Dealing with an Octopus Friend
Episode 13 – Mara, Age 9: Friend doesn’t want her to have other friends
Think About It Questions
- Have you ever had an Octopus friend, someone who wanted to keep you all to themselves? How did you handle it?
- Why do you think trying to hold on tightly to a friend because you’re scared of losing them makes it more likely that you’ll lose them?
- Have you ever had a friendship where you liked the other person more than they liked you? How did you feel? What did you do?
- Having more than one friend can be tricky. How do you decide which friend(s) to play with and when?
Welcome, I’m Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, also known as Dr. Friendtastic. I’m an author and clinical psychologist based in Princeton, NJ.
Let’s listen to today’s question:
Hi, my name is Mara, I’m 9 years old, and my question is: What do we do when a friend wants to keep me all to themselves? Thank you.
Hi, Mara, that’s a very important question. Thanks for sending it in!
Your friend is being what I call an “Octopus Friend.” She’s squeezing you so tightly that it makes you want to get away.
Now, we always want to try to imagine things from the other person’s point of view because that helps us to make wise and kind choices. Why do you think your friend wants to keep you all to herself?
My guess is that she’s scared of losing you as a friend. Maybe it’s hard for her to make friends, and she really doesn’t have other options of people to play with. That would make the idea of losing you very scary to her. She doesn’t want to be all alone. I can understand that!
Maybe there’ve been some changes in your relationship that make her feel less confident about your friendship.
Maybe the two of you are doing different activities, so you have less in common, or you’ve been extra busy, so you haven’t spent as much time together as you used to.
Maybe you’ve made some new friends, and she’s feeling sad and left behind.
Here’s something that happens often in friendships: people sometimes do things, because they’re scared, that bring about exactly what they’re scared of. So, in this case, your friend is probably sensing that you want to move away from her, so she clings more tightly to you, but that makes you want to move away more, which makes her want to cling more, and so on.
So, what should you do? It might be tempting to yell at her and say, “Go away! You’re annoying! Leave me alone!” It’s understandable that you would want space if your friend is clinging tightly, but expressing your feelings in that way would be very hurtful.
Assuming you still want to be friends with her–just not squished by her–one option could be to include her when you play with other kids. That lets you build your other friendships without hurting her. It also might make your friend feel like she has more friends, which could make her less scared about losing you.
Another possibility is to talk to your friend and tell her how much you like her AND that you sometimes want to do things with other kids. If you do this, be gentle and thoughtful. Think about how you’d want to be treated in her situation, and try not to leave her stuck all by herself.
You could say, “I really like you, and our friendship means a lot to me, but sometimes I want to play soccer at recess, and I know you don’t like soccer. How about if on Tuesdays, I play soccer and you play four-square, which I don’t like, and we play together on the other days?” If you go with some kind of splitting your time option, be sure to be extra kind, fun, and friendly when you’re together with this friend, so she knows you really do like her.
Still another possibility is to focus on your other friendships when she’s not around. At recess, when everyone is together, it makes sense that your friend would feel hurt if you say, “I don’t want to play with you; I want to play with them!” But on the weekends or after school, you could easily get together with other kids without that being an in-your-face rejection of your friend.
This has been Kids Ask Dr. Friendtastic. If you have a question about making and keeping friends that you’d like me to answer, go to DrFriendtastic.com, and click on the podcast tab to see how to submit your question.