Preschoolers' Friends & Socializing

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  • 4yo boy plays with girls ONLY

    (7 replies)

    My 4 yo pre-schooler feels most comfortable playing with girls.  He has an older sister which might be why he is very comfortable with girls.  In pre-school, when he was one of the younger boys, he would play by himself.  Now as the older boys have moved on, my son only plays with the girls his age.  Another thing I notice, he has a very difficult time playing with other kids his age.  However he does play very well with his sister and sometimes with his sister's friends (both boys and girls).  While this is not a hige problem, it bothers me from time to time.  Parents - what do you make of this ? 

    My now 12 year old son always preferred to have close girl friends over boy friends especially when he was younger. I think for him, the way younger boys tended to play was often more aggressive and physical than he liked.  He's a great kid.. very inquisitive and sensitive and not super rough and tumble. I think he just preferred the more mild nature of the way girls would play. Now he's in 7th grade and has a terrific group of boys who are very much like him; quiet, a little nerdy, super sweet. He's also still really close with a group of girls he went though elementary school with and it's lovely to see so much diversity in his friend group.

    For me, I think it's most important that he is surround by friends and peers who love him for him and with whom he genuinely has a strong connection. The gender doesn't really matter.

    Sounds like my DS.  He's never had an patience for the physical shenanigans that more often present in boys.  He doesn't want to be poked and pushed.  He wants to do the thing he came to do, whether play or do art or take martial arts.  So he either play with the girls who tend to behave nicer, or plays with older kids who have learned to control their impulses.

    I wouldn't worry about it. Both my boys, who tend toward the thoughtful side, preferred playing with girls to boys at that age because the energy of the other boys, especially in groups at school, was just too crazy and destructive for them.  Fast forward 10 years and they both have mostly male friends, but are still comfortable talking to and hanging out with girls.  If you feel like he needs some boy interaction, maybe you could try scheduling some one-on-one playdates with boys his age, so it's less intimidating.

    Hi Anonymous,

    I have a gender fluid son who is ten years old. He had similar habits when he was 3-5 but clearly expressed at times wanting to be a girl. He is not transgender which is different. I doubt your son's have any issues at all but highly recommend seeing a professional. We went once to whom I highly recommend. Most insurance will pay but you can check with her.

    From your post, it doesn't sound like there's a problem.  Your son might just be different in temperament from most kids his age (that he's around, anyway).  If he plays well with older kids, and better with girls than with boys, it sounds like he may be more mature than most kids his age.  This is a good thing!  As he gets older, he'll likely connect with more of his peers, since the general maturity level within his peer group will also increase.  

    My daughter similarly did not relate easily to her peers when she was in preschool.  We wondered if she just wasn't very socially motivated.  When she got to kindergarten, she found friends whose temperaments were much closer to her own and developed close relationships quickly.  

    It may be, though, that in the long term your son will continue to relate more strongly to girls.  This is also not a bad thing!  As long as he has friends, male or female, it doesn't need to be a problem!

    You say he plays with girls his age but 'has a hard time playing with other kids his age'?  Sounds to me that he will be mature and sensitive boy, and I see nothing wrong with this!

     Hi,  so when my son was born he loved playing with trucks and cars as he got a little older like 3 and 4 he really enjoyed playing dress-up particularly in dresses! I begin to wonder if he really liked the cars and trains that I was giving him or if those were just the only toys that I had been supplying him with. I really begin to look  at my unconscious gender stereo typing. I felt I really wanted my son to explore his feminine side, after all we both have masculine and feminine qualities inside all of us. Or culture tends to beat the feelings out of men and oversensitized women and I didn't want to purpetuate that.  At first my husband freaked out about this as it was so against the grain but when I caught him disparagingly talking about the color pink to our son I stopped him, I mean  pinks my favorite color,  it is also stereotyped as a feminine color and as long as were getting conscious about this I want to be really careful about what we feed our son in terms of knowledge and acceptance. Maybe boys are taught to shut down, to hate, to disrespect women eventuallyleading to date rape, violent rape domestic violence. What if by honoring our differences and celebrating our similarities we could somehow raise a son who could be a good  nurture , provider,  friend,  someone is not afraid to cry or let their heart sing.  So we let him wear the dresses. Grandma and grandpa freaked out my neighbor told me I was going to make my son gay… But we let it ride it's course. We went on to have two more sons. Being a mother of three boys I can say inherently they are different than girls. They love their sticks, and their guns and can make explosion sound effects better than I will ever be able to. But at 9, 11 and 6 they love to play with their  little felted gnomes and fairies and cuddle their stuffed animals.  My oldest sons favorite color is still pink and low and the hold in the last few years pink is suddenly become en vogue for boys. I think  your son is probably sensitive and gentle and he's going to gravitate to the individuals that he resonates with. Trust him and trust his intuition.  It sounds like you're doing a great job and you really love him I would just keep up the good work!

