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, I’m Thomas, I'm 13, and I have two best friends, but sometimes one of us feels left out. Do you have any advice for small friend groups?
Hi, Thomas, thanks for sharing your question. This is something I hear about a lot from kids. Friendship threesomes can be so much fun–think of Harry Potter, Ron, and Hermione–but they’re complicated.
If you picture the friendship as a triangle, with each of you at one of the corners, and the lines connecting you, it’s hard to keep every single side exactly the same at every single moment.
If two of you are on the same sports team and the other isn’t, that friend is going to feel left out.
If two of you are in the same class, and the other isn’t, that kid is going to feel left out.
If two of you live close to each other and the other doesn’t, you guessed it, that kid is going to feel left out.
Now, these situations aren’t anybody’s fault. Nobody’s doing anything wrong. But you can see how they could make one side of the triangle, one connection between two friends, stronger than the others.
The fact that you understand this, that you’re thinking about how your friends feel is great! It means you can take steps to strengthen the friendship.
If you sense that one of your buddies is feeling left out, make an extra effort to show that you like him and value his friendship. That might mean chatting at school, doing something kind for him, or planning a get-together either with just the two of you or all three.
Think about what connects the three of you. What do you enjoy doing together? Having fun together strengthens your friendship.
Now, what if YOU’RE the kid who’s feeling left out? That’s hard. What you don’t want to do is be mean to your other friends because you’re feeling hurt and angry. That’s not going to help the friendship.
You can also do some extra reaching out to show your buddies that you like being with them, and they matter to you.
Try to remind yourself that when your friends get together without you, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything about how they feel about you.
Even in the most difficult situation where your friends like each other more than they like you, they can still like you and want to be your friend. Don’t throw that away.
If it’s a good friendship, if your buddies are usually kind to you, you need to trust that your friends like you, even when you’re not with them. That’s part of being a good friend.
There’s one other strategy that can be useful with a friendship threesome, and that’s to expand the triangle. Work together, all of you, to add a fourth or even a fifth friend to your group. That tends to ease the tension in a friendship threesome, and it makes it less likely that one person is going to feel left out all alone.
This has been Kids Ask Dr. Friendtastic. If you have question about making and keeping friends that you’d like me to answer, go to DrFriendtastic.com, and go to the podcast tab to see how to submit your question.