Problems with Friends? Help Your Daughter Navigate Difficult Friendships with guest Jessica Speer

About this Episode

Do you have school-age daughter? Then you know all too well the perils of friendships, cliques, and girl drama. Are you frustrated with the tears and the fights and the complaints of feeling left out?

On this episode of Brainy Moms, Dr. Amy Moore and Teri Miller, MS Psy interview Jessica Speer, author of the book, BFF or NRF: A Girls Guide to Happy Friendships. We explore topics of gossip and drama, and hear from Jessica about some ways to help girls navigate difficult friendships and nurture the important ones. Join us for some great tips from an expert in social science and school-age relationships. 

About Jessica

In addition to being an award-winning author, Jessica has a master’s degree in social sciences and explores social-emotional topics in a way that connects with preteens and teens. Her first book grew out of her elementary school friendship program that strengthens social awareness and helps kids learn to navigate common struggles. Jessica is regularly featured in and contributes to media outlets on topics related to kids, parenting, and friendship. She loves hiking, traveling, and spending time with family and friends. She lives in Steamboat Springs, Colorado with her husband and two daughters. 

Connect with Jessica

Website: https://jessicaspeer.com/
Instagram: @jessica_speer_author
LinkedIn: @JessicaSpeerAuthor
Pinterest: @jessicaspeerauthor
Twitter: @SpeerAuthor
Facebook: @JessicaSpeerAuthor

Mentioned in this Episode

Special offer for listeners
Listeners who sign up for Jessica Speer’s monthly newsletter that focuses on helping kids and families thrive will receive a PDF of the Friendship Pyramid and other social-emotional resources. To subscribe, visit Jessica’s Blog page on JessicaSpeer.com at https://jessicaspeer.com/blog-jessica-speer/

Buy Jessica’s book
BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends): A Girl’s Guide to Happy Friendships is available at all major booksellers and on our website. (We are Amazon affiliates and earn a small commission when you buy through us which helps us continue to bring you our awesome show!)

About our sponsor
LearningRx is a worldwide network of brain training centers offering cognitive, reading, and math remediation and enhancement for all ages. LearningRx has worked with more than 100,000 clients who had learning struggles and disabilities, ADHD, traumatic brain injury, autism, and age-related cognitive decline. Visit www.LearningRx.com or call 1-866-BRAIN-01 to learn more. 

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Read the transcript for this episode:

Problems with Friends? Help Your Daughter Navigate Difficult Friendships
with guest Jessica Speer

Dr. Amy Moore:

Hi and welcome to this episode of Brainy Moms. I’m Dr. Amy Moore, here with my cohost Teri Miller, coming to you today from a very sunny Colorado Springs, Colorado, and our guest today is just down the road from us in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Her name is Jessica Speer, and she is the author of the award-winning book, BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends): A Girl’s Guide to Happy Friendships. This book grew out of her friendship program that strengthens social awareness and helps kids learn to navigate common struggles. She has a master’s degree in social sciences and explores social-emotional topics in a way that connect with preteens and teens.

Teri Miller:

Welcome. I’m so glad you’re here with us, Jessica.

Jessica Speer:

Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to chat with you.

Teri Miller:

I want to hear about what brought you to this topic in your life, being a specialist on friendships for preteen and teenage girls. Tell us a little bit about your personal story.

Jessica Speer:

Sure. Like a lot of personal stories, I didn’t really set out to be really an expert in this. I’m a mom of two girls who are now teenagers, and when they were in elementary school, I started to notice some changes in their relationships. Things were getting more complicated. There was more conflict and strife and discomfort, and so that reminded me so much of my experience at that age. I was thinking, “Oh yeah, I so remember this.” And I’ve got a background in social sciences, so I got really curious and I dove into research. I found some wonderful books that helped to guide myself and guide my daughters through this time, and as I was doing that, I realized there were some things I wanted to share, not only with my daughters but with other kids. So I started a friendship program in elementary schools that really honed in on healthy friendships and some of the topics that I thought would help. And that, fast forward eight years, grew into a book, and that’s where we are today.

Teri Miller:

So cool. So this started when your older daughter was in elementary school.

Jessica Speer:

Right. I would say about second, third grade, things started to get really tricky, you know?

Teri Miller:

Yeah.

Jessica Speer:

And I was thrown off a little bit. Things had been such smooth sailing, your typical strife, but then things got a little more complicated and I felt a little under-equipped as a parent, even really studying relationships, but not knowing how to help at that age, or how do we help our daughters, or sons at that age navigate struggle in their relationships and build skills so they can form and maintain healthy friendships.

Dr. Amy Moore:

So before we start talking about how we do that, can you talk a little bit about why struggles with friendships are so common in the preteen and teen years?

Jessica Speer:

Yes. There’s a really important shift that starts to happen for kids, and it happens for every kid at a different period, of course, because they’re all developing at different stages. But for girls, sometimes this starts to happen in late elementary school. Sometimes it starts to happen in middle school. It just depends, and there’s a lot of things going on. One thing going on is they’re starting to put more weight in their friendships. They’re pulling away from their families a little bit with individuation, so they’re starting to look for more in their friendships, more support, more connection. So that’s happening at the same time that they’re starting to really reflect on themselves and their identity, such as, who am I and who are my friends and what do I like to do?

Jessica Speer:

This is the stage where maybe, relationships aren’t based so much on play and proximity, such as who you’re close to. It’s really based on shared interests and things you like. So that, of course … all those things compound on each other to create a lot of change. So that’s when we as parents start to see friendships that we thought, “Oh, this is such a great friendship. I could see this lasting forever,” the next thing you know, “Oh, actually, that friendship is no longer there anymore.” So we’re kind of taken aback by that, but something really important is going on there, this big developmental shift where they’re really starting to put more weight in their friendships, start to learn how to be a good friend, what they’re looking for in friendship. So yes, of course it makes sense that this is a tricky time for both kids and parents.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Yeah, so as that identity is being formed, they’re trying new things, testing out new areas, and so there’ll be people that they relate to in each of those steps of doing that. And so they may find, “Hey, this isn’t for me, therefore this friend might not be for me as well,” and that can cause some conflict.