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4-y-o's best friend doesn't want to be friends anymore

Feb 2007

I wanted to ask for some guidance on how to help my 4-yr-old daughter through a broken friendship. She had made a friend at her preschool whom she really liked (her ''best friend''), and who seemed to really like her. They would run to each other laughing when they first saw each other, and played together every morning at preschool. A couple of months later, after acting out of sorts for couple of days, my daughter suddenly burst into tears and said that this girl told her she didn't want to be her friend anymore. It's been a few weeks since then, and her friend no longer lets her sit next to her for snacks, and plays only with other children. My daughter is confused and hurt. A little background on my daughter's personality- she is rather precocious, sensitive, shy, and verbally capable for her age, and openly shows appreciation for friends and friendships (although not behaving as well with her younger sibling). I doubt anything of sigificance happened between the two girls; I suspect it was just ''fickleness'' of most 4-yr-olds, and maybe the other girl just wanted to start playing with other kids. I'm also not worried about my daughter not knowing what to do- she's already making other friends. But she still says, I don't know why she never plays with me anymore, and she's sad, hurt, and confused about the abrupt end of their friendship. I have no idea what to say or how to emotionally support her or guide her (where is my fountain of wisdom that moms are supposed to have). Has anyone had a similar experience, and suggest ways I can be of help to her? what should I say

I'm so sorry to hear about your child's hurtful experience. My son had a similar experience when he was 4 -- his best friend in preschool for the first year (when he was 3) was a girl. Early in his second year, he was absent for about a week, due to illness. While he was gone, his best friend made friends with a new arrival -- and was no longer really interested in playing with him much when he came back. He was very sad about this, and asked me about it for a long time. I don't know that I was terribly wise in my responses, I just told him (many times) that yes, I could certainly understand that this would make him sad, and that he missed his friend. However, he could still play with his other friends, he could still do all of the things he liked, and perhaps his old friend would play with him again sometime. This didn't really solve the problem in the moment (I don't know that I could have made him feel better instantly). However, eventually he did make new friends, and after awhile his old girl friend did start playing with him again, at least a bit. I guess it's just one of those things that happens in life, and that we learn to cope with by actually coping with it. Doesn't make it feel better while it's happening, though. Karen

Hi, the girls at my daughter's preschool play a daily game of who will be who's friend that day. I was very alarmed at first and my daughter had a hard time when she first went to that school

In general it seems that they have a hard time focusing on more than one friend at a time. I have noticed this with my daughter - if there is more than one aunt around she is very torn and cannot divide her affection/attention to them both and usually favors one. And at her birthday, when her two favorite cousins were there, she had a hard time dividing her attention.

So, in the beginning I was concerned, but just helped her negotiate it and did not make a big deal about it. I think the key is to teach your daughter how to be resilient and find new friends to play with. Point it out to the teacher and they can help steer her toward new friends since perhaps this did not register on their radar.

I think it's good to acknowledge how it makes her sad - but it is equally important to use the opportunity to learn how to make new friends and negotiate the social world. I also keep emphasizing how it is important to be kind and not exclude anyone...and that it is possible to play with more than one friend at a time - someday! she will learn...

3-year-old's imaginary friend

August 2006

My three-year-old has an imaginary friend who joins us all the time. She gets into trouble, feels sad, feels happy and throws partys. He often has to break away from a game of ''kick the ball around'' in order to work out something with her about sharing, etc. I have absolutely no problem with this, and I'm not worried at all, but I am curious to hear about other people's experiences with this. Did your kids have this? how long did they last? How did they go away? Not surpisingly, in our case his ''friend'' emerged after his sister was born. Clearly he uses her to express a variety of emotions and explore the dynamics of relationships. I would love to hear about other people's experiences with this.

