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Educator Award for Self-Esteem

Nobody Likes Me, Everybody Hates Me

Six Tricky Friendship Issues that Concern Parents and How to Solve Them
by Michele Borba, Ed.D.

Excerpted from Nobody Likes Me, Everybody Hates Me: The Top 25 Friendship Problems and How to Solve Them


Friends obviously do play an enormous role in our kids’ lives. We also know the ability to make friends is not inherited, but involves a number of skills which can all be learned. That means parents can make a big difference on their kids social lives. Our real parenting goal should not be to try and produce popular kids, but to help them gain the confidence they’ll need to deal successfully with any social situation. After all, that’s a major part of what life is all about. Here are six of the biggest friendship concerns parents ask about, and simple tips to handle them.


The Tattletale
“MoOOOmmmm, Sara spit again.” “Wait ‘til I tell the teacher what you just said.” “You’re gonna get in big trouble for doing that.” Who wants a friend who can hardly wait to snitch about the bad stuff about you to someone in authority? Tattling is a learned behavior that usually starts when kids are preschoolers, and it has no redeeming qualities. It only causes bad feelings between the tattletale and the accused and often leads to resentment and broken friendships. To the other kids a tattletale is someone who can’t be trusted or wants to be a kiss-up, Goody Two-Shoes. A tattler can also get a bad reputation among adults. Would you want a kid around who is constantly complaining or bothering you about trivial grievances? So what do you do to curb your little tattler? Here is the three step secret to eliminating tattling:

  • Start by explaining the difference between “tattling and telling” to your child: “Tattling is when you want to get your friend in trouble. Telling is when you report something that will get your friend out of trouble or help him so he doesn’t get hurt.”

  • Once your child knows the difference state your new policy: “From now on I will not listen when you tattle about your friends.” A simple question to help a younger child remember your rule is to ask: “Is that helpful or hurtful?” Then remind him you only hear helpful news.

  • Finally, you must be consistent with your policy each and every time your kid tattles. It will take a while for your kid to know you mean business, but if you stick to your new rule, your child will know you really are serious with your policy. Doing so will also do wonders in boosting your child’s friendship quotient, as well as your relationship with your child.

Being Teasing
Teasing is one of those unpleasant aspects of growing up, but the plain truth is certain kids seem to get more than their fair share. While we can’t stop kids from saying nasty stuff to our children, we can do things to reduce the chances our sons and daughters will be targeted. Most kids can learn to manage teasing incidents if they have a repertoire of strategies to counter the verbal abuse. Here are the six responses that kids tell me discourage future teasing. Offer them to your child, and then choose the one he feels most comfortable trying. Just remember to rehearse the response again and again until your child feels confident using it without your guidance.

  • Question it. “Why would you want to tell me I am dumb or fat or whatever and hurt my feelings?”

  • Turn it into a compliment. “Hey, thanks. I appreciate that!” “That was really nice of you to notice.”

  • Agree. “You’ve got that right.” “One hundred percent correct!” “Bingo, you win!”

  • Use sarcasm. “Like I would care?” “Give me a break.” “Oh, that’s just great.” The “look” has to match: rolling your eyes and walking away can do the trick.

  • Ignore it. Walk away without even a look at the teaser, pretend the teaser is invisible, glance at something else and laugh, look completely uninterested or pretend you don’t hear it.

  • Be amazed. “Really? I didn’t know that.” “Thanks for telling me.” You must sound like you mean it.

  • Express displeasure. “It really makes me mad when you tease me like that.” “If you want us to continue being friends, stop teasing me.”

Bad Friends
Bad friends are every parent’s worst nightmare. We imagine only the worst: drugs, smoking, sex, trouble with the law. But what should parents do if they notice that their daughter is hanging out more with a kid whose values don't seem in sync with their own? Is there ever a time when you should forbid your son from being with a particular friend? Yes.

The bottom line on this one: It’s okay to have friends who are different from your child. Exposing our kids to diversity helps to broaden their horizons, learn new skills, and get along with others. Keep in mind that our kids are rarely “made bad” by another kid, but the friends our kids choose to hang around with sure can increase the odds that he may—or may not—get into trouble. The trick here is to figure out if the other kid’s values and lifestyle are really reckless, self-destructive or totally inappropriate and can damage your child’s character, reputation, or health.

Don’t be so quick to blame “the bad friends.” Remember, your kid is the one who chose them. So the real question is, what’s going on? Why is your kid inclined to hang out with this particular companion? The answer to that question is often a huge parent eye-opener and will also help you figure out your next move. Direct your concerns to where it really counts: how your kid acts instead of how the other kids behave.

Left Out and Rejected
If your kid is nixed from the invite list, turned down by the girl he has a crush on, or has a new haircut that everybody makes fun of, it can be painful, but it’s normal part of growing up. Believe me, your kid will live. But if your child is continually and consistently excluded by his peers, then the problem can greatly diminish your child’s self-esteem. What your child desperately needs to learn is a repertoire of social skills to help him make and keep friends and one of the most important of those skills is how to join a new group. Some kids push too quickly and too hard too when asking to join a group, and are often rejected. If this is your child, help her learn how to join a group the right way so she’ll be less likely to be refused.

  • Watch the group a few feet back for clues. Stand close enough so they see can acknowledge you, but far enough back so you’re not “in” the group. Ask yourself: Do they appear closed or receptive? (If their game is just starting they may want you, if it’s already started or almost over, move on). Do I know the game rules? Do I have the skills to play? If so, move towards the group.

  • Walk toward a friendly kid. Hold your head high and shoulders back to look confident.

