I don't like one of my kid's friends… what can I do about it?

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My four-year-old has a new friend. The friend's behavior (being destructive, kicking, hitting) is problematic, and my daughter has also started acting out to get a laugh from her friend. The trouble is my daughter ADORES her friend — she talks about her at home, wants her to come over all the time, have sleepovers, etc.

I feel like I have to calibrate my daughter when she comes home from her friend's house, and though I hate to admit it I'd like to be able to ban my daughter from hanging out with her. I know this isn't the best alternative (or realistic, because they see each other at our childcare provider's home), and I imagine this isn't the last friend of hers I won't approve of. I've tried talking to her, but I don't think talking is very effective for her age. Has anyone else dealt with this situation? — Anna

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  1. Very sticky. When I was a kid, I had a friend that my mom didn't approve of – the daughter of one of my mother's own friends! She called the little girl "Bratney" (not to her face of course). As I remember we eventually just stopped having play dates, and after a couple years my mom and I never saw her friend (or her friend's kid) again. I gather now that their friendship suffered from my mom's dislike for Bratney, but my mom and I were happier without her in the long run so I guess my mom just powered through the awkward knowing it was better for me not to have a destructive friend. Kids are resilient. I think if you wean your daughter off of play-dates with her friend she'll be fine. As you say, they'll still get to see one another at care. I'll ask my mom what REALLY went down with Bratney and post again if she's got any big pearls of wisdom!

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  2. When I was a kid, I was the friend that no one approved of. I remember being told I could not go over to my best friend's house. It still kinda stings. If I were you, I would limit her visits to her friends house and try to have very supervised play at yours. You could end up being a really positive mentor for both girls by modeling behavior.

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    • I agree on limiting playdates at the friend's home. To make things seem more balanced, though, you might schedule playdates in neutral areas, like a park or community center. Invite the other parent to stay and chat. Then you can observe how that parent reacts to the inappropriate/undesirable behavior her child exhibits.

      often (but not always!), children at this age are reflections of the behaviors modeled by their parents. it would be extremely useful to know if her mother/father/guardian did talk to her about her bad behavior or if her parent doesn't seem to notice it. when it arises in a playdate, you can talk to your daughter in the moment about the behavior and why you don't behave that way. then have an open, neutral, conversation with the other parent. i say neutral because it's not usually a good idea to start out with "your child does this and that's bad, why aren't you doing anything about it?" but more of a, "how do you handle it when this happens? my child usually never behaves this way and it concerns me." see what her response is. if you don't think this kind of conversation would remain civil, then side-step it. but, the conversation could be helpful – either in helping model good behavior for not only the child, but subtly for the mom as well (who among us are perfect parents anyway?). also, you might both realize you each have a very different pedagogy in mind when raising your children, and that might naturally cause you each to lessen the frequency of playdates with the other.

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      • Such a wonderfully diplomatic way of handling things: "how do you handle it when this happens? my child usually never behaves this way and it concerns me."

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      • I love this. This is even how I handle bad behavior (either of my own child or others) at parks/public spaces, even if we just met a child. I think it really reinforces with a parent that, "Hey, other people go through this, I'm not alone, and I don't have to just "ignore" the problem as something that I along have to handle". Because more often than not, the bad behavior, while learned at home, just begins to beat down a parent. It's nice to know that yours isn't the only child that misbehaves.

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  3. I just had my first go-round with this situation, Anna. My 5yo son was obsessed with a kid in his class that was a big behavior problem – hitting, biting, lying, etc. The school principal even called me on two different occasions to let me know that my son had been punched by his "best friend". After talking frequently about what friends did/didn't do yielded no results I tried a different tactic… competition.
    I volunteered a lot in his class and could identify the kids that would make a better friend for my son. I emailed one kid's mom, asked for an after-school playdate and commenced talking it up like crazy. When the playdate day came, I made those two hours AHMAZING – playdough, yogurt with sprinkles, The Works. The two new friends had such a good time, they bonded better at school. Not-So-Great Friend wasn't such a priority for my 5yo anymore, and my son got to experience first-hand the difference a GOOD friend can make. It made it easier for him to talk about friendship qualities with me after that.
    I hope you get some more suggestions about working your way through this – the more good info the better!

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    • Wow Stephenie, what a smart, positive solution to a difficult situation. I've only got a 11 mo. old so I have not run into this yet, but if I ever do, this is exactly the tact I'm going to take. Thank you!