My youngest son had an imaginary friend until he was at least 7 (maybe even 8)! As time, went on, the imaginary friend declined in importance, he talked about him less and finally not at all. At the height, my son would even call him on the phone when he was away on a trip (I asked him why his friend didn't come along and he said that he didn't have a plane ticket, so how could he come?!). I was fascinated by the relationship.(my son is an extremely intelligent child with alot of adult like insight). He seemed to use his friend as companion (there's 5 years between my youngest and next son) and also as a way of processing social relationships, ethics, and issues. I thought it was kinda sad when the friend disappeared. By the way, I had an imaginary friend myself (I was an oldest child by 5 years). I don't remember him at all now, but my parents did - vividly anonymous

my almost 4 year-old has had 2 imaginary friends for about a year & a half. I think it is very sweet & endearing. She takes very good care of them, is concerned about their feelings, etc. I also had an imaginary friend when I was little.
mom of an imaginative kid

Imaginary friends are fun! My first child, now 11, had an imaginary boyfriend in a place that she called ''Invisible Land.'' The boyfriend could fit in her hand and she carried him around. I ''sat'' on him a few times. This lasted until she was about 6 or 7 I think. She still remembers him. My second child, now 6, talks about ''FairyLand'' all the time. No, not the one in Oakland. This FairyLand is a utopia where there is a ''King'' who leaves her messages to give her special power. With my second child, sometimes FairyLand rules are interfering with reality, but we talk to her and she comes back to earth. Enjoy it while it lasts. My husband is still teased by his parents about ''Blabby'' who he used to go on long walks with. Jeanne

My son's first imaginary friend (a mouse named Mouse) appeared when he was about two and a half, shortly after his baby brother was born. In the two plus years since then, many more imaginary friends have appeared, mostly animals with human abilities. These friends have very distinct appearances and each play a particular instrument in my son's band. He's gone through phases of talking incessantly about these friends. He sometimes uses their imaginary presence to try to avoid consequences to his own behavior (saying he hit his brother accidentally when Mouse pushed him). He's now almost five years old and still has these friends but his reliance on them has diminished. He seemed to depend on them the most when he was struggling with getting less attention due to the baby's arrival and when he started a preschool where he didn't know anybody. I think the creation of imaginary friends is a positive coping mechanism and also shows that the child is very creative. amanda

I think this is very common, and quite entertaining! When our daughter was two she had a list of imaginary people she told stories about-which just seemed to be her exercising her imagination. Now she has one, ''Muy,'' and as you say the purpose of the imaginary friend seems to be to explore feelings and relationships. If we tell her she can't do something, she'll sometimes tell us that Muy is allowed to do it; if there's somewhere she wants to go that isn't possible, Muy takes her there. If something bothered her, she'll sometimes retell the event with Muy as a stand-in for her, and this time things go her way. (: Muy's age varies but it's always a little older than her, as she seems to really look up to 5-6 year old girls. I'm not worried about it either as it's very natural at this age, doesn't impact a child having ''real friends'' and probably goes away by age 5. Kids are full of imagination and role playing at this stage. Talk to your friends with kids the same age and I'm sure you'll hear many similar stories. Julie

My daughter's friend is a bad influence

Nov 2005

We feel that my 3-yr old daughter's very close friend in preschool has been a bad influence due ot her friend's 14 year old sister. My husband and I recently noticed that my daughter is learning some words that a 3 year old should not be speaking of. My husband also overheard my daughter's friend say something not so nice during one of the birthday parties that we attended. We are assuming that my daughter's friend is learning some of these words from her older teenage sister. So, in turn we've asked the preschool director to separate my daughter and her friend into different groups. Now, my daughter is sad because she doesn't get to play with her best friend anymore. And, now I feel guilty. Any advice? Did my husband and I do the right thing? -V

You should feel guilty, in my opinion. What you did was mean and unessecery, and I would bet it unfairly put the teachers in awkward positions. Your daughter has the right to her own friends. Yes, of course, the elder sister is a problem. You should try to (to an extreme) limit playdates at the other girl's house, and simply tell the other girl that she is not allowed to use those sort of words. You may want to speak to the other girl's mother; not in a blame sort of way but she in fact may not know that this is happening and would probably be very upset about. It is not fair to seperate your daughter from her best friend, especially going behind her back to try to get ride of her. Laurie