Jessica Speer:

Yes. And it could be just some simple things, like … We might not pick up on this as parents, but it could be something that maybe a girl has a friend that really likes to gossip and that makes her uncomfortable. She tries to maybe mediate that situation, but she realizes, “This is not something that I really want to have in a friend.” So that might cause a shift. Another thing that might cause a shift is one kid might get way into phones and technology and the other is not even there yet, so they don’t have a lot to connect on. Maybe one person is way into crushes and the other one is not there yet. So there’s all sorts of ways that they just could all of a sudden be a misfit.

Jessica Speer:

It used to be so simple, just maybe playing tag and hide-and-seek on the playground. When all of a sudden, actually, we’re trying to connect on things that we really care about, and we seem to care about different things at this stage. So therein lies what starts to cause all of these friendships to kind of change up a little bit.

Dr. Amy Moore:

So not just interests or hobbies, but beliefs and values as well, is what I’m hearing you say. I mean, it could be that you have different religious beliefs, that you have different morals, that you have different rules in your house, too, right?

Jessica Speer:

Yeah.

Dr. Amy Moore:

How could that create conflict?

Jessica Speer:

Oh. Kids are trying to figure out … Yeah, they’re seeing themselves more as individuals, so outside their family, so yeah, you’re right. If it’s a value that makes them really uncomfortable, they might start to feel uncomfortable in that group. It makes sense. So this could happen on so many levels. They might even want to test out what it’s like to be popular. Those with kids in elementary and middle school know that we start to hear that word a lot. And we could have a whole nother conversation on that, but there’s a lot of … Who doesn’t want to be in the group that’s known and seen? So some kids might really strive to be in that group, and there are causes to shift up whatever relationships they had. And again, they’re just testing it out.

Jessica Speer:

I’ve had so many kids actually go along that path, try to be in this popular group, and then they get there and they realize, “Oh, actually, this isn’t a great fit for me,” and then they shift back out. But it was that experience that they learned. They would not have learned that that wasn’t a good fit had they not tried to see if that actually was what was right for them at that stage.

Teri Miller:

Yeah. I have a 13-year-old daughter just like you do, and we read your book. We started working through it this past week, and it was really timely. Of course, I was preparing for interviewing you and preparing for this episode, and I told my daughter, “Hey, I need you to work through this with me. We’re going to dig into this.” And she’s kind of, “Oh …” but I’m like, “Okay, we can do this.” And I want to say to listeners to start off with, this is a really marvelous book, because I felt like the design of it was really great that it’s in little, small chunks so that you’re not sitting with your late elementary school or preteen daughter and they’re not overwhelmed with a book with all this text. So this sounds really silly, but even the fact that the font was large … There’s only two or three sentences on a page. It’s very interactive-

Dr. Amy Moore:

Well, it’s large and whimsical font.

Teri Miller:

Whimsical, exactly. Yeah, so it’s very friendly, it’s very approachable. There’s places to write in the book and you fill out a little survey, response, test, [crosstalk 00:08:37], I don’t know.

Dr. Amy Moore:

It’s interactive.

Teri Miller:

Yeah. And that was really, really helpful. And so pretty quickly, she was into it. She found the value. I’m going to bring up something I want you to address. What happened right away in the very first section is she ended up bawling her eyes out.

Jessica Speer:

Oh no. Wow.

Teri Miller:

Very first section about what kind of friends do you have. You talked about, “Let’s do this survey on just one friend,” and it’s a friend that she is struggling … it’s the friendship that she’s struggling with right now, and it brought up a lot of hard stuff. So talk about that, the tears, the emotion that can be so intense for girls at this time around friendships.

Jessica Speer:

Yes, and thank you for sharing that. That means so much to me and I love that. It was really intentional to make the books light and fun fonts and lots of space and not intimidating, but you’re right. It gets right to the heart of it. Chapter one is, How Healthy Are My Friendships? And so it gets … I just wanted to dive right in, because I found in my programs, girls … It’s sometimes hard to know. We know as women, sometimes something doesn’t feel right in a relationship but we can’t quite put our finger on it. We know that after spending time with this person, we may not feel great, but it’s really hard to know what’s going on.

Jessica Speer:

So that quiz is all about that, and the hope is that it helps girls really put their finger on what might not be going right in some of their friendships, or what’s going really well. So they can score on this quiz that, “This looks like a great friendship,” but it also will identify, “This needs some work and here’s what you could do.” Or, “Maybe this friendship is not a right fit right now, and here’s how we manage that.” So you’re right, it goes right to the heart of it, which can be hard but is so important.

Jessica Speer:

The reason I really targeted this book to this age range is I thought, “What a perfect time to figure out what to look for for healthy friendships and how to be a good friend.” Because it gets even trickier as we get deeper into middle school and we get into high school, and then we get into romantic relationships. Things get really tricky. So what I was trying to do with this book is build these foundational skills and just the awareness, self and social awareness, to know what to look for so that we can really start to build that foundation that our relationships are strong and healthy, but to know that that’s not always the case. And so, when that’s not the case, what do we do there?

Teri Miller:

Yeah, you’re-

Dr. Amy Moore:

So you’ve created a friendship pyramid so that you can kind of classify the levels of friendships. You want to talk a little bit about that? And then we can return then to Teri’s experience with her daughter on what do we do with that.

