Episode 26 – Abigail, Age 10: Feeling like a second-choice friend

Friendship doesn’t have to be all or nothing

Kids Ask Dr. Friendtastic
Kids Ask Dr. Friendtastic
Episode 26 – Abigail, Age 10: Feeling like a second-choice friend


Think About It Questions

  • Have you ever felt like a second-choice friend? How did you handle it? Do you think it’s possible to be good friends with someone if they like someone else more than they like you? Why or why not?
  • Has a friend ever told you that they feel left out or jealous of your other friend? How did you respond?
  • What does “all-or-nothing thinking” mean, when it comes to friendship? Why is it not a good idea?
  • Saying, “You’re mean!” is not a good way to encourage someone to be kinder to you. Why do you think kids sometimes accuse friends of being mean? What are some better ways to communicate so your friends will want to listen when you tell them about a problem?


Welcome! I’m Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, also known as Dr. Friendtastic. I’m an author and clinical psychologist based in Princeton, NJ.

Here’s today’s question:

My name is Abigail, and I’m 10. My two friends are really good friends, and I think I'm one of their friends, but when one of my friends is not there, and they're like they're sick or something, that friend just hangs out with me so much. But then, once that friend gets better, they just start hanging out with each other, and I don't know, but I just don't exist anymore. ‘Cuz it feels like they're only hanging out with me because like, “Oh, this person is gone, so I’m just going to hang out with this girl cuz she's the best I can get!”

Hi, Abigail. Thanks for sending in your question! Ouch! That stings to feel like your friends only want to hang out with you when they don’t have better options!

But let’s be careful here: You’re assuming you know what your friends are thinking and feeling–that you’re a second-choice friend, and they don’t really care about you–but you may not be right.

It’s possible that the other two girls are closer friends with each other than they are with you. Maybe they live closer together so they see each other more often, or they do some activity together that you don’t do, or they’ve known each other longer, or they just have a very special bond.

But just because they have a special connection doesn’t mean they don’t care about you. The fact that you have a good time with these girls one-on-one, and they want to be with you a lot when their other buddy isn’t around, suggests to me that they do like you!

Now, you have a few options about how to handle this situation.

One option is you could talk to each girl about the situation and ask for what you want them to do. Obviously, you don’t want to say, “You’re mean! You always dump me when your other friend is there!” That’s not going to get the response you want.

Instead, you could say something like, “I like you a lot, and I have fun playing with you. But sometimes, when all three of us are together, I feel left out. Could you please try to include me more?” So, you’re emphasizing your connection, using “I” statements about your thoughts or feelings instead of “you” accusations, and asking directly for what you want them to do from now on. No guarantees, but there’s a good chance the girls would respond well to a kind and clear message like that.

The best time to talk about a problem is often when it’s actually happening. That way the other person can know what you’re talking about and maybe address it right away. For instance, you could say, “I’m feeling kind of left out right now.”

Friendship threesomes can be difficult. If you think about a triangle where each friend is at one corner, it’s hard to keep all the connecting lines exactly the same strength all the time. So, another option might be to add a fourth friend to your group to lower the tension.

Still another possibility might be to enjoy these girls when they’re being friendly and hang out with someone else when they’re not.

No friend is perfect, so we need to be careful to avoid all-or-nothing thinking. In other words, if you tell yourself you can only be friends with someone who likes you the very best and always does exactly what you want, you’d be shutting yourself off from lots of friendships.

Only you can decide if the positive parts of your friendship with these girls– the caring and the fun you have together–outweigh the negative parts about them preferring each other’s company.

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.

And be sure to check out my books for kids about friendship: Growing Friendships: A Kids’ Guide to Making and Keeping Friends, and my new book, Growing Feelings: A Kids’ Guide to Dealing with Emotions About Friends and Other Kids. They’re available through your library or wherever you buy books.

OR find them on your favorite podcast platform!