I understand your instinct to want to eliminate the ''bad influence.'' I also think that a good/best friend is an important and special thing to have and not all kids have the good fortune to have one. I remember one of my children's teachers remarking to my child,''Going through school with a best friend like yours is such a warm and supportive experience, _______; not everyone has one,'' and so it is. If the foul-mouthed friend is otherwise a loyal, engaged, fun, loving friend, then you might consider helping your child invalidate undesireable language and behaviors for herself. Calling upon the school to separate your child is delaying what I think is a necessary developmental behavior - being able to reject certain behaviors in someone and still maintain a friendship if there are other redeeming qualities. God knows we do such a thing as adults since not all of us have the good fortune of having perfect friends. The approach of changing the school culture instead of working on your own kid will backfire and obstruct a wonderful opportunity for learning, and the next school, teacher, might not be so willing to separate the children, feeling that it might be better to talk to your little darling about why such behavior is yucky. Finally, some parents are approachable about their kid's behavior, and some will go balistic, so tread carefully. About enlightening your own child

3-year-old to playmates: You're Not My Friend!

Nov 2004

Our daughter is 3.5 yrs old and is generally a sweet, empathetic girl who plays well with other children. In the last few months or so, however, she's started saying, ''You're no longer my friend!'' if she's upset by something another child did or did not do. For instance, one of her dearest friends didn't want to hold her hand one time, she got upset by this and hence he was no longer her friend. Another child wasn't her friend because she wanted to play with someone else. We're concerned that our daughter is feeling excluded and is responding by excluding others. We have recently moved and she started at a new school. We've tried talking to her about it, but it doesn't seem to be helping.

Any suggestions on how to stop this kind of hurtful behavior? I looked on the website but couldn't find a discussion on this. Thanks. concerned mom

I think (or at least hope) this is a totally normal phase. My 4 1/2 yr old son has been saying this for at least 6 months now, and all his little daycare friends say it too. It just seems to be their knee-jerk reaction to any disappointment, no matter how small. Other frequent variations include ''You're not coming to my house'' and ''You're not coming to my party.'' (even if his birthday is 11 months away). He says these things to my husband and I as frequently as he does to his friends. It's pretty much lost its meaning due to the frequency of use and minor nature of offenses that trigger the response (eg. Mom: ''time to take a bath'' son: ''Then you're not my friend'') It seems to be a pretty harmless way for him to express his anger/disappointment/displeasure, and he usually takes it back within 5 minutes (''OK, you can come to my party''). I don't worry about it, as I'm sure it will pass, and I actually am even amused by it sometimes. Tracy

Two things: 1. I would think that your recent move precipitated this particular behavior, and that it would be a great idea to try and talk to your daughter about her feelings regarding the move, making new friends, etc. Explaining to her how you yourself feel about moving and the chaos surrounding it would be a good start. For instance, ''Mommy feels sad too; Mommy misses ''so- and-so'' (a friend from your old neighborhood). Let her know that it is okay to feel upset or excluded, because those feelings/situations are inevitable for all upon moving. Be sure to then highlight the positive aspects of moving (new house, new friends to meet on the block, new parks, etc). It is important to address the emotions behind the behavior, too.

2. I suggest that when she tells kids they're not her friends anymore, jump in right away and help her define what she really means to say. It is doubtful that she truly does not want to be friends with a particular child. Rather, she's upset in the moment and isn't expressing herself as accurately as she could. Talk to her before a playdate and try to come up with an alternative phrase for her to say, like, ''What ''so-and-so'' did makes me sad,'' or ''I'm not feeling like sharing right now.'' You need to acknowledge her feelings surrounding the circumstance as valid, but also guide her so that she can properly express what she is feeling. Be as consistent as possible, and have all other caregivers do the same. Eventually, she'll catch on because she'll understand that it is okay to feel whatever she's feeling, and that there are better ways to communicate that to other children. Hope this helps. M

When I saw your note I thought you were writing about MY 3.5 year old daughter. ''You're not my friend'' (variation: ''you're not my best friend'') is running rampant at her preschool. When I spoke to the preschool director about it, she sighed and said it happens among the 3 year old girls every single school year. Apparently ''you're not my friend'' is code for, ''I'm tired of playing with you now.'' But it's certainly temporary.