Jessica Speer:

Yes. One thing that comes to a surprise for kids, I’ve noticed in my program, is we don’t really realize that we’re coming to a period of our life where there’s going to be a lot of changes in our friendships. Often when there are changes, one person’s ready for the change and the other one might not be, so it’s usually an uncomfortable situation. So with the friendship pyramid, I just wanted to illustrate this life cycle of friendships. So at the very tip, the very top of the pyramid, is close friends, and that’s really small. Because we now know as adults that it’s hard to find those close friends that we really connect with at a deeper level. So that’s a small, tiny tip. And sometimes we even have periods of our life where we might not have that. A lot of middle schoolers feel unsettled, because they might be in transition and really wanting to have that, but they haven’t found the perfect fit. So that part of the pyramid lists some of these qualities. Feeling really safe and acceptance and you can share deeper feelings and thoughts.

Jessica Speer:

But underneath that, a big part of the pyramid is friends. Lots of things fall into this bucket. We’ve got neighbors, we’ve got classmates, we’ve got teammates. These relationships, we consider them as friends. It might even be an online friend. But we haven’t developed that level of closeness. You might not be comfortable enough to really share some of your thoughts and feelings. You might not want to share a secret because you haven’t built that much trust. But it’s really important for kids to know that there’s a lot of kids in that bucket for them. Sometimes they might not feel like they have a close friend, but we as parents, as caregivers can remind them they actually do have a lot of people that they consider as friends, even if at this point, they are still looking for that close friends. There’s a lot of people in that friend bucket, and every kid needs people in that friend bucket.

Jessica Speer:

Then at the base of the pyramid, also a large piece, is acquaintances. These are all the people out there that we see in class or we see in town. We haven’t met them yet. We know who they are or we might even know their name, but we don’t really know them. And in the acquaintance bucket, there’s all sorts of possibility for new friends. So I think kids find that hopeful, even though it’s intimidating to figure out how … If you’re looking for a change or you’re looking for a new friend, how do you get to know some of these? And there’s a whole chapter on that, making new friends. But it’s just comforting to know there’s a lot of people out there that are possibilities.

Jessica Speer:

Running up and down the side of the pyramid is change. So what we see happen, especially in the preteen and the teen years, someone might go from a close friend back down to an acquaintance, because some of those transitions we talked about earlier. Maybe they have grown in different directions, it’s not a fit. Maybe there was some sort of falling out. And that feels uncomfortable. How awkward that we had a really close friend that all of a sudden, we barely say hi to in the halls. But that is pretty common. So just putting that out there that this is kind of the life cycle of friendships. There’s always changes, misunderstandings are common, and it’s all okay. This is just kind of how we move through relationships as humans.

Teri Miller:

I loved the next section then after understanding, for her to understand her friendships, what kind of friend is she. What kind of friend am I? That was a really great section. It was really insightful. Again, to my daughter, it brought up a lot of tears and that’s okay, because it was a time of growth and discussion. But what she discovered is that she’s a great friend to people, but she is also very, very … She’s peacekeeping, she’s kind of people pleasing, she’s pretty compliant. Her name is Serene, if that tells you anything.

Jessica Speer:

Oh, I love it.

Teri Miller:

And she is very and people really like to be around her, but what she discovered is she doesn’t stand up for herself as well as she could. Then because you referred to the sections on those I power statements and how to address conflict, I’d love for you to talk a little bit more about that as well. Because I think that also is pretty common, that a kid may get to a point of realizing there’s things that are going on that aren’t great, and then how do they deal with that.

Jessica Speer:

Yes. Thank you for bringing it up. I love that. I have a daughter, too, that when she did that same quiz, she realized where she has the most opportunity to grow as a friend is in speaking up. And for a lot of girls, that’s pretty scary because they so much want to connect, they so much want to fit in that they’re afraid if they speak up, that could really damage the friendship. So what I worked on in my programs is how do we speak up in a way that connects and doesn’t divide. And what I found is, this is a learned skill, but kids get it right off the bat. And once they know it, it just takes practice, like everything.

Jessica Speer:

So what we talk about in our groups is there’s many ways to say things. We’ve got you statements and we talk about I statements. I share an example like, “You always go first. I’m not going to be your friend anymore if you blank.” That is so common in kid and teen world, is kind of coming out with a you statement and maybe a threat or a criticism of the person. And right there, we’ve kind of started that conversation with some division. Another way to come at that is, “I feel really frustrated because it feels like you’re not listening to my ideas. Can I choose next time?” So now that starts with an I statement, with my feelings. But that’s a lot for kids to grasp. To say that in a way that flows takes a lot of practice, so of course, it takes time to learn.

Jessica Speer:

But when I was sharing this with kids in my program, they got it immediately. We always say which would you rather have said to you? A, “You never blank, blank, blank,” or, “I feel frustrated. I would like …” And they get it right away. They’ve had both said to them and they’re like, “This.” And so we practice that, and parents can do this at home with their girls, too. They can practice this. And sometimes, relationships in this age don’t even feel safe enough to share their feelings. So if they can’t say, “I feel frustrated,” or, “I feel sad when this happens. I would like …” If that’s too vulnerable, they can just skip the feelings and go right to, “I would like you to this, please,” so just helping them. But practicing with them, they can practice in the mirror, and it takes time, especially for some girls where speaking up is going to be their journey. And sometimes for us, it’s a lifelong journey.

Jessica Speer:

So she might over time give herself little challenges and scenarios where she’s going to do this, and I know my daughter does that. She actually will challenge herself in situations and go for it sometimes, even though it feels so uncomfortable. But she’s aware of that and she’s aware that this is something that she can grow and become stronger in, and so she’s got that on her radar.

Teri Miller:

Yeah. So Amy, you were going to ask about the difference-

Dr. Amy Moore:

Yeah, so you’ve hidden … Oh, what was I going to-

Teri Miller:

I was going to say conflict and bullying.

Dr. Amy Moore:

What was I going to ask about, Teri?

Teri Miller:

Well, the next thing we had up was conflict and bullying.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Oh yeah. Talk to us a little bit about the difference between just friendship conflict and bullying, and how do you encourage kids to respond to each?

