DEAR ABBY: I was recently informed by the parent of a close friend of my 8-year-old daughter, “Emma,” that Emma had been “beating up” her daughter. When we confronted Emma about it, she admitted it but could not explain why. Emma has also been verbally abusive to the girl, putting her down or stopping her in mid-sentence to constantly “correct” her.

Abby, Emma’s a straight-A student, loved by all of her other friends, their parents, her teachers, our pastor, etc. She’s involved in theater, sings, dances, ice skates competitively, cheerleads, races motocross and plays piano. She is very well-behaved at home, and we have no trouble with her. I just don’t understand what’s going on. When I ask her, she doesn’t have an explanation, but truly feels bad for hurting her friend.

The girls are no longer allowed to be friends. This is damaging for us parents because we were all very close and did a lot together. We camped, fished, hung out, etc. Help! What do I do? – CLUELESS IN ESCONDIDO

DEAR CLUELESS: Children sometimes pick on other children they perceive as weaker. Some do it out of anger; others do it simply because they “can.” Your daughter may have done it because she is overscheduled, and her friend was the only thing in her life she could control.

I’m not sure it is realistic of you to expect your 8- year-old to completely understand why she has acted out against someone who is supposed to be a friend in this way. But I’ll bet a child psychologist could provide some insight – and also help you teach your daughter that there are more appropriate and effective ways of dealing with her emotions than victimizing someone who can’t fight back.

DEAR ABBY: My mother has had a “best friend” for many years. “Joan” has had many problems in her life that Mom has seen her through. Joan has helped my mother through some rough times, too, particularly through the death of my father 10 years ago.

Joan can sometimes be very difficult to be around because she constantly seeks attention and tends to become rather dramatic. She seems to take pleasure in the idea she has it worse than anyone else.

A few weeks ago, Joan, who is a massage therapist, was giving a massage to my best friend, “Becky.” Becky later informed me that during the 45-minute massage, Joan bad- mouthed my mother and disclosed some personal problems that Mom has confided to Joan.

Should I tell my mom about this? It would crush her if I do; my mom has been through some big changes and isn’t exactly emotionally stable at the moment. But I can’t let Joan go around bad-mouthing my mom, her supposed “friend.”

Should I tell my mother that Joan is leaking personal information about her to other people? Or should I confront Joan? – OUTRAGED IN SAN ANGELO, TEXAS

DEAR OUTRAGED: Do not fight this battle for your mother. She needs to be told that she’s pouring out her heart into a leaky vessel. However, because she is “not exactly stable,” you will have to find a way to do it in a manner that won’t roil the waters.

The first thing to do is to cool your outrage so you don’t cause your mother to overreact. Then find a way to do it with humor. “You know, Mom, we both know that Joan isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed …” Once your mother stops providing Joan with information, she’ll have nothing to talk about.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

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