I don't like it either, and we frequently reinforce the concept that ''everyone is our friend, even when we aren't playing with them'' at home, but it did make me feel somewhat better that this happens all the time, and they grow out of it... sort of. Remember high school?? mean girl's mom

I hear this at preschool all the time in 3 and 4 year olds. My 4 1/2 year old son still says this to his friends, and of course then gets very upset when they say this back to him when the tables are turned. I guess it is hurtful in the short term, but they also seem to get over it quickly if you help them find a solution to the disagreement that triggered it in the first place, and suggest they hug and apologize and make up, and remind them that they are good friends. I also try to reiterate how it makes someone feel when you say this by reminding him, and he's learning. It seems better than name calling, and appears to be just a phase I'm sure they will grow out of as well. Sometimes he says it to me and his father as well, and we remind him that we are his parents and don't have to be his friends, and he quickly changes his tune so he can remain friends with us. It's one of the only powers they have, I feel, much like a toddler who is just discovering the power of ''no.'' Friendly Mom

This behavior is developmentally normal for your daughter's age. So yes, she probably is hearing it -- but she's probably initiating some of it herself.

Three and a half year olds use this kind of behavior (You're not my friend, you can't come to my birthday party, etc.) to express one of two kinds of feelings. Often, two kids playing together will say it to a third who's trying to join their play. What they really mean, but don't know how to say, is that they are having fun playing together right now, and don't want a third person to join.

The second kind of reason they use it is, as in your daughter's case, when they are upset with something the other child has done. But they don't yet know how to say, ''Hey, I really don't like it when you do that. Please don't do it in the future.'' So they say this instead. The best way to help is, first, to realize that this is a phase. It's going to happen in most kids, and doesn't mean some serious exclusion, unique to your child, is happening. Second, help them learn to say what they really mean. For example, ''I want to play with Sally right now. But I hope we can play together later.'' Third, help her to understand what other kids mean by their upsetting actions ''Sally sometimes might need a little space and doesn't want to hold anyone's hand. She will want to hold your hand later. Everyone needs a little space sometimes.'' This managing of interpersonal relations and the accompanying emotions is tough for little kids, and takes quite a while to learn. But they will learn, and better if we help them. Karen

3-year-old to playmates: You're Not My Friend!

March 2004

My 4 year old has a great *best* friend that she has known since she was 6 months old--through daycare. Now, in preschool, it seems that my daughter will play with this *best* friend or play alone. The teachers are I are trying to encourage her to play with others, reminding her of her many other friends, etc. But, I am concerned that she is too reliant on this friend. I am considering moving her to another school closer to home, which will make play dates with other kids easier. I know that this *best* friend is GREAT and is a real treasure, but I worry that this will hinder her socialization and making friends in the future. BTW, this *best* friend and my daughter won't be going to the same Kindergarten (in 1 1/2 years) as we live in different counties. Any thoughts on this topic would be greatly appreciated! anon

I wouldn't worry too much about this. I think it is pretty common for 4-year-olds to hook up with a buddy, especially in a larger social setting like preschool. My kids also had a One True Best Friend at this age. But there are still lots of opportunities for them to widen their social circle, especially as they progress through grade school and kids move away and change schools and refine their interests. Right now you have a lot of control over who they play with outside of school - you can arrange play dates with kids you like and ''not get around to'' arranging them with the kids you don't like. I learned from one of the other moms to always ask my child first though. When a friend's parent calls with a playdate invitation, you can say ''I'll ask him and call you back.'' Then you don't have the problem of a reluctant child being sent off to play with a more enthusiastic child. What happened with my kids was that when they got to kindergarten, and started to be on sports teams and develop other interests, they built up a set of friends that they really stuck with all through elementary school, many of whom they still keep in touch with as young adults (they are 18 and 21 now). My 18-year-old is still good friends with his 4-year-old best buddy, but they both have many other friends too. This friendship has endured a move to another city, school changes, and all sorts of shenanigans the two got in to, but it seems to mean a lot to my son to have such a long-term friend, even though their interests have diverged over the years and they don't see each other very often. I think it's really valuable for little kids to develop intense friendship - it lays the groundwork for later relationships. G

How lucky you are to have ''best'' friends for your kids vs no friends (something I had to deal with until recently when my child finally developed a good friendship with another child at preschool). I can only tell you that in our case, playdates with children he did not identify as wanting to have playdates with had been a disaster. He didn't want to do anything with these other children. So the moral was, you can't force a situation, but you can always try. I would ask them to identify another child they might like to have over and/or try with one they have mentioned before. I tried to match him up with another with a similar temperament, but to no avail because he did not identify this child. Anon