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  4. I don't have advice on how to directly handle this situation, but I just wanted to throw in my two cents about honesty (to some degree). When I was little, we were really close with another family. We'd go out and visit them at least once a month, I idolized the older girl and had a crush on the boy, we went swimming in their pool, rode their horses and generally always had an awesome time. THEN, one day out of the blue, we weren't allowed to see them any more. Without explanation.

    It was for completely different reasons than this mama is dealing with but the secrecy and refusal to talk about it haunted me into adulthood. I had to wait until I was 22 years old to finally pry it out of my mom! Again, totally different scenario, but my point is: If you are able to get your child away from the troublemaker and they're upset about it and have questions, I'd suggest being as honest as you feel comfortable with, and at least engaging in some kind of dialogue around it.

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  5. I agree with Adrienne. You could end up being a positive influence for both girls and although it may be hard to steer both children in the right direction it might be worth trying not only for the sake of your daughter's friendship with the girl, but also for the girl that needs more guidance.

    I used to work with children who were labeled with "behavioral issues" and while I realize that those types of children can easily undo all of the good manners you've taught your children, those types of children require a positive influence in their lives maybe even moreso than other children. It hurts me to think of simply removing the "trouble" child from the equation because losing such a friendship probably hurts that child as well and they'll probably never understand why nor will they be able to learn from it and grow.

    That being said, maybe you could have more playdates at your house. When behavior arises that you don't agree with there's always the simple, "No, thank you. In our house we don't _____." That way the child is seeing that if they want to continue being invited over and continue their friendship that certain behaviors like biting, hitting, kicking, pitching a fit are simply not welcome. After those issues arise, I'd talk to your daughter about respect and how to treat others.

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  6. I have the same problem, only the kid in question happens to be my four year old son's only biological cousin (husband's sister's son). I really like the advice Stephanie gave, but I'd like to know what advice anyone might have when it's a family member that you kind of have no choice but to interact with.

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    • I would ask your husband to talk to his sister as if HE is the one with the concerns and leave your name out of it. I only suggest this if your relationship with your sister in law isn't great. I know my sister in law would just continue/ramp up her bad behavior (she's childless) if she knew I had a problem with it, but if her dear older brother asked her to cut her shit, she'd be more inclined to be better behaved.

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      • I need advice about this as well! My daughter's older cousin can be quite mean to her at times! My husband and I don't like it, which I know is hard on my husband because his nephew used to adore him. But since our daughter is born, I think he feels like he doesn't get the attention he wants, so he beats up on our daughter. Neither one of us knows how to approach his sister about it. We just watch the kids like a hawk to make sure our daughter is safe. We've had enough family drama!

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        • When I was a kid, I had an older male cousin who loved to roughhouse with me. In my family it was ok for my parents to yell at him and make him release. In fact, all the adults had equal rights to instill good behavior in us. If I were acting out to my younger cousins, my aunts and uncles had no problem telling me to behave. That being said I learned from an early age that the best way to get someone to release me from a headlock was to dig my nails into the meat between forefinger and thumb. When Eli would complain to adults about it, they'd be like "Tough sh*t, kid." I remember getting reprimanded by my friend's parents and my friends getting reprimanded by mine. I don't understand the fear that surrounds this. If biting is unacceptable at home then it's unacceptable everywhere and all adults have the right to enforce that. I don't understand why this is causing so much angst.

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  7. Growing up, I was attracted to friends who were either extremely "good" or extremely "bad" My mom tried a variety of ways to keep me friends with the good ones and not the bad, and nothing worked. In hindsight, my mom was missing the fact that there was a reason I was attracted to these people. Badly behaved kids can't take over your child without your child's consent (if not always conscious consent).
    I already see my child being attracted to crazy reckless kids. Why? Probably because it looks like they're having fun, and restraining one's self all the time can be really trying. Instead of trying to keep her from those kids, I'm hoping I can just teach her how to get the freedom she wants in a safe and kind way.
    As for myself, I have managed to find a social group that has lots of offbeat fun in a way that's good for everyone, even though I grew up with friends who weren't an example of this. It can happen! The difficulties we have in childhood can be learning experiences, rather than death sentences, if we play our cards right, I think.

