My Daughter’s Friend is Toxic – Help!

It’s a friend problem as common as it is painful:

Your daughter has a close friend who alternates between kindness and cruelty. On the bad days, your girl is bereft; on the good ones, it’s as though nothing was ever wrong.

As a parent, you may be outraged by her friend’s behavior; your daughter may feel otherwise. Perhaps she wants to focus on the good in the friendship, or thinks time will change her friend’s behavior. Either way, you probably both feel trapped in a frustrating cycle of toxic friendship: kindness, meanness, rinse and repeat.

This is a powerful, if painful, learning opportunity for your daughter

She has the potential to learn what she deserves in a relationship and what a healthy friendship should look like. As a parent, you have a tricky line to walk. Here’s what we suggest:

  • Strike a balance between judgment and support. It’s your job as a parent to call out mean behaviors when you see them. To do it, focus on the offending actions you’ve observed or heard about. Avoid character attacks such as labeling your daughter’s friend (Mean Girl, Queen Bee, Bully) or labeling your daughter (Doormat, Wanna Be) to minimize her defensiveness: 

“I know you really care about her, but I’m worried about you. I’m concerned about the way she’s treating you.

Here’s what I’ve seen: some days she’s the great friend you know and love. But then one day she won’t let you sit with her at lunch, or hang out with her at recess. She doesn’t tell you why, and it’s hurting you.

That’s not what a healthy friendship should feel like. A good friendship is consistent – you should be confident that you’ll be respected every time you’re with her. And when it doesn’t happen that way, you’re supposed to get an apology. Neither of those things is happening here.”

  • Ask questions – and really listen to the answers. Ask your daughter to explain what she loves about her friendship with this girl, and then, ask why she continues to maintain the friendship in the face of meanness. Encouraging your daughter to defend unkind behavior aloud will push her to own and think critically about her own her choice – and may bring her closer to rejecting it.
Ask your daughter what she wants to do about the situation

And don’t rush to shut down a response you don’t agree with. Remember: she is learning what she wants in a healthy friendship, and how to find and keep one. Her first thoughts may not be fully formed, or evolved; it’s your job as a parent to help her think it through. Have faith that she will arrive at the right answer.

  • Try to stay calm. Even though she may not admit it, your daughter knows she’s in a bad situation. She’s less likely to take in your message if you’re agitated when you speak with her.  Let your words convey your concern, not your tone. Avoid labeling her behavior (“Why are you letting her walk all over you?”) and stick with the facts.

You’ve had a few decades to figure out what you want and deserve in your relationships. Your daughter’s experiences can teach her the same. She’ll truly believe and retain those lessons when she arrives at them herself. To help her on that journey stay connected to her, identify hurtful behaviors when you see them, and take care of yourself with good friends, plenty of venting, and self care.

More Resources

OddGirlOut_TheHiddenCultureOfAggeressionInGirlsOdd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls (Revised and updated) by Rachel Simmons





Odd Girl Speaks Out: Girls Write About Bullies, Cliques, Popularity & Jealousy by Rachel Simmons




  1. Gigi

    My heart was broken this weekend upon learning my 11 yr old granddaughter was being called white trash at school and told she thinks she’s better than everyone because she has the latest and greatest of everything. We’ve seen her interact at school functions, birthday parties and when having friends over and in fact she’s kind, caring and fun. There’s a dress code at school so she’s unable to dress up to give a sense of showing any other child up. I’ve noticed she doesn’t have a lot of friends anymore and when asking about them recently, she couldn’t or wouldn’t name one. Any suggestions on what to do? I’d especially like to find a good response for her when this girl calls her white trash.

    • Dorothy Ponton, Digital Marketing Manager

      This situation is unfortunately something that happens a lot in school environments. Something to try right away is to role-play how she can respond. Here’s a video that goes over this tool. Our Girl & Grown-up Workshops ( are a great way for you to connect with her while learning together and practicing the skills to navigate challenging friendships and build her own unique voice. There are also some great books on this topic, like Odd Girl Out, written by our Co-founder Rachel Simmons.

  2. Aaygee

    I feel ashamed that this behavior is already happening with our DD (almost 8) and her BFF (age 8) of 5 years. One day they’re inseperable and her BFF is so sweet, fun and attentive. The next she will be excluding my daughter at recess, telling people to not play with her and choosing to play with a neighbor boy that is frequently humiliating my daughter to make the BFF laugh. It has been so bad at times that my daughter has begged to move and change schools. She begs for this even on the good days because she says “I just want friends who act and think differently”. Luckily, we happen to be moving next week to a house about 30 minutes away- so a new neighborhood and new school.
    I have always had a tough love stance on requiring my kids to stand up for themselves- because I never did as a kid and I know how badly it hurt my self-confidence. I’m on the border of requiring this friendship to be over – and I’m not even entirely sure my daughter would be upset, at this point. I was hoping she would make that choice herself after being burned so many times, but I don’t think she has the self-confidence to… or just wants to avoid conflict and let it die once we move. I just feel like I should require her to make her feelings known and not simply let bad behavior go by without acknowledging to her BFF how it has made her feel. I’m really internally conflicted….