  • Look at one of the friendlier kids in the group. Does she look friendly, acknowledge you or smile? If the answer is no to any of those questions, walk on. If yes, go to the next step.

  • Say hello or give a compliment: “Hello” “Nice shot,” or “Looks like fun.”

  • Try to establish eye contact with one member and smile. If the group appears interested (a good indicator is whether anybody looks at you and smiles back), ask to join. “Can I play?” “Need another player?” “Okay, if I join?”

  • Walk on if they say no. Don’t beg, plead or cry. Just walk on and try another group. Whining, crying, or pleading to be included, turn kids off. So suggest she try to maintain her dignity despite her pain.

All kids are rejected, but well-liked kids know how to shrug off the stings and slams. They’re not remembered for their scenes or tears, but how they move on. So help your child learn how to deal with rejection gracefully. Remember, kids don’t need lots of friends, but just one loyal buddy. So keep alert for kids who share the same interests and temperament as your child.

Peer Pressure
“What were you thinking?” “But didn’t you tell the kids it wasn’t right?” “You did what?!!@!” Are you concerned that your kid always seems to go along with the crowd? Does she have a tough time speaking up and letting her opinions be known? Have you noticed that your child can be easily swayed to do what the other kids want? It’s not always easy to buck the crowd. Everyone wants to be liked. But for your child’s own self-confidence, independence and future success in life, it’s important he learn to stand up to a friend. Here are four steps you can teach your child to help her learn to assert herself and do what she knows is right without you.

  • Check your moral compass. What is your friend telling you to do? Is it something against your family rules or your gut tells you it’s just wrong? If you don’t feel comfortable doing it, or think it’s not wise or safe then get ready to assert yourself.

  • Use confident body posture. Hold your head high. Look the person right in the eye. Doing so helps your child “look” more assertive, and that’s a big factor in bucking the pressure.

  • Speak in a strong tone of voice. No yelling or whispering. Be friendly but determined.

  • Tell the friend where you stand. A simple “No” or “No, I don’t want to” is fine. You could give reasons like: “Nope, I don’t want to smoke. My luck I’ll get cancer like Grandpa.” Or: “No, I studied too hard to give you the answers.” It’s not your job to change your friend’s mind, but to stay true to your beliefs.

It will help your child see what the confident body posture looks like so she can use it herself. So role-play the “confident look” and the “hesitant look” with your child. Then encourage your child to be on the look-out for “confident” or “hesitant” posture in other people. Look everywhere: at the mall, on the playground, even television and movie actors. Soon your child will instantly be able to spot confident posture and copy and use it herself.

Bullied & Harassed
We usually think of bullying as physical aggression such as punching, hitting, shoving, but it’s way beyond that. If your kid is being bullied or harassed that means his friend or peers are hurting him intentionally. As a result, your son or daughter feels powerless, helpless, humiliated, shamed, and hopeless about the whole situation. The two biggest mistakes parents make is not taking their children’s complaints seriously and telling them to “toughen up,” and allowing it in the first place. There is no excuse for this behavior, and each and every one of us need to be on the same page to stop it. Here are a few tips you can use to help your child deal with crueler kids.

  • Take your child seriously. Bullying is frightening and humiliating at any age, so listen to your child. Don’t say: “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” “Just toughen up.” “It’ll go away.” Instead, reassure your child that you believe him and will find a way to keep him safe.

  • Gather facts. Next, you need all the facts so you can help your kid create a plan to stop it. “What happened?” “Who did this?” “Where were you?” “Who was there?” “Were you alone?” “Has it happened before?” “How often?” “How does it start?” “What did you do?” “Did anyone help you?” “Did an adult see this?”

  • Don’t make promises. You may have to protect your child, so make no promises to keep things confidential. “I want to make sure you don’t get hurt, so I can’t guarantee I won’t tell.”

  • Offer specific tips for a plan of action. In some cases the safest option is to tell your child to avoid the scene. “Don’t go to the park: come straight home.” “I will pick you up after swimming.” Bullying usually happens in unsupervised areas so tell your kid to be near other kids at lunch, recess, in hallways near lockers, parks, or other open areas.

  • Find one friend. Tell your child there’s safety in numbers. Kids who have even one friend to confide in can deal with the torment of bullying better than children on their own.

  • Identify a trusting adult who can help your child when you’re not around. It must be someone who’ll take this seriously, protect your kid, and, if necessary, keep this confidential.

  • Create a comeback. Bullies rarely just go away, so offer ways to handle a bully if he must face him (though it’s often best to avoid him altogether). Pleading (“Please stop that”) or feeling-laden messages (“It really makes feel mad when you do that”) rarely work. Bullies want to get their victim upset, and so such comments just means they won. A firm, direct statement such as “Cut it out” or “Leave me alone” are usually best. Once your child agrees on a strategy, you must rehearse it until he feels confident to use it alone. A big part of success is the ability to deliver it assertively.




Michele Borba, Ed.D. is an internationally renown educator, motivational speaker, who has presented keynotes and workshops to over one million parents and teachers on four continents, and is the recipient of the National Educator Award. Dr. Borba serves on honorary board to Parents magazine and has appeared as a guest expert on Today, The Early Show, The View, Fox & Friends, MSNBC, and NPR. She is the award-winning author of 20 books including Parents Do Make a Difference, No More Misbehavin’, Building Moral Intelligence, Don’t Give Me That Attitude!, and Nobody Likes Me, Everybody Hates Me (all Jossey-Bass). For more information about her work see www.micheleborba.com.

© 2006 by Michele Borba. Please contact for permission to reprint.


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Michele Borba, Ed.D.