How to Make Friends in Preschool

May 2003

My daughter is almost 4, and has been in preschool for almost a year. She attends five mornings a week. Although she enjoys the activities and teachers at preschool, and plays casually with the other children, she doesn't really have any preschool friends. I attribute this partly to the situation that when she joined the school, all the other girls were already in a very tight clique, and she was the only new one. She is also the youngest girl in the school, and there is only one boy younger. My heart breaks when she says she doesn't have any friends. (I do point out a couple friends she has out of school.) I keep her in this school because she does like to go, and I think changing would just create the same situation of being the new one.

I've tried encouraging her to play with the other girls and boys. I've called the parents of a couple of the other girls to try to set up playdates, but they have been unresponsive, and no one has ever asked me. I could call again, but I don't know if it's even polite to keep asking. Maybe it's just an organizational issue, or maybe their children don't want to play with her. (Or maybe I'm the problem?)

Several new children, both girls and boys, are starting at the beginning of July. Is there any way to coach her on how to make friend with these new kids? I remember my mother trying to give me advice on how to make friends when I was a child, and though I couldn't tell her at the time, it was seemed totally impractical because it didn't acknowledge the whole social landscape of my peers. I don't want to give that kind of advice. Also I didn't have many friends as a child, so I don't know what to tell her.

I'm seeking advice from people who were more socially adept children, or anyone with any insight. Seeking Friends

Often older kids (and they don't have to be that much older) just zone out on younger ones who just cannot keep up socially. They also have their established friends and patterns of play and for a lot of children it can be difficult to make the adjustment to include a new person.I would try and make playdates with the new incoming crowd who might be more around her age and social maturation level. The incoming mom's are more likely to be receptive as they will in most cases want to encourage and support friendships for their children in their new school. Good Luck

I'm sure your situation is similar to many other moms. I have found it difficult to 'break the ice' with other parents and so far have only been relatively successful. Like you, i don't know if it's the parents, or me, or my daughter. I am a little shy though i don't think people would usually think that of me. I think maybe it's just that it takes a certain amount of persistance and an ability to not feel 'put out' if you don't get the response that you would like. I have found that it's sometimes easier getting my own daughter playtime with the boys in her preschool as they haven't 'yet' formed those tight cliques that you described. You might also try helping out with any sort of extracurricular activities that your daughters school does. I know having school picnics and potlucks where all the parents are involved and able to socialize is a great way to meet the other parents and suggest 'again' those playdates for your daughter and other children. best of luck to you...

Why not just you yourself immediately get friendly with the new parents and invite them and their children over for a few playdates? I'm doubtful that any kind of coaching will help a 4 year old make friends....just show her by example and set up a situation where she can interact one-on-one with them. If the parents are very busy, you can also just offer to host the playdate yourself. Playdates really helped our daughter alot at age 4.

That being said, our daughter also had trouble making friends at preschool at age 4. Switching preschools did it for us we found better teachers more able to facilitate kids' interactions, friendlier families eager for playdates, and more compatible kids. Or maybe she was just suddenly ready. So you might want to consider it, especially as lots of places will be starting up again anew in the fall. Karen

4.5-year-old boy bossed around by a friend

July 2002

My 4.5 year old son has a playmate at preschool who bosses him around. My son is very clever, perceptive, sensitive, imaginative, and somewhat naove. His friend is the class genius, a sweet little boy with the social and academic skills of a 6 or 7 year old. The two boys share some common interests and they play together a lot both at school and in the afternoons. The problem is that this playmate tends to be bossy and manipulative, and my son, who aims to please and is very non- confrontational, never gets to make the rules such as what game is played, who is to participate, when do move on to the next activity, etc. Sometimes he decides not to let my son into a game (the infamous ''you are not my friend any more''). My son is very aware of the situation, and very articulate about the kinds of interactions they have, and his feelings about them. But he still wants to be his friend. I'm trying to use this experience to teach my son some social skills (for example by teaching him the kinds of lines he needs to respond to this boy). But I'm running out of lines, and I'm starting to think that perhaps it is time to wake him up from his innocence (i.e., tell it like it is, some people are manipulative and bossy and you need to learn how to deal with them). Any advice would be appreciated! anon

