Episode 28 – Avni, Age 11: Being unfairly targeted by a friend’s anger

Dealing with spill-over anger

Kids Ask Dr. Friendtastic
Kids Ask Dr. Friendtastic
Episode 28 - Avni, Age 11: Being unfairly targeted by a friend’s anger
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Scroll down for DISCUSSION QUESTIONS & TRANSCRIPT

Think About It Questions

  • Spill-over anger is when you’re mad at one person but take it out on someone else. What are some reasons why kids (and adults!) sometimes do that? Have you ever unfairly taken your anger out on someone? Have you ever been the target of someone’s spill-over anger? What happened?
  • Why is acting aggressively and yelling at people NOT a good way to deal with feeling angry? (Hint: What would that likely do to your friendships?)
  • What do you think are some good ways to tell a friend that what they’re doing bothers you?
  • How do you decide when you’re going to forgive a friend’s mistake and when their mistake means the friendship is over?

Transcript

Hi, there! 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:

Hi, My name is Avni, and I’m 11-years old. What if my friend is very angry about something, and she lets all her anger on me and my other close friend? What will I do? 

Hi, Avni. Thanks for sending in your question! That’s such an interesting issue! On the one hand, you care about your friend and want to support her. On the other hand, it sure doesn’t feel good to have a friend lashing out at you, just because she’s mad at someone or something else!

A lot of people think that if they feel angry, they have to “let it out.” Research says this is absolutely and completely wrong!

Just lashing out at whoever’s around? That’s not helpful, and it’s not kind.

So learn from your friend’s example, and try not to take your anger out on others. That doesn’t help anyone feel better, and it could make the situation much worse!

Okay, but how can you respond to spill-over anger, when your friend unfairly takes her anger out on you? Try hard not to be mean back to her! You don’t want to get into a contest of who can be meaner! That never ends well!

Maybe you did something very tiny or even neutral, but your friend had a big reaction to it.

Depending on what you did that triggered her reaction, you might want to apologize–I’m sure you weren’t trying to annoy your friend–but then you might want to comment on her reaction to try to understand it.

You could say, “You seem very upset about this. Is something else going on?”

Maybe she’ll explain what the real problem is, and you can offer support or comfort. My guess is that’s what she really wants from you.

Or maybe she’ll continue to yell at you. If that happens, you could say something like, “I don’t like being yelled at” or “I don’t like how you’re treating me right now” or “I’ll talk to you when you’re feeling calmer.” Then walk away.

There’s a balance here that you need to figure out between supporting your friend and protecting yourself from being her punching bag.

If this is a situation that comes up often, it may be a good idea to talk to your friend about it at a neutral time. This will probably go best if you do it one-on-one. Two of you confronting her at the same time could make her feel ganged up on.

You could say something like, “I know you’ve had a lot of stressful things happening lately, but it seems like you often yell at me when you’re upset about something else. Could you please try to tell me what’s going on instead of yelling at me? That would make it easier for me to support you.”

This isn’t easy to do. Our instinct when someone yells at us is to yell back! If they criticize us or call us a name, we want to say all the ways that they’re even worse! But if you care about this friend and want to continue this friendship, talking things through without putting her down could help.

Everyone makes mistakes, and forgiving friends for the times when they mess up is part of being a good friend. But if this friend isn’t interested in trying to treat you better, even when she’s angry, this may not be a friendship worth continuing. Think about how often this problem happens and whether the good parts of your friendship outweigh the bad.

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!