Written by Shari Leid for Mommybites – originally published on December 28, 2021.
As a parent of a young child, you teach countless skills daily. But chances are that you aren’t spending enough time teaching your child how to set boundaries, especially when it comes to ending toxic relationships with friends. If this sounds like you, don’t feel bad, you’re not alone. As a life coach for women, one of the number one issues that my clients work on for themselves is setting healthy social boundaries and learning how to end toxic relationships.
According to positivepsychology.com, an international network of therapists, psychologists, counselors, coaches, and teachers, setting healthy boundaries can be the difference between having healthy happy relationships instead of toxic dysfunctional relationships. Here are a few ways you can set kids on a positive relationship path.
Model Positive Friendships, Not Toxic Relationships
As a mom, you’ve undoubtedly put in countless hours and energy into teaching your child the value of friendships and the skillset to make new friends. You began teaching the art of sharing even before your child was developmentally ready, but you did so because you felt the social pressure from other moms and therefore found yourself telling your 18-month-old that they need to share that favorite eye-catching toy despite their loud protests and their clear lack of understanding. And even on those mornings that finding time to brush your teeth felt like a win, you packed up your minivan or SUV to escort your child to more playgroups than you can count.
While schools, playdates, and extracurricular activities help children develop into healthy productive adults, they are no substitute for your child’s favorite teacher, which is you. As noted in Psychology Today, moms teach children how to function as adults. Your child idolizes and learns from watching you, often mimicking your behavior. If they see that you are not setting boundaries in your relationships with friends, it is a good bet that they will lack the ability to do so in their relationships, which can become a lifelong problem that leads to increased stress and anxiety and overall unhappiness. Over a prolonged period, it is not just mentally taxing, but also physically damaging.
Teach Your Child It’s OK to Break Away From Toxic Friendships
I bet you have no problem recalling toxic friendships that you have had in your life, and chances are you may be in one right now. Toxic friendships are those that caused you anxiety or a sinking feeling in your gut. Toxic friendships may be friendships that are one-sided, dishonest, overly critical, bring on a feeling of general dislike, or simply a feeling of being happier, calmer, and more alive when the friend is not around.
Why is it hard to end those friendships that wreak havoc on your mental and even physical wellbeing? Often it stems from guilt and fear. From a young age, you were more than likely given the misguided message that it is wrong to end a friendship. Friendships, just like romantic relationships, often simply run their course and that is OK. One of the gifts that you can give your child is to teach them the ability to let go of the guilt and fear, so that your child knows how to break away from toxic friendships.
How to End A Toxic Friendship
Ending a friendship is never easy, but there are a few tools that can ease the pain.
- Go Where the Love Is, Not Towards Toxic Relationships: The first step is instead of focusing on the toxic relationship, put your energy into friends who leave you feeling supported. Having moms as friends who can help and support you is invaluable. Your authentic friendships shouldn’t feel like work. Once you put your energy into those friends, it will be emotionally easier to let go of the toxic friendship. Best case scenario, this will also allow for a gradual fading of the toxic friendship.
- Talk to Your Child About Positive Qualities You Like in Your Friends: When your children are younger, too young to understand that moms have friendship problems, they may innocently ask, “Why isn’t Jessica’s mommy your friend?” Instead of bashing Jessica’s mommy, simply share the positive relationships in your life and the qualities you look for in those you invest your time in. As they move into their teen years, you can have more open discussions with them, letting them know why you’ve chosen to step away from a friendship. This discussion can be done without blame or anger. Recognizing that it is not always easy to talk to kids about the tough stuff, but having a discussion and follow-up with room for questions is a wonderful learning opportunity for pre-teen and teenaged children.
- Talk about your feelings: If a gradual fading of the toxic friendship isn’t possible, sometimes you need to simply say, “It’s me, not you.” And that is the key. Always talk about your feelings, not what you think the other person did, said, or feels. This is a good lesson for your child to witness, because you’re teaching that while they have no control over another person’s actions or feelings, they always have control over their own. I love Ask Dr. Gramma Karen’s polling of her 60-year-old friends in which she asked what things they felt they have gotten too old for. Many of those polled reported being too old for toxic relationships. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could teach your child how to set boundaries and end toxic relationships so that it is not a debilitating issue for them when they face these challenges as adults?
- Show your kids the importance of embracing and deepening friendships: Take time to meet friends either in person or via a live video chat. Let your kids see the importance in carving out time to nourish good, strong relationships. The benefits of carving this time out for friends will not only enhance and deepen your friendships, but it will also provide your child with an example of how to create, nourish, and sustain healthy friendships throughout their lives.
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Former litigator, Shari Leid currently operates An Imperfectly Perfect Life, LLC, a professional mindset coaching business primarily serving clients who are in those tricky middle age years, helping them create the life of their dreams. She is a national speaker and author of The 50/50 Friendship Flow: Life Lessons From and For My Girlfriends and Make Your Mess Your Message: More Life Lessons From and For My Girlfriends. Her third and final book in The Friendship series is scheduled for Fall 2022. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.