Jessica Speer:

The wonderful thing is, since I was a kid, we’ve done a great job of raising awareness about bullying, thank goodness. When I was going through middle school, I didn’t even know that word. I didn’t even know the behaviors associated with or what to do about that. So I think it’s wonderful that schools and communities have really raised a lot of awareness about bullying. The one tricky side of that is we’ve raised so much awareness that sometimes, things that are just conflict or struggle get named as bullying, and then we’re not responding then in the right way, or we’re not giving our kids the opportunity to navigate in a way that would better solve that situation.

Jessica Speer:

So let’s start by some quick definitions. Bullying. Okay, so a few things in common. Bullying is intentional, so it’s intentional. It’s pretty aggressive and it feels one directional. So there tends to be some sort of power imbalance where the person or the group that is behaving like a bully has more power. It could be physical power, it could be social power, it could be emotional power against someone who is not very likely to defend themselves, and it’s repeated. So those are the things. It’s intentional, it’s on purpose, it’s pretty aggressive, there’s a power imbalance, and it’s repeated. Now, if it’s cyberbullying, there might not be that power imbalance, because sometimes when you get behind a screen, it levels the playing field. But for more in-person school situations, those things are the components that help define it as bullying.

Jessica Speer:

What’s much more common is conflict. So in this situation, it might not be intentional, it might not be repeated, it might not be purposeful. It might just be some behaviors where people are trying to figure out how to navigate conflict, which is complicated, so it gets messed up a lot. It also might be a situation where a group of friends are in a big change. Maybe it’s there’s some kids that aren’t really meshing together anymore and there’s conflict within that group, so they’re in the midst of this change that we see happen in the preteen years. That could be labeled as bullying, but really, what’s happening there is some strife and some conflict and some settling out as kids try to find out where they fit and how to treat others well and how to expect to be treated well.

Jessica Speer:

So for parents, we can help to make sure that we’re not over-identifying things as bullying. And if it seems like it’s more of a conflict situation, in those moments, we have an opportunity to really help our kids learn how to manage conflict, which is a skill that we learn. And like everything, it takes a lot of practice. So one of the best things I suggest for parents and teachers and caregivers is, in these moments, really watch ourselves. We don’t want to get so emotionally involved that we’re taking over on our own emotional rollercoaster and we’re just throwing out resolutions or suggestions. We really need to help our kids, one, manage all those tough emotions, so be the emotion coach. Help them work through those emotions. Usually, if we can really just listen, let them talk … We get so much clarity as humans if we start to put words to what we’re experiencing. So letting them just share and share, and we can ask, “Is there more?” or, “Let me see if I get this.” So really helping them put to words what they’re feeling and experiencing.

Jessica Speer:

And then, once it’s all out there, we can ask, “Hey, what are some of your options here? Just throw them out there. What could you do in this situation?” And so then they start to think through, “What might I do in this situation?” Of course, there might be some suggestions there that we’re thinking, “Oh no, don’t do that.” But let them get it out there, let them just think through their options, and then let them decide. That’s a big one. We don’t understand the complexity of their social world, so we need to give them some leadership to know what is the best way for them to navigate the situation. And oftentimes, it might be they’re just going to wait it out and see what happens. Because we don’t always respond to everything. That would be so overwhelming if every struggle and strife, we felt like we had to respond to. We pick our battles, so we’ll let our kids do that, too.

Jessica Speer:

How do they want to respond? And sometimes, those earlier lessons they’ve learned, like maybe that they need to speak up, is this an opportunity that they want to practice that? Or do they want to wait and see and maybe choose the next opportunity to do that? So through that process, we are teaching our kids that they can do this. No, it’s not easy. No, it’s not comfortable. But they start to build the confidence and skills to know that they can navigate these things, and they know that you are a great sounding board for how they should actually do that.

Dr. Amy Moore:

So what is your advice to moms who want to take over the situation?

Jessica Speer:

[crosstalk 00:24:41]

Dr. Amy Moore:

Because we all know those moms who want to pick up the phone and call the other mom, or call the principal or the teacher, and fix the situation. What say you to that?

Jessica Speer:

I feel like we’ve all done that, haven’t we?

Teri Miller:

Oh yeah.

Jessica Speer:

Haven’t we all gotten overly emotional? And every time I do, I kick myself. I’m like, “Oh no. I did it.” So this is a practice for parents, and we’re not perfect either, so go easy on yourself. Realize that sometimes, we’re going to not do this right. That’s just how life is as parents. We are learning as we go, too. But as we get better at this, in those moments, notice first if we’re feeling a big emotion, so get that in check. So our daughter or our son is telling us something and we notice this emotional reaction in ourselves.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Oh, our mama bear instincts kick in, right?

Jessica Speer:

Right.

Teri Miller:

[crosstalk 00:25:39]

Dr. Amy Moore:

I’m like, “Get that kid.” Claws come out.

Jessica Speer:

Yes. We start labeling, our blood pressure’s going. We’ve all been there. Okay, so let’s just accept that that’s part of being a mom. Our love for our kids is so great. That is going to happen. Okay, so then let’s also just try … let’s do what we can to try to remember to ground ourselves. Something that I do sometimes, if I notice that I’m having a big emotional reaction, is I take my focus and I actually focus on my feet on the ground. I’m physically grounding myself and I’m noticing, “Oh my gosh, my chest is a little tight. Oh my gosh, I can feel my …” Just I’m listening. And my daughter does not know I’m doing this inside of my head, but I am grounding myself so I don’t get caught on my own little emotional rollercoaster. Just that little act of recognizing, “There I go. I’m having a reaction,” recognizing that lets me get back to, “Okay, here I am, and my job at this moment is to really ground myself so I can best support my daughter.”

Jessica Speer:

I don’t always get this right, but we can … Sometimes I have a little bracelet on. That’s my little reminder bracelet. Whatever tricks we need to do for ourselves, we just tap into those tricks and we ground ourselves and we focus back in and we try to keep our mouths closed for as long as possible. And the only thing that’s allowed to come out of our mouths are questions that are helpful, or empathetic phrases like, “I’m so sorry that happened,” or, “That sounds so hard.” So really being so consciously aware. No advice. Zip, zip. No advice, no problem solving. I am listening to understand and I am showing compassionate empathy for my child. That’s all I’m doing in this moment.