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  8. This advice of prying kids away from friends at the age of 4 kind of bothers me. My son is 3 but I can totally see that you'd want my child to never grace your child's presence because he is a little rough around the edges. He doesn't have bad intentions, he just gets excited and part of that excitement is getting carried away with his body sometimes. He's a work in progress. If every parent of a kid that my kid played with wrote him off because he was excited to play with their kid and reached out and smacked an arm as a means of saying "I like you!" or knocked over a tower of blocks or was dancing and got wild with his legs he'd probably have no one to play with. This is not to say that I don't have talks with him about behavior. He's not too young to know that some things are not okay, but he is sometimes unable to control his body or remember to be aware of what's happening around him, etc.

    I'm just saying, maybe you should just speak up about what is and isn't okay when you are there to intervene..and make sure your daughter speaks up about what she doesn't like when you're not..and then talk to your daughter about how x behavior is not acceptable in your family so she knows that just because someone else does something, it doesn't mean it's okay she does it. And yeah, try to get the play time moved to your house if it gives you greater control over acceptable behaviors, so the other kid knows these things are not okay. You know, rather than writing a 4 year old off as a bad seed.

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    • Oh my gosh. This sounds like my kid. He just turned 2, but he's that loud, touchy kid that other parents (either purpously or no) move their kids away from when he's on the playground, or at the play gym. He loves to hug, he loves to touch, he loves to be up in kids' space. He's that kid that's at 110% AT ALL TIMES. Other kids love it, but parents seem to worry over it. If parents just said something like, "Wow, your kid sure does like his outside voice, or something" it would be way better than pretending that we are both somehow bad influences on their kids.

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  9. Great suggestions all! This is in fact a very tough one. I've been on both sides (sort of). When my kid was younger and we just moved to a new country, the locals were very hard on my child (he was just exuberant, definitely not a bad seed) and insisted that I "teach him manners". I thought that if "teaching him manners" resulted in a society as effed up as theirs, I would stay my chosen course of free range parenting. I removed him from local play groups etc in favor of expat ones (this isn't everyone's solution). Fast forward a few years, school, lots of friends and a community (NONE of which are offbeat, btw!) and my child has just blossomed as a great, sociable, popular, helpful, generous littel person…I do let him get hurt on the playground, I do not intervene every five minutes but with one particular friend whom he loved and who consistently hurt him – I said no. Maybe that kid is going through a phase or whatever but there are only so many vicious bites/bruises/blood you can see on your child before you say no to sadism. I really like the kid's mom too, which sucks. I admit I am not sure I have handled it correctly.

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  10. Lots and lots of playdates at your house with supervised awesome activities!

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  11. I was that kid–the one with no manners who some parents hated. In fact, one set of parents were so appalled that they stopped me from coming and playing with their kid. It was very sad for me at the time (in a neat twist, we met again in high school and have been besties more or less ever since–and I'm close to her parents, too, who are wonderful now that I'm older and understand things like napkins). In hindsight, I realize what it was they were trying to do by keeping me away from their daughter, but I really wish that they had instead put a little parenting effort into teaching me better ways to behave when I was with them. My parents are great, but had some blind spots, and some supportive, caring adults who could train me in those areas would have saved me a lot of misery (not to mention all the angst of missing my friend!).

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    • I think nowadays people are reluctant to "parent" other children for fear of that child's parent freaking out on them. If we could get all parents on the same page it would be great, but sometimes that's just not the case.

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  12. I had a friend from the age of 4 that my older sister (she was 20) immediately hated/knew was trouble. I don't really know why my parents ever let me hang out with her/didn't stop us playing together. She had 'yes' parents that would rather be her friend than her parents, and my parents were conservative and strict. Looking back, I don't know why they allowed me to be around her at ALL, but I do remember them putting their foot down when we got older and I wanted to wear the (too old) inappropriate clothes she wore, or go to the places that were too old for me. We were friends until we were 13 and I was able to see how destructive she was, but until then I think my parents kept me in line, but let me make that decision to end the friendship myself.
    Sorry if this isn't much help. Like I said, I'm kind of baffled that they didn't have discussions with me about her. That's kind of how my parents were though. They never really talked through things, they would just say 'no'

  13. My daughter has a similar friend. I allow that friend and her aunt, my friend, to come over often. I always state the rules for the day like "Remember, we have to clean up everything we get out." and "We are friends not enemies, so we have to play nicely, no hurting each other." Just emphasizing the way we should behave and praising the times when they do the right thing have helped a lot. For this child, her mother is busy and not involved, so going back and forth from a home like mine with her aunt to her mom's freestyle environment has been problematic for her. After a few months of trying to be a positive influence on her, she is starting to open up and be more kind. It just has taken a lot of work. I also did talk with my three-year-old about her acting that way. As long as you keep it short, to the point and age appropriate, they'll listen.

