Help your tween identify if a friendship is the 'right fit' with these 11 questions, approved by a child development expert

They'll be set up to identify healthy friendships for life

Group of tween girls with their arms around each other
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Helping your tween identify a friendship that's the 'right fit' nurtures valuable skills to find healthy connections throughout their life - all they need are these 11 questions, backed by a child development expert.

Being a tween is challenging for both parents and the young person experiencing the difficulties of the tween years. While they might appear angry, entitled and rude on occasions, there's a lot of tween myths that aren't true and need debunking quickly. You might need a slang explainer for your tween as they adjust their place among their peers and adopt a different way of speaking, but they still need valuable support and guidance from parents when it comes to finding the right friendship groups.

Tweens are aged between 8 - 12, and get their name from a contraction of 'between.' They're too young to be considered children, but not yet a teenager, falling in between, or 'tween' the two. The @guidinglittlehearts Instagram page is run by Megan, a child development expert specialising in the social and emotional wellbeing of children and tweens. Sharing her top 11 tips for helping tweens identify friendships that are the best fit for them to her followers, Megan wrote "Teach your child that someone not liking them, doesn't mean they need to try harder or change who they are to gain approval."

Her tips are both important and relatable, and will set tweens up with the skills and insights to seek out healthy connections not just while navigating the years spent at school, but also into adulthood. To understand Megan's insights further, we spoke to our resident expert and child development expert, Dr Amanda Gummer. Amanda shares her thoughts on each tip, and how you can discuss it with your tween - the advice also applies to teens, for those with older children.

11 ways to identify if a friendship group is the 'right fit'

  1. What do you have in common? Amanda tells us "It's important that children are able to recognise their shared interests and values with their friends. Common ground can help with connections and make for meaningful friendships. Light touch, this could simply mean they gravitate to the same type of activities. Good connections are great for meaningful experiences which are particularly crucial for this age group." 
  2. How do you feel when you are with them? Amanda adds "We  want our children to feel happy, safe, and comfortable when they're with their friends. Negative feelings might suggest that the friendship isn't a good fit – so ask them open questions about their friends rather than 'did you enjoy being with them'? Instead, ask 'how did she make you feel when you were together'? will help them open up about what makes them happy."
  3. To what extent do you feel you need to hide what you think or do to be accepted by them? "As adults no one likes a friendship that doesn’t feel authentic and it’s the same for our little ones," Amanda continues, adding "You want your child to be able to thrive and be themselves when with their friends and if they feel the need to hide their true self – through going along  with things they don’t like or conforming to expectation then it may not be the right friendship for them or their development."
  4. Do they seem interested in what you think or feel? Amanda adds "You  want your child to feel heard by their friends and equally be empathetic to those around them.  Whilst younger ones aren’t likely to get into deep and meaningful conversations, listen out to how your child talks about their friend and check that there appears  to be mutual respect for each other."
  5. Can you relax around them? Or do you think you need to be careful about what you say or do? "A sign of a wonderful friendship is when a child can truly be themselves without any judgment. Getting them to talk about things that they have done or spoken about with their friend will help determine if they are guarded in any way or in a position where they trust their friend," Amanda tells us.  
  6. Do you find yourself pretending around them? Many will identify with changing their behaviour to fit in with various groups - some would have even been told by their mothers to simply change who they are to fit in. Amanda tells us "Pretending to fit in can be really harmful.  Particularly for older children it’s important they understand the difference between being themselves and shoe-horning their beliefs or activities to always fit that of others." 
  7. Do you behave the best or the worst when around them? For this, Amanda suggests: "The best friendships are those where children inspire each other – this can be as simple as boosting each other’s self esteem when they perhaps aren’t feeling at their best. If a child feels they must ‘act out’ in order to be  heard in a group then it’s probably not the right group of friends for them."
  8. When you make a mistake or do something that is not perfect, how do they respond? Amanda explains "This isn’t about getting something ‘wrong’ it’s about how a friend makes a child feel when they are perhaps met with criticism.  A great friendship is where each party feels safe and able to realise they are in the wrong or have done something which isn’t right without feeling it’s the end of the friendship. Where possible, listen to your child talk to you about these situations and ensure they aren’t being bullied or ridiculed." 
  9. If you’re upset about something how do they react? "Children can support each other in different ways, and it’s important they learn to show empathy and support when someone is having a hard time. Our young people learn by observing the adults around them so aim to ask questions that encourage this behaviour and praise your child when you see this kind of behaviour. A child can spot empathy in others, so emphasise to your child that a true friend will make them feel happy and safe," Amanda tells us.
  10. How do the people in this group treat each other? "Encourage your child to look at how their friends treat each other or show kindness," Amanda says, adding "The behaviour of a group has a real impact on how individuals behave so it’s important that respect and inclusion is the norm."
  11. How do they treat people who are not in the group? This is really important. While some members might be kind to those in their circle, how they treat others can be telling - particularly if it's in a way that makes your tween feel uncomfortable. Amanda concludes "Aim to promote open conversation yourself with your child and check in with them about their friendships and how they make them feel."

The comments were overwhelmingly supportive of Megan's suggestions, with many sharing their own insights into the tips. One commenter wrote "This would have saved me so much heartache if I had been taught this as a child." Another comment made by a teacher reads "Also teach them that if they don’t like someone, they don’t need to convince/talk to others about not liking that person. It’s okay to not like everyone- but don’t create opportunities to be exclusionary."

Another person shares "This is great for both myself and kids. My oldest struggles with social skills and thinks if he just tries harder they’ll like him. For parenting ADHD kids it’s hard to find friends who accept your family for who they are. It’s the best feeling when you find the right ones and you can be yourself. Love this post!"

Megan poignantly concludes the post by saying "As Brene Brown explains, ‘fitting in’ means changing who you are to be accepted, while ‘belonging’ means being accepted for who you are. Teach your child to distinguish between the two and find groups where they can be known, accepted, and valued."

For more on this age group, there are two things that parents can do to curb their tween's screen time, backed by research. Tween parents will find this acronym might save your sanity, and you'll want to share it with everyone you know. Girls' body confidence plummets far more than boys during the tween years - we look at why, and what can be done about it.

Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.