Jessica Speer:

And then as that progresses, and hopefully that allows them to open and share, maybe later on, much later on, they’re open to hearing some suggestions. But if we can stay focused on staying grounded, listening deeply, and showing compassion, asking questions, that’s the best we can do. We just keep trying to do our best and go easy on ourselves, too.

Dr. Amy Moore:

So is there a point where you should intervene as a parent and take care of it for your child, rather than just teaching them the conflict resolution skills and letting them try?

Jessica Speer:

Great question. I would say yes, if you are starting to notice that your child is very isolated, so they really, really are struggling in this area, either social world, lack of friendships, their mood … If you’re noticing that isolation, a lot of really deep, dark moods, absolutely get help. Talk to the school counselor. Maybe talk to the schoolteacher to see what they’re seeing. Sometimes we don’t see what’s happening at school. So you could put a note in to the teacher that, “I’m a little worried about my son or daughter. This is what I’m seeing. Can you tell me if you’re seeing anything on your end that I can help with this or that we can do to make sure that he or she is finding friends, is connecting with friends?”

Jessica Speer:

So absolutely. This is where the mama bear instinct is super important. We don’t want to ignore. If our child is really struggling, it is absolutely time to step in. Maybe not time to step in in a way that is trying to fix it. Stepping in in a way that’s finding the support that your child needs. And maybe that’s connecting them with the right person, or getting them involved in other activities, or maybe connecting with the school counselor. So yes, definitely step in if you’re deeply worried about the well being of your child.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Excellent advice.

Teri Miller:

I have two practical questions, thinking of my daughters. My second grader I’ll get to in a minute, but my fourth grader, I’ve noticed that she is making a shift. She’s in a shift right now like you talked about where last year, I controlled all her play dates and friendships in a sense. And so she had two little friends that were like her best friends, and one of them, I began to notice, was a really good influence on her. After she would spend time with this friend, I would notice her practicing more kindness and being more respectful and saying please and thank yous and things like that. She was more peaceful with that friend. Then the other friend, when she would spend time with the other friend, she would tend to be more demanding and belligerent and she would get angry sometimes, because the other friend was a little bossy to her. I would hear them kind of bickering, even though she really, really wanted to have play dates with that friend.

Teri Miller:

Well, I just quit having play dates. I just was like, “Oh, sorry, she just can’t come over. No, you can’t go to the waterpark with her,” whatever. I controlled it. And so that sort of solved itself. Well, she’s making a shift now. What do you do as a parent when you see your kid making those shifts and you’re not in a position to just kind of control it conveniently, dictate it anymore, when they’re making connections with friends that are not good influences and you’re seeing yucky things come out. What can we do?

Dr. Amy Moore:

What a great question.

Jessica Speer:

That is a great question. And it’s hard to watch, isn’t it?

Teri Miller:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jessica Speer:

You’re like, “Oh no. This one is worrying me.” This is a tough one for parents. And so as we talked about earlier, kids are going to test out some different identities. There might be something about that friend that is really drawing her. Maybe it’s the confidence. Maybe it’s something we’re not even sure of. So I would start asking about that. I’d be like, “What is it about …” let’s just call her Ashley. “What is it about Ashley that you’re really drawn to?” Or, “How do you feel after spending time with Ashley?” As much as we can, let’s just try to have nonjudgmental conversations. Because when we get to the preteen years, kids have this amazing antenna that they pick up on parental judgment of them and their friends, and that just shuts it down. So as soon as they pick up that we are starting to judge their friends or we’re starting to judge them, it’s going to shut down the conversation so we have to really watch that.

Jessica Speer:

But asking some good questions like, “What are you drawn to there?” Or, “What do you like about so-and-so?” And maybe open that up to a later time, opening up to, “What are you really looking for in friendship?” So just I would put on your detective hat and start to ask questions about that. And she might have to move through that relationship. She might have to test it out and it might be tough to watch, but until she experience that relationship, can she make a choice whether she wants to be in it or not? And that is so hard to hear as a parent, that we’re like, “Oh no. We can’t stop that.” It’s really hard to. Sometimes the more we try to stop that, the more they want to have that relationship. So I hate to say it, but we almost have to let them work through that, but use it as an opportunity for conversation to really talk about how that relationship is going, conversations about healthy relationships, and things like that. Just using it as a learning opportunity for her, if you can. What do you think about that, Teri? Would that work?

Teri Miller:

It sounds hard.

Jessica Speer:

I know. I know.

Teri Miller:

Because I want to step in with that mama bear mentality and I want to contact the teacher and say, “I would really like to make sure that she’s not at the same table with this other little girl, because I’m seeing some difficult things come out, even in her schoolwork and behavior.” And yet, oof, to think that I’m going to have to step back and, okay, let her work through it. But your idea of asking her questions … I have not done that at all. And then when she responds, to say things like, “Well, it sounds like she’s a lot of fun on the playground,” or to encourage what she’s saying instead of judge. Eek.

Jessica Speer:

We all do it so it’s okay, but yeah, try to get a feel for what is she really drawn to there. Because there’s something that is drawing her to this relationship, and that’s just wonderful to know as a parent, what is it about this person that she’s really drawn to. It also, I think, is comforting for parents to know that friendships change a lot during this period. So she might test this out and she might learn some really valuable life lessons from it. I know, fingers crossed.

Teri Miller:

Cross my fingers.

