Best Friends, Worst Enemies

Understanding the Social Lives of Children

By Michael G. Thompson, Ph.D. and Catherine O'Neill Grace with Lawrence J. Cohen, Ph.D.

Friends broaden our children’s horizons, share their joys and secrets, and accompany them on their journeys into ever wider worlds. But friends can also gossip and betray, tease and exclude. Children can cause untold suffering, not only for their peers but for parents as well. In this wise and insightful book, psychologist Michael Thompson, Ph.D., and children’s book author Catherine O’Neill Grace, illuminate the crucial and often hidden role that friendship plays in the lives of children from birth through adolescence.

Drawing on fascinating new research as well as their own extensive experience in schools, Thompson and Grace demonstrate that children’s friendships begin early–in infancy–and run exceptionally deep in intensity and loyalty. As children grow, their friendships become more complex and layered but also more emotionally fraught, marked by both extraordinary intimacy and bewildering cruelty. As parents, we watch, and often live through vicariously, the tumult that our children experience as they encounter the "cool" crowd, shifting alliances, bullies, and disloyal best friends.

Best Friends, Worst Enemies brings to life the drama of childhood relationships, guiding parents to a deeper understanding of the motives and meanings of social behavior. Here you will find penetrating discussions of the difference between friendship and popularity, how boys and girls deal in unique ways with intimacy and commitment, whether all kids need a best friend, why cliques form and what you can do about them.

Filled with anecdotes that ring amazingly true to life, Best Friends, Worst Enemies probes the magic and the heartbreak that all children experience with their friends. Parents, teachers, counselors–indeed anyone who cares about children–will find this an eye-opening and wonderfully affirming book.

Praise for Best Friends, Worst Enemies

Michael Thompson has hit another home run. Best Friends, Worst Enemies does everyone a tremendous service by helping parents and educators understand more about a child’s social relationships-what we think kids ought to innately know. Read this book.

Dr. Ron Taffel, Author of The Second Family: How Adolescent Power is Challenging the American Family and Nuturing Good Children Now

This book is a gem, and we badly need a gem of a book on this topic. Now, at last, we have a book that brings parents, teachers, and all of us who are concerned about children the knowledge we need on this both heart-wrenching and confusing topic. Warmly written, this book draws upon extensive research, but presents its findings simply and directly. This book is both practical and moving, both research-based and filled with stories, both up-to-date and rooted in old-fashioned wisdom, both informative and exciting. This is an enormously helpful book, which you will enjoy reading!

Edward M. Hallowell, M.D., Author of Driven to Distraction, Connect, and Human Moments

Thompson’s unique and deep understanding of why friendship is a crucial aspect of healthy development makes this a groundbreaking book a ‘best friend’ and ‘must-read’ for every parent, teacher, and counselor.

Robie H. Harris, Author of It's Perfectly Normal

The stories in this book come from many perspectives – those of therapists, educators, and parents. The wise, kind authors give us a fresh and cogent analysis of this critically important issue. I recommend Best Friends, Worst Enemies to all those who work with and love kids.

Mary Pipher, Ph.D., Author of Reviving Ophelia