My son, 4 1/2, and one of his classmates are friends. This boy kind of “pushes” himself on my son and so we end up with play dates due to this. The mother is also a bit pushy and asks for play dates often and in front of the boys so it makes it awkward for me to say no. WHY do I want to say no?? Well, for one, she and I do not click at all and being with her is uncomfortable for me (and I am being nice). Most importantly, this boy is very physical; always pushing, pulling, tugging, hugging my son and he does not like it but will not tell him that or when he does ask the boy to stop, he does not listen and continues with this behavior. This boy also throws regular temper tantrums and has said mean things to my son such as “I don’t like you”, “I won’t be your friend if you don’t do what I say” and so on. My son often placates this dramatic boy with comments like “Ok, I will do what you want”. AND, the mother does virtually nothing effective to discipline, correct or improve the behaviors of her son. Oh, and the behavior gets worse when we have group play dates where this boy tries to pull my son away from his other friends and throws huge tantrums when my son won’t comply. Lastly, they also do not respect that we have a schedule and when I say it is time for my son and I to leave a certain event, we need to leave. She drags it out, her son throws a tantrum and we end up leaving much later than intended. I have spoken with my son about my concerns and asked him how he feels about his friend’s behavior and how it often sours what could have been a good time. He indicated that even though this boy does these things, he still wants to be his friend. I am not sure my son even understands the complexity of the issue but I also do not want to prevent a friendship he says he wants. HELP!
Anonymous, in PA
This is not as complicated as it seems in the moment. When you take a step back and answer one question, you will know what you need to do.
Here is the question: What is this relationship teaching your son about friendship?
This child and his mother are using bullying behaviors to get what they want.
Your job is not to pick your son’s friends. Your job is not to deny your son friends. Your job is to make sure that your son learns what it means to be a friend; how he should treat others and how he should expect (and, when he’s older, demand) to be treated.
This dilemma is not about whether you like this boy’s mom. The fact that you don’t like her is actually complicating things because you feel guilty. If this boy’s mother was not in the picture at all – if they were old enough for drop off play dates or hanging out time without parents, you still would not respect how this boy treats your son or how he behaves. So take her out of your equation.
There are a bunch of reasons your son may say he wants to keep this friendship. The most likely from your description is that it is easier to let this kid hang around than it is to deal with how he behaves when he is pushed away. Additionally, your son may enjoy pleasing people, being nice (and being praised for that), and being sought after. Some kids like being friends with someone who consistently behaves worse than they do because it is exciting or interesting, or just makes them feel good about themselves.
The only thing that matters here is giving your son the knowledge and skills he needs to evaluate friendship. Your son and this boy are not friends. They are playmates. This mom is pushing her child on yours because she wants him to have friends, but she isn’t teaching him how to be one.
By “preventing a friendship he says he wants” you will teach your son that this behavior is unacceptable in a playmate. There are some great books and videos about friendship. Check out a few of the anti-bullying websites for some activities for younger children so that your son can learn to name behaviors he doesn’t like.
Very soon your son will be old enough that he will not as easily accept your guidance about friendships. This is a chance to teach him some great life lessons.
If this mom approaches you about a sudden shift your attitude, be honest but throw the focus on your own son. Try saying “My son isn’t standing up for himself when the two boys play together and his father and I are concerned that it’s a bad pattern. We’re going to take a break from these kind of playdates for a while.” This leaves her little room to argue with you. If she tries to, express empathy but don’t apologize, “I’m sorry that this is hard to understand, but it’s what is best for our family right now.”
If we want to teach our kids to stand up to bullying behavior, we have to be willing to do that ourselves.
I hope you’ll let me know what you think. Readers, ever had to pull your young child out of a somewhat damaging friendship?