My 4.5 year old son has a playmate at preschool who bosses him around. My son is very clever, perceptive, sensitive, imaginative, and somewhat naove. His friend is the class genius, a sweet little boy with the social and academic skills of a 6 or 7 year old. The two boys share some common interests and they play together a lot both at school and in the afternoons. The problem is that this playmate tends to be bossy and manipulative, and my son, who aims to please and is very non- confrontational, never gets to make the rules such as what game is played, who is to participate, when do move on to the next activity, etc. Sometimes he decides not to let my son into a game (the infamous ''you are not my friend any more''). My son is very aware of the situation, and very articulate about the kinds of interactions they have, and his feelings about them. But he still wants to be his friend. I'm trying to use this experience to teach my son some social skills (for example by teaching him the kinds of lines he needs to respond to this boy). But I'm running out of lines, and I'm starting to think that perhaps it is time to wake him up from his innocence (i.e., tell it like it is, some people are manipulative and bossy and you need to learn how to deal with them). Any advice would be appreciated! anon

I think your intuition is right. You should tell your son that people will not always behave in ways that are in his best interest. You are his advocate, after all, and he is counting on you to show him the ropes in life. What's more, some kids who are confronted in a straightforward way with objections to their offensive behavior can suprise you. My daughter, who, like your son, is a pretty gentle person, finally got around to telling her friend in first grade that she was too controlling (something like, ''You're not the boss of my life!''). To her credit, the friend good naturedly backed off immediately. A year later, they are still pals. You may want to explain to your son that confrontation can often be constructive. If the other boy resists changing his behavior, then ask your son, ''If he doesn't want to treat you fairly, is this boy really your friend?'' Your son can take it from there. My girl's advocate

It sounds like your son is happy with the friendship, but you're not. To be perfectly blunt, you sound a little bit bummed that this kid is smarter than yours (your child is clever but the other one is a genius). Your judgment may not even be true! I would try to refrain from managing their interaction. I am concerned that you will send a message to your son that there is something wrong with him tolerating his friend's behavior. (''Don't you see that he is taking advantage of you? What's wrong with you that you let him boss you around like that?'' -- even if you don't say it that way.) My mom was always very negative and protective about friendships my sister and I had (''She isn't nice to you!'') and it hurt our self-confidence. It sounds to me that your son understands very well what is going on but feels that the pluses of the relationship outweigh the minuses. Being able to make that kind of tradeoff is an important life skill in my opinion. (If we only had friends who were perfect, we would be pretty lonely.) It's great that he is talking to you so well about his feelings -- keep listening but let him come up with his own ''lines'' and don't run down a friend that he likes, or tell him how he should feel. If you must give your opinion, I think you should make it clear it's YOUR view: ''If it was my friend, I might feel that he was too bossy.'' Also keep in mind that these kinds of dynamics change a lot over time - both kids will grow. Anon.

We were having a similar problem with our son a couple of years ago, except it dealt more with hitting than bossing around. As many parents often teach their kids, I taught him that hitting was not acceptable. I always told my child not to hit any child, regardless of the circumstances. If the child continued to hit him, he was to tell me or the child's parent for intervention. Well, as he got older that solution didn't work anymore. He was the tallest kid in the class, but he was always being bullied by other much smaller kids. Finally my husband got tired of talking to him and letting him know that it was okay to defend himself, and ''demanded'' that he fight back. Now I admit, my husband was a bit more aggresive than what I would have liked, but he warned my son that if he came home crying over another child hitting him and did nothing about it he would be in trouble with him. In fact, there were a couple of times when my husband would push my son back outside and demanded that he defend himself and warn the other child to back off or he will hit him in return. It was heart breaking seeing my son go through this, but I have to say admist it all it worked.

My son now knows when to defend himself and understands the difference between being aggressive and standing up for himself. He just needed a little assurance that it was going to be okay if he did.

I'm not suggesting that you take the same aggressive approach, but sometimes you have to be firm and direct with your child. Explain to your son that it's okay not to be included in some play groups, and that it's okay to say no to someone who is obviously being mean to him. Bring him around other children who are less bullies, and show that as an example of how kids should play with each other and not how he and his playmate to. Talking and showing by example are very important. Best of luck to you. Understanding mother