Friendships can be complicated. The childhood fantasy of a BFF who is always nice, kind, empathetic, available… is generally shattered relatively early when they come to the realisation that friendships are complex relationships that ebb and flow, weaken and strengthen and have other relationships attached to them.

We all want and need friends. One, two, a huge group – friends are a part of all our lives and serve an important role in wellbeing. However, friendships can sometimes become toxic, hurtful and vengeful – and for the child who has experienced being at the end of a wildly yo-yoing friendship – there are some stories to tell.

So, when is a friendship toxic?

All friendships have some sort of hierarchy and those at the top can wield their power kindly – or not. These power differences can lead to uncharacteristic behaviour as a usually kind child tries to claw their way up the hierarchy. Ever witnessed this in your own child?

The powerful child at the top can deliver a lot of pain. If your child has come home tearful and hurt because a friend has been particularly nasty, you can bet your bottom dollar that it’s all about position in the hierarchy. They’ve been:

  • Demoted – someone has taken their place
  • Demonised – that’s unpleasant
  • Demoralised – someone’s told a secret or betrayed a confidence as they’ve attempted to climb the hierarchy
  • Ditched – the on-again-off-again nastiness

The signs and symptoms

“I’m just kidding”, the eye rolling or, “I just want to hang out with someone else today!” Has your child heard these -and felt hurt and embarrassed? Called ‘relational aggression’ this within-friendship toxicity is bullying by harming someone’s relationships or social status. Social manipulating, on-again-off-again friendships, malicious rumours and gossip, ignoring, excluding, alliance building, intimidation, manipulative affection – this is what we’re talking about.


– Claire Orange

Read more: When is a Friendship Toxic?



Image by Morgan Basham from Unsplash