  3. JazzyMommy

    My 9 y/o DD and I have these issues with one of her friends. Our problem is, her friend will go so far as to hit DD when things aren’t going in her favor and then (rarely) apologize. It’s a fine line I’m walking in deciding how to approach the topic, in that, do I take the religious path and teach her to always forgive or do I teach her that just because her friend apologizes doesn’t mean she has to forgive her? After so many apologies and no changed behavior, it’s obvious that it’s just a bad friendship and they won’t change. One good days, things are great but on bad days, things are awful. This past Sunday the girls went to church with the friends grandparents but I got a call shortly afterwards from the friend!! to come pick my daughter up because she was being mean, in reality she didn’t want to play with the girl and the other neighborhood kids at that point in time.

    • Dorothy Ponton, Digital Marketing Manager

      Hi JazzyMommy, you and your daughter are going through a tough situation. It sounds like your daughter is recognizing that this friendship isn’t healthy, and you’re doing a great job supporting her. Keep identifying the hurtful behaviors (without labeling the other child) and ask your daughter if this is a person she wants to play with. She may still say yes for a while. Forgiving unkind behavior doesn’t have to mean that your daughter returns to this child’s home, or continues to be close. Forgiveness is about your daughter’s own peace of mind.

  4. naomi singh

    my 10 year old daughter has been close friends with a girl in her class so much so they have hung out and are together at school everyday even on bloody assignments. anyway, during rehearsal for a school play they are preparing for my daughter did not want to play with another kid that is known to be a bully. because of her choice this so called best friend snapped at her in the bathroom and although the teacher tried to resolve it all it the next day my daughter was trying to be friendly yet she was being ignored. when this friend snapped out of her funk she demanded to speak to my daughter and she said, i am not interested in speaking to someone that ignores me. as a result she called my daughter a jerk and when my daughters friends tried to stand up to this friend she told them she does not wish to play with a trash can. my daughter in heartbroken and sad – but in my culture you NEVER name call or belittle anyone and truly i do not want my daughter to be around this child again. Funny you know, her mother said, she was bullied when she was attending school in the UK, geez I wonder why?

  5. Amy

    Hello my oldest daughter was bullied now my youngest is as well. The people doing this go to the same school as her. They are friends one minute not the next. My daughter does have a open communication with me which is great, however she wants to be these girls friends who are being not so nice to her. She wants to have friends, we all do, she’s in a new school this year. I want to get her away from these people whom are not so nice and not worth her time and I want her to focus on true friends who share the same likes and interest or simulat likes and interest as her and same simular likes of hobbies etc. No one at all needs to or deserves to be bullied and we all need to put a stop to this!!! Thanks for taking time to read this.

  6. Susan Henry

    Our 12 year old daughter started a new school this year. The first girl that befriended her recently grew very jealous of our daughter talking on-line with another of her friends. Then when my daughter tried to ask her why, this girl got very angry, blocked our daughter. Our daughter un-friended her and then in a group chat, this girl repeatedly asked someone to kill our daughter, said she was going to burn her, stab her and kill her. This girl has previously attempted suicide and she has told our daughter she has other mental health issues. We reported this to the school, they say they are investigating, meanwhile the girl and her friends are shunning our daughter and spreading rumors.

    • Dorothy Ponton, Digital Marketing Manager

      That is a really challenging situation, and I’m so sorry to hear your daughter is experiencing it. Threats like these go beyond typical relational aggression, and it isn’t realistic to expect a young person to deal with issues like this on their own. Hopefully getting the school involved will lead to a resolution that works for you and your daughter. Two resources that might help are 1. Odd Girl Out (affiliate link) and 2. a TEDx video featuring Claire, a girl who experienced a milder version of relational aggression from a group at her school. (video at the top of this page)

  7. Tina

    I am going through this now with my 13 year old daughter. She has admitted the friendship with this particular girl is not what she wants, but then a week later it changes and they’re buddy buddy again. It is a vicious cycle and toxic so I feel I should minimize their time spent together. I don’t want to choose her friends for her, yet this has gone on for over a year and I feel my daughter is getting sucked into this friend’s group of girls that can be harmful for her. What would be the healthiest and most effective action to take?

    • Dorothy Ponton, Digital Marketing Manager

      Hi Tina,

      Just now seeing this comment! This situation sounds tough, and I’m sorry to hear your daughter is experiencing that. Going back and forth with feelings is pretty common for girls at this age. Even during weeks when they’re not buddy buddy, it sounds like she’s not ready to end the friendship. Invite her to think about what true friendship is for herself, and equip her with tools to talk about what’s important to her with that friend. That way, she can decide for herself if this relationship is meeting her own definition of friendship. This recent blog covers what we teach about this in our middle school curriculum, and could come in handy for you and your daughter.

  8. Jen

    Just went through this with our daughter! Her best friend suddenly started alternating between great and horrible within one afternoon. After months of this during weekends, my daughter got fed up. She didn’t have to tell her friend to leave because this girl keeps storming out of the house saying she doesn’t want to be her friend anymore… Then calls two weeks later like nothing happened. My daughter was more angry this last time than upset. The whole time my Hub and I used it as a learning experience. It was amazing to hear her realize that this behavior was wrong and that she deserved better. Wish I had learned that at such a young age!

  9. Nan Russell

    Please send me your newsletter

    • Dorothy Ponton, Community Engagement Manager

      Hi Nan,

      I’m happy to send you our newsletters, and I’d like to know a little more to be sure we sending you the best news for you. In addition to our main newsletter, we also have custom news for each of these regions: New York, New Jersey, Colorado, California. Would you like to hear news and specials from any of those areas?

      We also have special content we just share with Parents, by the grade of their daughters, and special content for Teachers & Trainers. If any of those topics interest you, let me know that too.




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