Healthy Kids     K-12    

Friends and Frenemies

The ultimate guide to middle school friendships

The ultimate guide to middle school friendships

Middle school friendships can be a source of great joy one day, then pain and anxiety the next. 

Jennifer Castle, AuthorFriends and Frenemies, Friendship, Growing upLucky for you, New Paltz author and mom of two Jennifer Castle has co-written “Friends and Frenemies,” a handbook for tweens that examines the complexities of friendship in a fun, straight-talk kind of way, helping readers build communication tools that will last a lifetime.

The book tackles big questions such as: "How can I make friends?" and "What should I do when my friends and I are fighting?"

“Friends and Frenemies” includes not just advice, but also comments from real kids, advice from older teens who have been there and done that, quizzes, polls, and other interactive elements that encourage readers to engage with the book, adding their own thoughts and experiences. If you're a tween or know a tween, this is THE guide to turn to whenever there's a Friendship S.O.S.!

Swings, Play time, Friendship

Below is an excerpt from “Friends and Frenemies”:

Fun. Trust. Love. These are all normal parts of friendship. You know what’s also normal? Arguing and fighting. They just come with being human.

When a fight breaks out between you and a friend, it’s important to make THINK and TALK your first two steps to dealing with it. Start by asking yourself these questions:

How did the fight start?

What exactly happened? When did it really start? How did things get out of control? Try to get a sense of the big picture.

Read more: Peer rejection, and how you can help your child

What was MY part in this fight?

This can be a tricky one. It doesn’t matter who “started it.” But take a close, honest look at how your actions — and reactions — may have gotten you to this point.

Have either of us done things to make it worse?

This can tell you a great deal about how healthy your friendship really is. If you and your friend fight a lot, chances are that you both handled this fight like you have in the past.

Read more: The importance of friendship at every age

What exactly am I feeling?

Sorting out complicated feelings takes time and practice. When you’re fighting with a friend, emotions like anger, jealousy, frustration, and sadness tend to get all mixed up in a jumbled mess. Break this question down into little ones, such as:

• How did I feel when the fight began?

• How do I feel at this moment?

• Have I felt this way before with the same friend? When?

What is the friend I’m fighting with feeling?

Okay, so you probably can’t read minds, but actions say a lot about what’s going on inside someone’s head. Look at your friend. Does he give you angry looks even though he’s trying to act cool? Does she seem about to burst into tears every time she sees you?

Read more: Learn the warning signs of bullying

Am I just hanging on to my anger?

It can be hard to let go of angry feelings, but ask yourself, “Is this anger actually helping me, or hurting me?”

Do you still remember what you’re fighting about?

Some fights drag on for so long that you have to ask yourself, “Are we really still fighting over something real, or are we just fighting for the sake of argument now?

Writing helps us organize our thoughts!

Grab your journal and record your answers to these questions whenever you’re arguing with a friend.

What to Say

Now it’s time to talk! To get to the heart of the matter, try a technique called “I-Messages.” This will help you figure out a way to get your point across clearly, hopefully without upsetting your friend. All you need to do is answer these three questions as honestly as possible:

1. I feel… __________________________________________________

2. when you… ____________________________________________

3. because… ______________________________________________.

Make sense? Here’s an example of how it might work:

1. I feel… lonely and angry

(Be as specific as you can about your emotions, and use as many words as you need to describe how you feel.)

2. when you… spend more time with other friends

(Give details here about how your friend has acted or what he or she has done.)

3. because… I don’t know why we can’t all hang out together.

(This is the hard one: the “why” of the problem. Give it some thought!)

Put it all together: “I feel lonely and angry when you spend more time with other friends, because I don’t know why we can’t all hang out together.”

Why Do I-Messages Work?

• You take responsibility for your feelings.

• You don’t blame the other person.

• You get your point across clearly and briefly.

• They can sometimes offer solutions to the problem.

Still Having Trouble?

If it feels like you and your friend have hit a wall or are going around in circles, it’s time to call for backup. Talk to a teacher, school counselor, or other neutral authority figure about helping you and your friend work out your differences. School counselors and social workers are experts at this stuff, and going to them for help is a way of (a) having someone help you look at the problem from a neutral point of view, and (b) learning more about how to deal with fights in the future.