Jessica Speer:

This is a tough one, so I’m so glad you brought it up. It doesn’t mean we have to do nothing, but keep that conversation going. If you do see things going really to bad places where the influence is really negative, I think it’s okay to have a private conversation with the teacher to maybe put some space there, maybe sit her by somebody else. So I’m not saying hands off, parents. I think we watch this in a loving, careful way, because we’re parents and we want to do everything we can for our kids. So it’s not totally hands off, but it’s a way … But knowing that they’re going to grow through these things, even the rough parts. Sometimes we learn the most from our toughest relationships, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that from kids that they really wanted to get in this friendship and then they get there and they’re like, “Oh. Oh boy. This is not good.”

Jessica Speer:

But kind of fast forward 10 years, the fact that they can recognize a relationship that’s not good, awesome. We all need to have that skill, to recognize when a relationship is not healthy for us or the other person. That’s a great skill, and they’re learning how to do that in their own journey, and it’s going to be a bumpy road. It’s not easy.

Dr. Amy Moore:

I’ve got three comments to make on this conversation, as I’ve sat here listening to the dialogue. As a former teacher, I will tell you that it is very difficult for teachers to play referee in friendships, and especially because Jessica, as you said, friendships change and wax and wane. And so this week, there may be conflict between friends, and a month from now, they may be besties. And so you may be struggling with a child’s mom socially, and so there are things behind the scenes that could be happening, and those are the reasons why you’re asking the teacher, “Hey, could you sit them apart from each other?” When once you resolve the problem yourself, then the kids can be friends again. And so we have to be super cautious about asking teachers to get involved in differences of opinion and differences in morals. And so I think that if there’s some true conflict happening or true bullying happening, then you absolutely would want to involve the teacher. But I would just be super careful about those expectations of what a teacher can manage and not manage …

Teri Miller:

That’s good.

Dr. Amy Moore:

… when she’s got a classroom of 30 kids.

Jessica Speer:

Thank you for sharing that, Dr. Amy.

Teri Miller:

Yeah. [crosstalk 00:37:17]

Jessica Speer:

That’s so great, from the teacher perspective. Because you’re right. It’s way more complicated than what we’re seeing on the surface, and it’s a tough one for teachers to possibly know everything that’s going on there. So thank you, great thought.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Yeah. And then the second thing that I thought of is that even though you’re uncomfortable with that relationship at school … and I think it’s amazing advice from Jessica to let that play out, because you can learn valuable life lessons and social skills and what you do and don’t want in a friend … as a parent, you still have complete control over your child’s free time. And so whether or not you’re going to approve a sleepover with that friend is 100% up to you, right?

Teri Miller:

Yeah.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Or whether you’re going to approve going to the skating rink with that friend is 100% up to you. And so you still have the power to limit the amount of time that your child is spending with someone who might be a bad influence, right?

Teri Miller:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). That’s true.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Without having to involve the teacher and separating them at school.

Teri Miller:

Oh yeah. Absolutely.

Dr. Amy Moore:

And then my third comment is, what a wonderful opportunity to use Jessica’s friendship quiz to help your daughter evaluate what type of friend is this. You kind of can act as a catalyst in that process of her getting to evaluate that.

Jessica Speer:

Yes. And one thing I always suggest for families is the friendship pyramid, just put it right on your fridge. Because sometimes we forget the qualities that we’re looking for in close friends. So that clearly says, “These friendships are safe and accepting.” I’m going to read that, that they find fair solutions, they are trustworthy. So keeping that just front and center somewhere in the home that not every relationship is like this, but the ones that we really come to rely on, our closest friends, it’s great to have these qualities and to work on those qualities with those relationships.

Jessica Speer:

But Dr. Amy, you made me think of one thing when you were saying your thoughts, is one thing that I’ve found helpful, too … and you mentioned this, that things change sometimes on a weekly basis, especially the younger the kids get. As a parent, it’s so helpful … I heard this phrase once and I wish I could attribute it to the right person, but it’s, “Don’t dig for pain.” So sometimes, there’ll be a conflict and we’re so worried about it as parents. We’re thinking about it and every time our kid comes home from school and we’re like, “Well, how was this today?” We keep digging about the situation that they resolved it a long time ago. It is so done, it is water under the bridge, but we are still rolling through that in our heads.

Jessica Speer:

So one of my parental mantras is, “Don’t dig for pain.” Kids are really resilient, especially when it comes to friendship stuff. And the younger they are, the quicker they move through things. So it’s sometimes us, the adults, that are more stuck than they are in what happened. So yeah, don’t dig for pain.

Dr. Amy Moore:

I love that.

Jessica Speer:

Yep. Let them heal and move on and let it go. Let it go.

Teri Miller:

It’s no good. Yeah.

Dr. Amy Moore:

I love the idea of putting the friendship pyramid on the refrigerator, and I believe you have that as a download on your website, right? A free download for listeners?

Jessica Speer:

Yes. Yes. I have a monthly e-newsletter where I talk about all sorts of just connection at home and friendship stuff for kids. And so when you sign up for that e-newsletter, one of the PDFs you get is this friendship pyramid, which you can just print and put up on your fridge. It’s just a great reminder, because we’re all working on this, aren’t we? We’re all trying to be the best friends we can be and to make sure our relationships stay healthy. So it tends to be a great resource for the whole family.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Excellent.

Teri Miller:

I thought it was a great resource. Serene and I talked about it, not only from the perspective of, “Hey, keep in mind, these are the kinds of friends that are in these categories,” but it was that reminder of, “This is the kind of friend you want to be. Are you a good friend to others?” And so it’s just a great guide, a great reminder for all of us. For mom friends, too, you know?

Jessica Speer:

Yes.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Yes. Oh, I love that point. Sure.

Teri Miller:

Yeah. [crosstalk 00:41:29]

Jessica Speer:

I tried to weave that through the whole book. It’s looking outward, but equally looking inward because every relationship is a balance. We have something to offer every relationship, so keeping that in mind. When we’re always outwardly focused, our relationships are actually harder. When we’re a little more self-reflective and self-aware, it’s going to smooth out a lot of bumps in the road. So thank you for bringing that up, Teri.

Teri Miller:

Yeah.

