Your child's toxic friends: how to spot and handle them


Making new friends is generally an easy task for younger children but it becomes progressively challenging as they grow up. Children become more self-aware and sometimes with that self-awareness comes self-doubt, meaning they seek validation from their peers.

They may come across a few friends who take advantage of this self-doubt. These friends could have bully-like tendencies but your child may be blind to it under the guise of friendship.

Here are a few tips for identifying your child's toxic friends and ridding them of the toxicity: 

Do you have any experiences with your child's toxic friends or any advice on how to handle them? Email us at and we could publish your comments/ stories. Do let us know if you'd like to remain anonymous.

Signs of a toxic friend:

Jelly, not so jolly

While jealousy is a natural human reaction, constantly making a friend feel bad and projecting your negative energy onto them is toxic.

If you pick up on the friend displaying signs of jealousy towards your child’s possessions, achievements or even them spending time with other friends, be wary of this friend.


If the friend is unnecessarily entitled or selfish with not only their possessions, but things that belong to your child, this is a toxic trait.

If the friend expects your child to assume a submissive position... toxicity alert!

Name-calling and insulting

An easily identifiable trait of a toxic friend is the manner in which they speak to and treat your child.

Constant unprovoked criticism and using unkind words are big problems, especially if it seems to just mindlessly roll off the tongue. Toxic friends often trigger your child’s low points.

Rule breaker

If your child’s friend purposefully goes against your set of rules or even that of their own parents, they’re not a good influence.

Disrespecting adults and treating them with disdain is another way to tell that the rules adults make don’t hold much weight to this friend.

Social exclusion

Clique culture is very common among young people and it’s normal for certain children to be considered more “popular” than others, but if your child is friends with one of the more popular kids who threaten them with social exclusion, even implicitly, that’s a red flag. 

Toxic friends will also purposefully exclude you from certain plans to make you feel like you missed out and rub it in your face, thereby enforcing dominance and a “you should be lucky to have me as a friend”-type attitude.


If the friend is temperamental and constantly take their anger and frustration out on your child, act fast.

Playing the blame game and holding your child accountable for things they have no involvement in is another thing toxic friends love to do.

Things to look out for in your child:

Your child is noticeably more guarded, or experiences a drop in self-esteem 

If your child suddenly seems withdrawn and acts out of character, there is usually a driving force behind it. If they are constantly questioning themselves and suddenly showing insecurity towards certain things, there could be an unhealthy friend in the midst. (Cyber-bullying could be another contributing factor.)

No longer having the same group of friends

As children grow, they gain and lose friends all the time, but suddenly making a whole group of new friends and neglecting their old ones for no apparent reason could mean your child is unhappy with their “social position” and are mixing with the wrong people to change it.

Major personality and behavioural changes 

Behavioural changes are normal, but randomly acting completely out of character is concerning. It could be that they’re acting a certain way to impress a friend or they’re having issues with a friend and looking for a way to air their grievances. Either way, it is a problem. 

Overly influenced

If your child seems to somehow morph into a version of their friend, especially if it is accompanied by negative behaviour, it is a call for concern. This is not a case of “birds of a feather flock together”, but rather your child actively trying to become something else. It may be that they are succumbing to peer pressure due to fear of social exclusion.

What to do if your child has a toxic friend:

1. Directly address the issue

If you have no time to beat around the bush, simply sit your child down and tell them how you feel about their friend. Avoid being too strict about it as telling your child they can no longer be friends with someone will not sit well. Simply air your concerns and hopefully they’ll recognise the toxic character traits as well.

2. Talk your way around it

If you don’t feel comfortable directly addressing the issue, try simply raising or outlining it instead. Create scenarios based on the friendship or relate it to a movie or TV show you’re watching so you don’t seem too invasive. Ask things like, “How would you feel if…?” or say things like, “I wouldn’t be too happy if my friend did [ ] to me.” 

3. Limit time with the friend

Although it is never a good idea to just tell your child that they are no longer allowed to hang out with one of their friends, suggesting other things for them to do instead will probably translate as you not being too thrilled about the friendship, which will hopefully get through to your child.

4. Remind your child of their worth

Oftentimes children succumb to peer pressure and constantly seek validation from friends when they are uncomfortable or not completely happy with themselves. It is good to constantly remind your child of their worth and that their voice and feelings are valid and heard.

When people become aware of their self-worth they trust their authentic selves and don’t need anyone else’s approval. 

5. Let them learn on their own

Letting children learn from their own experiences doesn’t mean you are turning a blind eye to the issue, it means you trust them to be wise enough to notice the toxicity in the friend so that they know to avoid similar people in future. If however, the situation gets out of hand or you feel the need to step in, then do so. 

6. Have a chat with the friend’s parents

Time to put the big parent pants on and have a good-ol’ talk with the friend’s parents or caregivers.

Perhaps there is a reason for the toxic friend’s behaviour or they are acting out as a result of something unrelated to your child. So if things get too much for your liking, the talk should provide you with some clarity or the friend’s parents could have a talk to get through to them.

Parents really do have a sixth sense when it comes to these kind of things, so trust your gut and know that even if your child may be against your concerns at first, they will probably thank you in the long run.

Do you have any experiences with your child's toxic friends or any advice on how to handle them? Email us at and we could publish your comments/ stories. Do let us know if you'd like to remain anonymous.

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