How to help your child deal with their ‘frenemy’

The term frenemy has gained traction since the 1990s and simply refers to someone who combines the characteristics of both a ‘friend’ and an ‘enemy’.

As parents, I’m sure most of us have or will encounter this challenge, especially as our children get a little older and their friendship groups develop.

 Although dealing with tricky relationships is part of life, when you’re a child, these can seem unfathomable, hurtful and confusing. Left unchecked and unchallenged, toxic relationships are emotionally damaging.

Here’s how you can start to help your child deal with frenemies, as well as effectively equipping them with a robust set of skills to deal with different relationships throughout their life.

How to spot a frenemy

Most friendships will experience ebbs and flows, but how do we spot when a friend is actually a frenemy?

From having a conversation with your child, you can establish whether the ‘friend’ reflects any of the following behaviours:

  • They change from friend when alone, to distancing themselves or becoming the aggressor when surrounded by other members of the bullying circle

  • Belittling, power-play and name calling

  •  Exclusion

  •  Emotional manipulation – such as the silent treatment

  • Breaking trust

  • Talking about others behind their backs

  • The ‘yo-yo effect’ – dropping the friendship over trivial reasons

  • Creating ‘drama’

  • Pursuing popularity at the expense of others

  • Cyberbullying

It’s quite often impossible to remove any contact from the ‘frenemy’ completely, especially if your child is at school or within a shared social group.  Here are our tried and tested ways of helping your child confidently navigate their relationships and avoiding the need to walk on eggshells.

Our Top six tips for empowering your child to deal with a frenemy 

1)      Understanding what good friendship is

Helping your child understand what a good friend is provides the foundation point from where they can start to make sense of their relationships with other children.

A good friend will:

  •  Put energy into developing an equal friendship

  • Be supportive and non-judgemental

  • Value friendship more than popularity

  • Tell the truth and take responsibility

  • Keep personal information private

2)      Reframing and reassurances

Providing space for your child to discuss thing with you is key, and your role in helping them understand their feelings and the relationship with the frenemy is also important.

Your child may assume the way the frenemy acts towards them is their fault, so by helping your child understand it’s the frenemy’s problem and not theirs will help build their self-belief and confidence.

Take time and patience to understand the context. Learn about the ‘frenemy’ and ask your child how they act with other children – it’s extremely likely if this is happening to your child, the frenemy has or does behave towards others like this too. By providing a context, your child can start to reframe the frenemy and view them in a broader light, so they can find ways to deal with the hurtful behaviour.

By reassuring your child of their qualities and their positive behaviours, while explaining how others behave is not within our control and is more to do with things going on for them emotionally, will help your child understand and it will take the ‘sting out of the tail’.

3)      Helping them stand up for themselves constructively and assertively

 The frenemy will soon become less interested if their ‘target’ is hard to manipulate and bully.  If your child can make it known that the bully cannot walk all over them, it will diffuse the power the bully thought they had over your child.

 Your child can do this by:

  • Talking to the frenemy in private about their hurtful behaviour

  • Making a joke or retort when the bullying occurs “tell me when you get to the funny part” for example will demonstrate confidence and lack of fear

  • Calling out the comment “What you just did is not nice, so please don’t do it again”

  • By showing the bully they’re not scared or upset

1)      Keep checking in

Having regular conversations with your child to see how they are handling the relationship, and how the frenemy is behaving will help you help them manage the dynamics of the relationship.

Encouraging your child to keep a diary is not only a great way of helping your child deal with their emotions, but is also a good way of evidencing the behaviour should you wish to speak to a trusted teacher.

2)      Engaging in new activities

Doing something new, whether that’s new hobby, club or activity can be helpful for your child to build confidence outside of the frenemy circle or situation they find themselves in. Not only will the activity itself prove to be a positive exercise in self-belief and confidence when achieving something new, it’ll also provide space between them and their frenemy in a new social environment where your child can build new positive relationships and experiences.


3)      Speaking to a teacher

As much as we can try, we can’t always be there giving advice or help.  If the bullying is occurring in school, you could speak to the teacher and ask them to keep an eye on the situation and intervene should it persist. As mentioned earlier in the blog, if your child does keep a diary, it’s a useful thing to reference when raising the issue with the teacher.

If you require advice and support for your child, or would like to find out more about our 1:1s or workshops call 0333 358 0390 or email