Dr. Amy Moore:

So speaking of weaving throughout the book, you wove nine friendship truths throughout the book. We need to take a quick break and let Teri read a word from our sponsor, LearningRx, and when we come back, I’d like to hear what your favorites are from that. Let’s talk about a few of those.

Teri Miller: Reading sponsor ad from LearningRx

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Dr. Amy Moore:

And we’re back, talking with Jessica Speer about navigating friendships. You included nine friendship truths throughout your book, and so I want to tell you which one spoke to me and then have you speak on that, and then I want you to share …

Jessica Speer:

Great.

Dr. Amy Moore:

… what your favorites are. Okay, so friendship truth number five is that, “Some girls with strong friendship qualities may not have the most friends. Sometimes girls with the most friends do not make the best friends.” A common theme that I see as a counselor with teenage girls is that they struggle with the idea that they need to have lots of friends in order to feel happy. And so when I saw that, I thought, “Oh, I have to hear more about why that’s a friendship truth.”

Jessica Speer:

Yes. And you hit it right on the head. I think in the preteen and the teen years, sometimes quantity seems to be more valuable than those close friendships. And part of that goes back to being seen and known. We all want to be seen and known as humans, and in those adolescent years, what that often means … Well, it must mean that we have a lot of people that want to be our friends.

Jessica Speer:

So that brings us in to that popularity thing which we talked about earlier, that not all kids, but some kids, are really drawn to. So what I talk to kids about with popularity is, there’s different kinds of popularity. There are some kinds of popular that kids are popular because they are really great leaders. They have really strong values. People trust and know that they’re going to do the right thing. So there’s that type of popular, and there’s another type of popular that peaks in middle school. This is the type of popular where people are kind of afraid of them. They have a lot of social power and sometimes they use that power in not the most positive ways. People, yeah, they’re a little afraid of them.

Jessica Speer:

So when kids are talking about popularity, sometimes I dive into that with them and I go, “What kind of popular is that? Tell me about this person and why you think they’re popular,” so they can start to understand that we lump a lot of things into this popular thing. But some kids are really, really drawn to that and that’s okay. As we talked about, if they’re going to go for that and they’re going to experience that and they’re going to decide whether that’s right for them or not. There’s some wonderful lessons there. I can’t tell you how many kids I’ve had come to me later that realize, “Okay, yeah, once I got there, that was not really a great fit.” So there’s great lessons to be had there.

Jessica Speer:

But what we forget as preteens as we’re looking to have lots of friends, sometimes we forget some of the girls or boys that they might not have the most friends because they’re not the ones striving to be out there, striving to have the most friends. They’re maybe the quieter, the gentler. They make great friends, they’ve got great qualities, but they’re not the one that everybody’s noticing, for whatever reason. So that friendship truth is all about keeping your eyes out for those people. So that’s a very long answer to your question, but that it’s not always the kids that have the most friends that are the best friends. Keep your eye out for the ones that have the qualities that you like in friendship.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Excellent. So which ones do you want to talk about? Which truths?

Jessica Speer:

Okay, so one that we kind of touched on is truth number three, friendships have different phases and change over time. What I’ve found working from kids is there’s a huge sense of relief there. A lot of kids in my program were in the midst of some changes and if we don’t know that this is pretty normal and a friendship truth, sometimes we can internalize that, that, “They don’t want to be my friend anymore so there must be something wrong with me,” or, “There’s something wrong with this person.” So it can chip away at a person’s self worth, until we know that, actually, no, friendships do have different phases and change over time, and that’s okay. So that truth I feel is really important just for kids to know, because if they’re about to hit a stage that that’s pretty common.

Jessica Speer:

One other one that I think happens in middle school is friendship truth number four, close friendships can be hard to find and might not happen until middle school or later. What I see in a lot of kids, and I’ve seen it in my daughters is, because they’re in this transition and they’re trying to find out where they fit, there might be a period where they don’t know exactly for sure. Yes, they have friends, so they got friends, but they’re not exactly sure where they fit, or it doesn’t feel close and they haven’t built that level of trust or there’s been change.

Jessica Speer:

So it can feel really unsettling, and I bet both of you remember a time in your preteen years where you had a period of feeling unsettled, like maybe not sure if you had that. So just again, throwing that out there that that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with you. You just haven’t found that close fit. In fact, close friends are hard to find and might not happen until later. Now, Teri, have you found that with your daughter, that she’s had some periods of time where she was a little bit unsettled in between friendships?

Teri Miller:

Yeah, I think I’ve talked about with her and then she sees in her older sisters … We’ve talked about that friendships take time and that it’s really difficult when you’re in a fourth grade class with one friend and then they’re not in your fifth grade class, or you’re on a soccer team with one friend and then the next semester, they’re not on your soccer team anymore, and then when you’re an adult, you get to invest in friendships and they take a long time to grow and develop and have value and connection and intimacy.

Teri Miller:

And so it has been helpful for my daughter, Serene, to see her older sister, Eliza, who has a very dear friend that she’s had since something like third or fourth grade but that’s been through changes and stages, and that they sort of fell out of friendship in middle school. But at that time, I encouraged her, “Just stick it out. Don’t get mad. Just give it time,” because I knew that these two girls had a lot of the same values. Sure enough, in high school, they really reconnected again, and now as young women, they are the tightest of friends. And so that’s been really good for Serene to see that example and to persevere through the stages and changes.

Jessica Speer:

I love that example, because you’re so right. It can circle back. There might be a few years where it’s not a fit, but everyone’s growing and changing. We’re always growing and changing. And then they came back together. I love that. I feel like the second and the third children, they get so much more insight just by observing what’s happening with their older siblings. I love that.

