Learning how to recognise a good friend (and to be one) is an important part of childhood. All children experience some ups and downs in friendships. Parents can play an important role in helping children manage friendship problems by helping them think about why their friends might be behaving in a particular way and discussing what qualities and actions show that someone is a good friend.
Snuggling up with a storybook can be a great way to talk through friendship issues sensitively with young children and introduce new ideas. And for older children, who want to think about issues for themselves, books can be a safe space to work through thoughts, scenarios and emotions. Here are my recommendations for really good books for helping children manage friendship problems.
Axel Scheffler’s fabulous Pip and Posy series is full of great themes for toddlers and has his signature Gruffalo-style illustrations. The Super Scooter is all about that hotspot of toddler emotions: sharing. There is jealousy, snatching, saying sorry and learning to play nicely – ideal for very young children who are grappling with early social skills! (And if you still struggling, check out my Teaching children to share FAQs.)
Light and funny, but with a serious theme, Enemy Pie by Derek Munson is ideal for children in the first few years of school who are grappling with issues around friends vs. enemies and dealing with conflict. The main characters are boys but I love the way this book subtly undermines boys-are-boisterous gender stereotyping with a Dad who leads the way to peace through a culinary solution!
Willow Finds a Way by Lana Button really cleverly explores how playground friendship issues can spill over into bullying behaviour. It’s a fantastic book for reading with pre-school or early school age children to help them unpick at what point unkindness becomes unacceptable. The Speak Up message is spot on and especially so because Willow is really shy so standing up for herself is not something that comes easily. A great conversation starter.
Playground bickering often centres around differences – differences in the way children look, talk and behave. The Sandwich Swap takes the seemingly innocuous topic of lunch boxes and gently illustrates how picking on other’s differences undermines friendships and can lead to conflict. A strong diversity and inclusion theme, gently told and sweetly illustrated. For children aged 5-8 years.
Even if they are able to read it themselves, I thoroughly recommend that you read Billionaire Boy out loud with your children! David Walliams has a turn of phrase and sense of humour that deserves to be shared. And reading it together means you can actually talk about the book’s important themes of loneliness and being left out and learning to recognise when would-be friends have bad intentions. It’s a book you will talk about as a family and opens up a way to discuss boys’ feelings and friendships without sledge-hammering the topic home.
Jacqueline Wilson’s Bad Girls is a great choice for helping children manage friendship problems in the later primary school years. What counts as bullying? How can you recognise a good friend? What about a fun friend who gets you into trouble? And should you really listen to your Mum’s opinion about your friends?! Older children are more likely to read it alone, so you might not get so many conversation-starting benefits from this book, but it’s a great story for making kids reflect on their own friendships whilst also enjoying reading.
For a non-fiction alternative to Bad Girls, check out A Smart Girl’s Guide: Friendship Troubles by Patty Kelley Criswell. It’s a bit American but definitely worth a shot if friendship problems are plaguing your daughter. It covers backstabbing, friendship triangles, falling out with your bestie and all the common friendship group issues but in an accessible, interactive and practical format.
I’d love to hear you feedback on these books and your own recommendations – please do comment below! And if you found this useful, you might also like these recommendations:
- Best books to teach children social skills (2-7yrs)
- Books for talking to children about emotions
- Books for boys who dare to be different
- Children’s books about shyness
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This is not a sponsored post, I wrote it in response to questions I am frequently asked during my parenting clinics. However, it does contain affiliate links (which means that if you click through from this post and buy one of these books, I will get a small fee). For more info, see my Disclosure Notice.