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How to manage the anxiety that can come with making and keeping friends.

Updated: May 19, 2023

Making and keeping friends is very important. Being part of a group helps us feel we belong, we are safe. It gives us strength and confidence and gives us experience and helps us learn how to get along with people. The focus of making and keeping friendships changes around the age of puberty. Before the age of ten you are focused on making playmates, learning how to play with friends but still really connected to your parents. From the age of 11 onwards the focus changes slightly as you move away from being as closely connected to parents to being part of a wider social group. This feels different to just playing or hanging out with friends because it is more about fitting in and finding your place alongside others your age. This means there are lots of new social skills that take time to learn.

Your brain is amazing and it develops to help you learn these skills but when you are learning (same as when you are learning anything) you can experience setbacks where things don’t go your way, when others say mean things to you or treat you or others unkindly. This can make you feel sad, left out and also confused about what is going on. Because your brain wants you to fit in with the group as to start to grow up, your mind can produce lots of worries about being left out and this can feel horrible. A good example of when this could happen is if you make plans with friends and then you change your mind and want to let them know. In this sort of situation, you are likely to worry about your friends not liking you, or that you will be left out. These are normal thoughts to have, and you have them because your mind is trying to help you to be part of a group. But listening to the thoughts can make you feel more and more worried.

There are things you can do to help you developing friendships and to cope with any thoughts or feelings that happen when you are making and keeping friends.

Finding out your friendship values

It is helpful to start to think about what is important to you about your friends and the kind of friends you would like to have. Try thinking about and answering these questions:

· Who you like to hang out with most?

· What Do you like about them?

· What makes them a good friend?

· How do you like your friends to treat you when you are feeling sad, or scared or being treated badly?

· What do you like your friends to do when you want to talk about something important or when you say something that upsets them.?

· How do you NOT like your friends to treat you?

· What kind of things do they say or do that you don’t like?

Do you remember the golden rule to treat others the way you want them to treat you? Think about these questions for yourself:

· What kind of friend do you want to be?

· What makes you a good friend?

· What do you do and how do you treat your friends?

Answering these questions should help you to find out about your friendship values. But if you get stuck here is a list that may help. Do you see any of these in your friends or yourself now? Would show more of these yourself?

o Trustworthy

o Honesty

o Reliable

o Safe

o Fun

o Supportive in good times

o Supportive in bad times

o Good listener

o Kind

o Respects other people

o Apologises when makes a mistake

o Tries to solve arguments

o Loyal

o Understanding

o Doesn’t judge others

Your values will grow and change over time, but it is good to spend some time to think about what is important to you in terms of how you would like your friends to be and also what kind of friend you want to be.

Once you know you values you can start trying out different ways of behaving that follow your values and practice being the best friend you can be.

Coping with negative thoughts and worries

It can feel scary to speak honestly to friends because your mind will send you warning thoughts that you might be left out, they might not like you…but remember you brain does this because it wants to be included in the group. If you are being the kind of friend you want to be, and you have friends with good values it should be okay to be honest. It is a brave thing to do to speak up and be honest to friends because you can expect your mind will tell you lots of horrible thoughts and worries about what will happen.

A good example of when this might happen is if you change your mind about going somewhere your friends and you want to let them know. Listening to the thoughts may mean you don’t speak up, make an excuse, don’t show up because you are scared they won’t like you if you are honest. However, not being honest probably doesn’t fit with the kind of friend you want to be.

So how do we be brave to speak up even when you have lots of worries and thoughts about what will happen?

· First, start to notice the thoughts. Say to yourself, “I notice I am having a thought that my friends will be angry with me”. Imagine the thoughts are floating away in clouds or thought bubbles.

· Second, notice if you feel nervous or any other feelings. Tell yourself you feel nervous and also to have other feelings when you need to speak up. Remember it is normal to feel a range of feeling at these times.

· Third, takes some deep breaths in and out and take a moment to remember who your friends are, the kinds of people they are, and what values they have.

Taking action

· Now it is time to decide what action you are going to take. You could make an excuse or not turn up but that is probably not the kind of friend your want to be and so you would probably like to find a way to be honest.

· To do this plan what you are going to say and when is going to be a good time to say it. This might be a quiet time when other people are not around.

· Take some calm deep breaths in and out, remember if they are good friends they will understand and then be brave and say what you need to say.

· If thoughts and worries pop into your mind, notice them……they are just thoughts.

· If you feel nervous, notice it…… is normal to feel a bit nervous.

· Know and remember that you are being the best friend you can be, and you are living by your own friendship values.

· Let your friends know:

o Why you have changed your mind e.g. I can’t go to the park after school because I forgot I need to get home and to my homework tonight.

o How you feel about it e.g. I feel sad because I was really looking forward to it, it would have been a lot of fun.

o How you would like things to be in the future e.g. I hope we can arrange to go another time this week when I have got all my homework finished.

· Sadly people don’t always respond how we would like but that may tell us about whether they are the sort of friend we want to have.

· Although friends become so important at your age, remember that your parents and other adults are always around to chat through things if you need some help


Here is an example of putting these things into practice

Rubie has made plans to go swimming at a fun pool with four of her friends next Saturday, Sophie’s Mum is taking them and bringing them home. This was arranged at school last week and Sophie has checked it is okay with her Mum, everyone is so excited to go. Rubie asked her Mum about it, and was reminded that they had already made plans to visit her aunt and cousins that day. Rubie is really disappointment to not be going with her friends, but she likes seeing her cousins and feels okay about going. She then realises that she will have to let her friends know she can’t make it because she has a family event. When she thinks about telling them her mind starts telling her that they won’t understand, she is letting them down, she is a rubbish friend going to a family event, she will be left out and they won’t ask her again. Rubie notices that she starts to feel sick about telling them. She does consider for a moment lying and saying she is ill on the day but then she thinks that is not the kind of friend she wants to be, she wouldn’t like it if someone did that to her.

What can Rubie do?

1. Remember her friends are kind and understanding people

2. Notice her mind is telling her lots and lots of worry thoughts, they are just thoughts, she can let them float away

3. Notice that she feels nervous about telling them because of the worry she will be left out, this is a normal feeling to have

4. Plan what to say and when to say it.

5. Remember her friends are kind and understanding people

Rubie decides to tell them the next day at school because it is important to her to be honest. She decides to tell them all together at break time when just her and her friends are sitting on a table having snacks. Rubie knows what she wants to say but she does feel nervous. She knows it is normal and okay to feel like this.

Rubie: Hey, I’ve got something I need to tell you about the swimming. I can’t make it because we already had plans to meet up with family that day.

Sophie: Oh know, how come you said yes, didn’t you know about the plans?

Rubie: It was my fault I should have checked with my Mum before I agreed. I am really sad about not being able to come I know we would have had such a great time and I know you will all have fun without me. I hope you can understand and we can arrange go again another time.

Other friends: Yes sure, we will definitely arrange to go again if it is good, we will let you know.

Rubie: Thanks you are great friends, it is going to be hard for me to hear about the fun you have but I will look forward when we go again.

In the situation Rubie was brave, she explained the situation and how she feels about it and what she would like to happen in the future. Explaining how she felt about it helped her friends to understand how disappointed Rubie felt and this makes it more likely that her friends will invite her again next time.


I hope this has give you some ideas of how to tackle making friendships, how to speak up when things don't go your way and how to start to recognise what kinds of friends you would like and want to be.

As always, I would love to hear if you have any comments about the advice in this article. Please comment below or email me on

Dr Beck x


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