Teri Miller:

Hey, this is a great segue then to my second really big practical question I have for you. Okay, so when a kiddo is kind of stuck with a friend … For example, Serene has been friends with a gal for quite a while, and we’ve seen some problems in that friendship, and it has caused her some heartbreak. But on the surface, they have fun together, they have a lot in common, their lives overlap, and there is not an end in sight of their lives overlapping. So in a sense, she is stuck with this gal, and yet, there is sort of a power differential. And so Serene tends to be run over by this gal sometimes, not bullied, but she doesn’t get her turn to have an opinion and she feels uncared for. Anyway, she’s gone through seasons of heartbreak and I don’t know what to say to her when she’s going through this book and realizing this isn’t a very healthy friendship, but she’s stuck with it. How do I advise her when she’s stuck with it but it’s really not ideal?

Jessica Speer:

I’m so glad you asked that, because that is something that we all learn to navigate. So she’s getting this opportunity that she’ll experience that again and again. Later on, she might be in a workplace where there’s a really difficult person, but they have to work together every day. So this is super important for parents to realize that the situation she’s in is super common. Kids sometimes go … they’ll be in the same class or the same school or same sport all the way through high school, so there’s no getting away from this person.

Jessica Speer:

So I think handling it delicately is a great skill. Instead of throwing a bomb on that and then making it really uncomfortable … What I would say to her is, on that friendship pyramid, we have that friend bucket where there’s lots of imperfections. There’s no perfect friendship, even in our close friends at the top, but there’s lots of imperfections with the friend bucket. Again, those are the neighbors, the classmates, the teammates. We know them, we see them, we feel comfortable with them, but we might not share as much as we would with a close friend. We might not share our feelings as much. We might not share our ideas. So I think she’s learning to keep a little bit of a boundary there.

Jessica Speer:

So she realizes she’s not going to get away from this person really, but she can not divulge a lot about her self, she can choose to spend her free time in the ways that she would like to. But I think she’s learning how to navigate that gracefully, which is such a beautiful skill. It’s an important skill for her to learn, and that will serve her in many areas of life.

Teri Miller:

Well, your book has really brought that to the forefront of our conversation and for her to explore, so I’m really grateful for it. I would really encourage readers … readers … listeners …

Jessica Speer:

Oh, thank you.

Teri Miller:

… encourage listeners to be a reader of this book, to dig in and see if this is something that you can really put out there for your daughter so that you can begin discussing these hard issues and dig into them.

Jessica Speer:

Well, I love that you guys did it together, because that was my dream. You out the book out there and you never know what’s going to happen. But my dream was that mothers and fathers or grandparents would do it with their daughters, because then you have a framework to work through. You have a place to start the conversation. You can remind each other, “Well, hey, remember this friendship truth?” So I love that you did that.

Jessica Speer:

And just one more thought on that question about these friends that you can’t get away from. I think it’s so … Sometimes for parents, you’re like, “Well, why are you still in that friendship?” Because they can’t get away from that. So sometimes, our simple response, like, “Just don’t be friends anymore,” that’s really hard when you sit next to that person every day in science class. So we as parents need to be aware that they’re navigating situations we don’t actually have to navigate quite in that way as adults. We have a lot more space to put boundaries as adults than they do sometimes as kids. But helping them learn those simple steps they can do, knowing that this is not a friend that’s ever going to grow into anything close to a close friendship and what do I do to make sure that I’m taking care of myself in this relationship. So great example. I’m so glad you brought that up.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Well, I think it’s a good opportunity to teach the life skill that you can be friendly without being friends, that that person could move down the pyramid into an acquaintance category, right?

Jessica Speer:

Yes.

Dr. Amy Moore:

I mean, we want our children to be friendly to everyone, right?

Jessica Speer:

Yes.

Dr. Amy Moore:

And so you can still practice those social skills and be respectful and be friendly and acknowledge them when they speak to you, but without being intimate and without being friends, or close friends.

Teri Miller:

Or being too vulnerable. I think for her, it’s an issue of she really, really wants to be friends with this person. She wants this to be one of her best friends. She’s not repelled by this person, but so she just keeps getting heartbroken over and over again. And so it’s advising her to, yeah, be friendly, be friends, but also protect your heart. Maybe let’s not say yes to the sleepovers. Let’s not say yes to all the extra time spent together, and just put some safety net there to protect her heart.

Jessica Speer:

I am so excite she learned that, because for her, who has this big, open, loving heart, oh, yay. Yay, yay, yay that she got to experience that at that young age, because that will serve her. That will serve her. So wonderful. Yay. Thank you for sharing that.

Teri Miller:

Yeah.

Dr. Amy Moore:

So Jessica, is there anything you’d like to leave our listeners with that you haven’t had a chance to talk about today?

Jessica Speer:

Oh, well, it’s been so, so fun chatting with you. Thank you for having me and thank you for all the work you do. What a wonderful resource for parents. The only thing I would share is that go easy on yourself. We’re all doing the best we can and we’re learning as we go. I know for myself, I’m doing a much better job with this on my second child and since I wrote a book. But prior to that, there were a lot of bumps in the road. I learned some great lessons. So we are all doing the best we can. Just keep doing that and just loving and accepting your kids as much as you possibly can, because that’s what matters the most.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Great advice. Great advice. This has been a wonderful conversation with Jessica Speer. We just want to thank you for taking your time, sharing your heart with us today and with our listeners. Hey listeners, if you would like to connect with Jessica or learn more about her work, you can visit jessicaspeer.com. That’s S-P-E-E-R.com. You can find her on Instagram @jessica_speer_author and on Facebook at Jessica Speer Author. And we will put all of her social media handles, including those, in the show notes, along with a link to her book, BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends): A Girl’s Guide to Happy Friendships, which you will also be able to find under the Brainy Books tab on our website, brainymoms.co.

Dr. Amy Moore:

So look, we really appreciate you being a listener. If you love our show, please leave us a five-star rating and review on Apple Podcasts. If you’d rather watch us, we are on YouTube. You can find us on social media @thebrainymoms. So look, until next time, you’re busy moms and we’re busy moms, so we’re out.

Teri Miller:

See ya.