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  14. My sister was friends with the girl next door from the time she was like 4, and this girl was a really destructive influence. She was a really bad influence on my sister, because she treated her terribly and dumped her/was ostentatiously mean to her when anyone else was around.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is, my sister has really struggled to recover from the damage she suffered as a result of being friends with/idolizing "sally." It can seem mean to cut off a child's friendship, but I think sometimes it's better for the child's future emotional health.

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  15. Outright banishment never works. It becomes forbidden fruit at that point.

    When I was in 5th grade, I had two friends that were terrible friends. My parents really didn't like these two girls and didn't like the parents of one of them. They never ever outright told me not to be friends with them, but they would limit the amount of time I spent at their houses in a covert manner. As often happens with toxic friendships, it imploded on its own by 7th grade. It wasn't until I was in high school my mom told me she was so glad I stopped being friends with those two girls.

    At least with your child being so young it should be much easier to make the friendship fizzle out on its own. I like the ideas of volunteering in the classroom or only have play dates at your place or a neutral zone.

  16. My mother always made sure that when she didn't like a friend of ours, that friend always came to OUR house instead of vice versa – that way she had some control over behavior and the parental reaction to it.

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  17. this is a hot topic between myself and my neighbor friend. we disagree on how to handle this situation. there are a group of girls in our neighborhood that were already involved with the police by the time they were in 6th grade. she felt it wasn't right to tell her girls who they could and couldn't be friends with. i felt like i couldn't handle having these kids in my house & didn't want my daughters behavior to be negatively affected. so i told my daughter she couldn't hang around these girls and provided a clear, logical reason for why i felt that way. she wasn't happy with me about it at first, but then she saw her friends, who were good kids, getting into trouble from hanging around the poorly behaved girls and said 'i'm glad that's not me!'

    i really don't see a problem with telling my daughter she can't hang around with problem kids. i don't tell her she can't be friends with them, just that i don't want them in my house & i don't want her to go to theirs. she's in 7th grade and this is when kids really start to get reputations that will last with them throughout the rest of their school career. and maybe i'm a control freak, but i do not want my daughter to fall in with the wrong crowd.

  18. I would like to say that some times it is really important to do what it takes to change a negative dynamic in a friendship especially if it looks like it is one that is going to last. And sometimes it may take really getting to the root of why your child is attracted to this friend.
    When I was a kid I had a best friend that my parents didn't approve of and who in hind sight was a terrible influence on me and left me with some pretty serious emotional scars. My Parents tried talking to me by saying that they didn't think she was a good friend, but I couldn't hear that about my best friend. I think it would have worked much better for then to talk to me about me! Why I might be friends with someone who is mean to me and what good friends are like.
    I haven't had to go through this as a parent yet but I wanted to put out my story because it can be really important for a childs development. It was for mine.

    1 agrees
  19. I had a friend in junior high school. Shannondoah came from a really bad family. Looking back, the girl really didn't have a chance. But we became friends and got to be inseparable. My mom didn't like her, and told me that she was a bad influence on me. My response was that I was a good influence on her, and probably the only one she was going to get. Something changed that day, and my mom was much more willing to have her come over to our house. She got to see how a loving family operated. She got to eat healthy meals. She got positive conversation, and encouragement.

    Eventually, we lost touch. I learned recently that she passed away a few years ago. I don't know what happened, or what her life was like after we parted ways, but I like to think we made a small difference in her life, even if only for a short time.

    I always encourage my kids to be friends with people who are different than them. We take something from everyone we meet in this life, and we leave something with them, too. We can't appreciate good friendships until we experience a few bad ones. And we learn who we are by recognizing our similarities and differences from one another.

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  20. I was this kid. If you have any emotional margin at all please, please, please hold space for the bad child. Sometimes friends homes are the only place you can see an "out there" and even a little glimpse can help.

  21. I had the same issue with my son last year. The friend was aggressive and when visiting our home, he broke a few of our toys on purpose.
    I couldn't tell my son not to be friends with him, but I spoke to him at length about why his friend's behaviour was unacceptable and that I expected him not to do those things. I also decided to stop all playdates, to discourage the friendship from strengthening. The friendship faded a bit while my son became good friends with a nicer kid, which I praised and encouraged. Eventually they went to different schools for first grade, what a relief!

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