of other friends, so it wouldn’t be any great loss to let this one go.

Watching

Dear Watching,

This is a key age for friendships. Typically, an eight-year-old much prefers the company of her peer group over family time. She is learning important social skills, particularly from friends that are long lasting. Even a “one-sided” friendship provides lessons she can use in future relationships.

What’s Yours is Mine
Whether it’s time and attention, snacks, or tips on the latest video game, a friend is happy to share. Generosity, however, shouldn’t be equated with the quality of a friendship. Some people are just naturally more willing to share while others are less so. The friend who cancels plans and rarely extends invitations may just be pressed for time (due to sports, music, scouts, or other obligations). The friend who doesn’t offer her snacks might have been conditioned from settings where adults don’t allow food sharing due to allergies and sensitivities. Or she may have had direct or subtle communication from her parents that the family’s food supply is to be guarded. A friend who keeps game playing strategies to herself may be extra competitive or may just not be a great teacher.

Your daughter may be learning that there are reasons and limits to how much a friend is willing or able to share with her.

Having a Hard Day
Perhaps this rocky friendship appears one-sided because the other half isn’t full. There are mental health reasons an eight-year-old changes her mind about spending time with a friend including fatigue from a poor night’s sleep or other physical strain (asthma, anemia, low thyroid function, migraines, etc.), feeling overloaded and needing a break from social stimulation, or feeling exhausted from a day’s emotional ups and downs. A pattern of backing off of a commitment to a friend could indicate the presence of an “invisible” disability such as anxiety or depression.

If there are good days in between the not-so-good days your daughter is learning to value time in this friendship despite the times it is unexpectantly withdrawn.

Porcupines and Divas
It may be that the friend in question isn’t very good at friendship. Both frequent plan cancelling and above average rates in squabbling could be due to self-centeredness. Similar to varying levels of generosity, some children (and adults) are less able to take another’s point of view and behave accordingly. Likewise, if you are good at friendship, you can risk being assertive in your opinions and ideas based on a strong willingness to keep the friendship going. Beyond good communication skills, there are levels of the skill to give and take in a relationship evidenced by success in working out conflicts to mutual satisfaction.

Your daughter seems to have already learned to keep herself open to a sufficient network of friends to satisfy her needs, which compensates for the one who struggles with contributing equally in relationships.

Ups and Let Downs
Even a great friend will sometimes let you down. The ability to recover from a disappointment, especially one caused by someone considered to be a friend, depends on one’s overall optimism. Life goes on. You can’t win them all. The sun’ll come out tomorrow. Don’t sweat the small stuff and it’s mostly small stuff. This could be an innate trait your daughter has, such that she isn’t really bothered by her friend’s actions.

And or she may still be learning that any setback is soon followed by smooth sailing. Some friendships just have more bumps in them.

If she’s not unduly suffering from the spats and frequent last-minute plan changes you might as well leave things alone. On the other hand, you can definitely offer support and guidance to help her gain from the valuable lessons she is getting.

Dr. Debbie

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