Help! We can't stand our friends' kids!

Parenting - - In This Issue -

Dear Jenny Hale,

We are a fam­ily of five. Mum, dad and three kids, aged nine, seven and four. We are a pretty ‘reg­u­lar’ fam­ily. Other than typ­i­cal kid stuff, our chil­dren are pretty good. I'd go as far as say­ing that I'm proud of my kids’ be­hav­iour most of the time. Our prob­lem is tricky. Our very good friends have kids a lit­tle younger than ours, two boys and a girl aged eight, six and three. In the last six months, when­ever we spend time with them, their six-year- old son taunts and teases our nine year old, re­sult­ing in un­char­ac­ter­is­tic re­tal­i­a­tions from our son. Their six year old seems to revel in the at­ten­tion he re­ceives and treats it like a game. I have told my son to come straight to the adults when this hap­pens, but he says that it makes him so wild he just wants to hurt the boy. So far he has not re­tal­i­ated phys­i­cally – he just screams at him.

Our friends’ re­sponse is to let the kids work it out. They feel that boys will be boys. We are non- con­fronta­tional peo­ple, so it is awk­ward for us to chal­lenge our friends’ style of par­ent­ing. We are not sure if our friend­ship can weather this dif­fer­ence.

Some of Jenny's tips

This is a tricky one and def­i­nitely a sit­u­a­tion that quite a few par­ents find them­selves in – the de­sire to keep a friend­ship but the chal­lenge of dif­fer­ent val­ues and par­ent­ing styles. As hard as it may sound, I do think you and your friends de­serve an op­por­tu­nity to talk through this is­sue. It doesn’t have to be con­fronta­tional. I would start by ex­press­ing the fact that as the chil­dren have got­ten older, a few chal­lenges have snuck in. Let them know you are keen to have the chil­dren en­joy their time to­gether as much as the adults do.

You can re­fer to some­thing new you are do­ing in the fam­ily as a way to start the con­ver­sa­tion. You could say, “We have heard how suc­cess­ful it is to have a few clear fam­ily rules as part of our val­ues. We have sat down as a fam­ily and worked out what ours are so we’d like our rel­a­tives and friends to know about them.”

Many fam­i­lies par­ent from cri­sis to cri­sis and wel­come the op­por­tu­nity to have some firm guide­lines to base their val­ues on.

Your rules can be brief and sim­ple.

1. Speak kindly

2. Take turns

3. Give each other space

4. Ask per­mis­sion to use stuff that is not your own

Years ago, I oc­ca­sion­ally had con­ver­sa­tions with my chil­dren’s friends. I re­mem­ber talk­ing to a six-year-old boy about how I ex­pected him to be­have when his mother picked him up. He used to morph into some­thing un­pleas­ant as soon as his mum ar­rived and up un­til then, he had be­haved beau­ti­fully. I let him know what was ex­pected – “James, we en­joy hav­ing you here to play, and you are a good friend of Ryan’s. One thing you need to re­mem­ber is that when your lovely mother comes to pick you up, you say hello to her and when she says it is time to pack up you say, ‘Okay Mum’.” And the next time was fine. He needed to know I knew and how I ex­pected him to be­have.

One other im­por­tant fac­tor to re­mem­ber when chil­dren are play­ing is that we should not leave them on their own for too long. Chil­dren will of­ten wind down into un­pleas­ant play if they are left for too long. It may mean check­ing on them oc­ca­sion­ally and mak­ing a brief com­ment like, “Hi guys, sounds like this game can last for just five more min­utes and then it is time to do some­thing else or have morn­ing tea.”

Your son is strug­gling and it must be dif­fi­cult to see him so up­set by the taunt­ing. He needs a solid plan for what to do when he or his sib­lings are teased. A few scripts can em­power a child who feels pow­er­less and an­gry. Such as, “No, thanks. I’m go­ing to play in the lounge for a bit” or, “Play kindly or I am play­ing some­where else.”

Lastly, your son may need some help un­pack­ing his big feel­ings of anger, hurt and frus­tra­tion. At a suit­able time, talk to him about his anger and help him work out what is press­ing his but­tons. Maybe he feels pow­er­less, or hu­mil­i­ated, or he could be feel­ing the un­fair­ness of be­ing treated like that. Hav­ing your lis­ten­ing ear will go a long way to­wards help­ing him feel val­i­dated and okay.

The out­come

The ‘reg­u­lar’ fam­ily re­ported back that al­though the con­ver­sa­tion with their friends had been awk­ward, it felt like the right and fair thing to do. Their friends were sur­prised but not of­fended, and showed gen­uine in­ter­est in set­ting up fam­ily rules. They ad­mit­ted that rules were some­thing they had avoided, but saw how it was pos­si­ble to make them a real fam­ily oc­ca­sion with ‘buy in’ from the chil­dren. The big sur­prise was when the same fam­ily of­fered to trial leav­ing early if they felt the be­hav­ior war­ranted it. They knew they had re­lied on lots of warn­ings and not much fol­low-through, which meant the kids had got­ten used to ig­nor­ing their par­ents.

Both cou­ples felt that they of­ten got en­grossed in their own con­ver­sa­tions and were a bit obliv­i­ous to what the chil­dren were up to. Chang­ing this would take a bit of en­ergy, but the plan was to visit the chil­dren from time to time to check on things. This was put into ef­fect im­me­di­ately and the chil­dren’s co­op­er­a­tive be­hav­ior re­flected that they liked a more ‘hands on’ ap­proach. Their son’s anger was go­ing to take time to work through, but just giv­ing him some time to talk about it was help­ful. They re­alised that the anger was com­ing from him be­ing anx­ious about los­ing a game, so it gave them a great place to start.

Many fam­i­lies par­ent from cri­sis to cri­sis

and wel­come the op­por­tu­nity to have some firm guide­lines to

base their val­ues on.

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