Q. My 11-year-old daughter has a close friendship I don’t like. The girl is disruptive and controlling. Is it okay to ask the school to separate them in different forms, or even change school, and should I tell my daughter what I intend to do? Annie, Oxford
No wonder we fret over friendships, given their importance in our children’s emotional development. University of Maryland research published in the journal Child Development in 2006, suggests good quality friendships can positively affect the way children cope with difficult situations. Further American research in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology in 2009 showed that strong friendships could help children who are prone to feeling overly self-conscious or who internalise their problems.
Yet, when – if at all – do we intervene? Psychologist Donna Dawson has a stark warning: ‘I would say that for the mother to change forms or schools to avoid this controlling girl is a bit extreme. School years are years for experimenting with friendship, to discover the people or types that we like and don’t like,’ she explains. ‘The mother might not like this girl, but it is obvious there is something in her that the daughter admires or at least puts up with. If you interfere too much, you could get a backlash from your daughter and make the problem even worse, with your daughter proclaiming even more loyalty to her friend.
‘Have you even had a discussion with your daughter as to whether she wishes to avoid or drop this girl? If not, you need to have a tactful discussion with your daughter along these lines.
‘If there is any bullying going on (emotional or physical), this should be reported to the form teacher, so that all your daughter’s teachers can keep an eye out for this. Encouraging your daughter to broaden her friendship circle and to undertake activities where this girl isn’t involved is also a tactic worth trying.’