Q: My daughter is nine. She has a friend who is a nice girl but tends to boss my daughter around. It’s nothing mean, but they end up watching the movie the other girl wants and playing the game the other girl wants and wearing the Halloween costume the other girl wants, and having the other girl go first, etc. My daughter is an easygoing kid. She says she doesn’t mind doing what the other girl wants, and she considers her a good friend. To me, the friendship seems very lop-sided. I also worry about my daughter growing up to be a doormat. How do I help her learn to stick up for herself?
This is an interesting dilemma. From your daughter’s perspective, the friendship is working, but as her parent, you can see the obvious downside of giving in all the time.
First, let’s give your daughter some credit here: being able to go along to get along is an important friendship skill. If the issues truly don’t matter to your daughter and they do to her friend, it’s kind and generous of her to do what the friend wants.
Although the friendship seems lop-sided, it may be that your daughter is getting something out of this arrangement. Maybe the friend has good ideas. Maybe your daughter enjoys not having to make decisions and letting her friend decide.
Your concern, though, is important. Friendship skills are never about doing one thing. We need to be able to flexibly adjust our behavior to fit the situation and our goals. Being able to go with the flow is great, but being able to speak up is also necessary.
At a neutral time, you may want to talk with your daughter about the importance of speaking up.
Try asking her questions rather than lecturing. See if your daughter can explain to you why it’s important for friends to tell each other what they really think, feel, or want. Answer: That’s how friends get to know each other better. What can happen if friends avoid telling each other what they really think? Answer: It can build resentment and even lead to a friendship-ending blow-up. Do friends have to agree all the time about everything? Answer: Of course not! Nobody agrees all the time. Good friends respect differences of opinion.
Sometimes kids mistakenly believe that speaking up is mean. Obviously, there are lots of ways to say what you mean without being mean.
You may want to use role-play to help your daughter practice speaking up. Jot down some “I” statements for her to try out. Some possibilities are:
- “Last time we played your game. This time I want to…”
- “I don’t really like that. I’d rather…”
- “Let’s compromise! How about if we do 15 minutes of your choice and then 15 minutes of what I want?”
- “I want to…”
- “I like that one better.”
- “No thanks. I don’t want to do that.”
Ask your daughter if there’s a situation where she’d like to speak up with this friend to try out her new skills. Remind her that she might have to repeat herself a few times, so the friend understands that she means what she’s saying.
Your daughter is young enough that you can still have a big influence on her social life. You may want to help her schedule get-togethers with other kids who are less domineering, so she can experience different kinds of relationships. She also might like the opportunity to be with younger children. She enjoys being with the domineering friend, so there’s no need to end that friendship, but it’s useful for her to discover that sometimes she can be the leader or the partner, not just the follower.