School-aged Kids' Friends

Parent Q&A

Should I tell the mom? Even if she will be furious to hear it? Jul 16, 2018 (4 responses below)
My son does not like playdates with my friend's son Oct 5, 2016 (7 responses below)
  • My son has a really good friend "Alex" who had a falling out with a mutual friend "Ben". Friend Alex is now making fun of Ben behind his back, telling other kids "Ben sucks his wienie and drinks the pee pee." This is very disheartening to hear from a 7 year old kid, especially in reference to his "ex" best friend.

    I am very good friends with the mom and worried that she would be upset at me if I tell her as she is highly anxious and emotional. Plus, I am not sure this is entirely accurate, coming from my 7 year old son. I am sure the parents do not teach or endorse this behavior at home. I am not sure they can change his behavior even if they know, because there are similar incidents in the past.

    Thank you for your advice.

    I would say, yes, tell her, but with the humility you implied, that this is something your son said, but you're not sure if it's accurate.  It's hard to imagine a parent who would not want to hear this, if you have reason to think it's really happening.  She may be mad at you (although she may not be), but I'd venture to say that being able to help her son is more important than protecting yourself from potential anger.

    No, don't tell Ben's mom. Consider telling Alex's mom that he's saying mean things about a friend (and don't focus too much on the "ex-" part, at 7 y/o friendships swing back around all the time!) so she can address it... Or if you're within earshot when your son and Alex are talking like this, go ahead and tell Alex to knock it off! 

    Your description suggests that Ben's mother is not able to handle this appropriately, and since your information is 2nd hand, it will stir the pot and make things worse. 

    I agree that you could consider speaking with Alex's mom, but again your information is 2nd hand and not many people want to discipline their kid based on your kid's say-so. How useful that is will depend a lot on her personality.

    Better yet, talk with your son about how HE might handle it. It's a great opportunity to learn how to set appropriate boundaries with friends. He can't make Alex be nice in general, and he can't arrange for Alex and Ben to make up.  However, he can tell Alex that his trash-talk is upsetting, and that Alex can show that he's a better person if he quits bad-mouthing Ben. (Just guessing that this will be more effective than telling Alex he's being mean.)  Anyway, it's better to take it as a teaching opportunity than it is to try to fix it.

  • I have a friend who has a son close in age to my boy though they attend different elementary schools.  I like chatting with my friend (we are not super close, but friendly since we met in a mother's group) while the boys play and have been trying to do those playdates once a week.  This worked great in early preschool, but now that the boys are in elementary school my son no longer wants to do those playdates.  He does not like playing with this boy and says it is boring and is like playing with a younger sibling (which he has one as well) since he always has to play what the other boy wants otherwise the other boy has a meltdown and nobody has fun.  My son says it feels like work and is not fun and he would rather do playdates with another friend or just play with his younger sibling (my kids are very close and play together a lot) or by himself.  I know those playdates are getting less and less fun for him and normally I would never force him to have a playdate with someone he does not want to play with just so I can chat with my friend, but she is asking for more playdates since her son considers my son "his best friend" and loves those playdates.  Normally it would not matter, but her boy is on the spectrum (not sure of the exact diagnosis, but I know he has difficult time socially) and has a hard time making friends.  She tried playdates with other kids and they all ended in disaster and she says that the playdates with my son are the only ones that consistently go well (or relatively well) ... the problem is that they go well cause my son "puts on his big brother hat" (like he practiced doing with his younger sibling) and lets the other boy has his way and slows down his game so the other boy can keep up.  This was not as a much of an issue when the boys were 3, but at 6 the boys are in different places developmentally and play differently and I get more and more push back from my son to stop doing the playdates.  For now I started doing them less frequently, more like once every 2-3 weeks instead of weekly, which worked well with school starting again and us getting busier but my friend says her son misses my and what can she do to have more playdates (she offered to pick up my son from school after care earlier and watch them at her place while they play until I get back from work since she is a SAHM but my son said no).  I did not tell her that my son does not enjoy those playdates and that I have been forcing him to do them for a while now, and I don't know if I should tell her that or just keep making excuses to keep the playdates less frequent.  And the bigger question is should I even continue forcing my son to have those playdates for the benefit of my friend's kid or just be honest with her and let my son choose his own playdate friends now that he is getting older?  I feel really bad for her and was trying to help but now I'm feeling guilty sacrificing my son's happiness and time (as between school and activities he does not have a lot of free time now).  Anyone been in this or similar situation and what did you do?

    Very tough spot. I would say be honest but VERY GENTLE with your friend. Something along the lines of, "the boys seem to be growing apart... and we're so busy that it works well for us to have you over at our house once in a while. I will let you know the next good time." And shoot for once a month. Maybe it is in fact good for your son to interact with kids who are in different developmental places - he can work on his empathy and polish those big brother skills. And maybe the three kids (including the younger sibling) can all play a bit - perhaps centered on a game like one of the Peaceable Kingdom cooperative games which don't pit the players against each other, or some lowkey screen time (like PBS Kids games, or learn-to-code). If you value your friendship with the mom at all, you should not cut them off. She needs your help too. I would not worry that a 2 hour playdate once a month is "sacrificing your son's happiness"!

    Wow.  This is a tough one.  When I was growing up my mom was always a champion of the underdog.  I admired it then and still do now, but sometimes it put me in a very awkward position.  She would plan play dates for me to help out lonely kids.  I think the scenario in her mind was that these were just shy kids who needed a little boost.  In reality, some of the kids were struggling with some pretty big issues.  I didn't have much experience (being just a kid), but suddenly I'd have this new "best friend" stuck to me like glue and sometimes their behavior was baffling.  I'd feel proud for helping and being kind yet I didn't have anything in common with the other kid.  Sometimes it just made things worse for the other kid because I wouldn't magically change anything and they, too, could tell that the friendship had not truly "clicked," so they ended up just feeling more rejected.  Now that I have a son, I demand that he be kind.  In a group setting (school, sports, church, etc.), he has to include everyone.  I try to keep my eye on what is happening in groups and will suggest that he give a shy or new kid a real chance.  But I don't force it.  I would see if you son would be willing to go on a play date once every month or two.  If he says no, I think you may have to tell your friend that you're trying to honor your child's choice in friends and that because life is busy he already has trouble seeing buddies he has a lot in common with.  If you frame it as a matter of common interests and limited time, hopefully she will take it in that light.  If she wants to have a heart to heart talk with you about the situation, then by all means be kind and honest.  Maybe she needs to come to the reality that her kid needs more help than he is getting.

    It sounds like both you and your son are very kind compassionate people. Congrats on having raised him to be so thoughtful. It's equally important though, I think, to raise children to understand that they do not need to allow themselves to be used by others in order to be a good person. And that does seem to be what's happening at this point. I don't mean the other mom is necessarily conscious of this, but whether she is or not the result is the same for your son—he is having to sacrifice himself for someone who he really doesn't want in his life. I suggest you tell the mom the truth: that you want your son to be able to choose his own playdates now that he is older and he has told you he wants to spend his time with other kids. I can't imagine she would not understand what you mean since she has already had so many playdate disasters with others. Yes, this is sad for the mom who is just trying to help her child and if you want to stay friendly I would offer lots of empathy and patient listening. But I don't think it's your son's job to help her with this.

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How to protect 6-y-o daughter from pain of rejection

Sept 2008

My 6 year old daughter was close friends with another little girl in preschool. For reasons too lengthy to go into here, the friendship ended before the end of preschool. My daughter was devastated and it took the first half of kindergarten for her to move on. She's now in first grade and has made some good friends.

Much to my surprise, the other little girl recently joined an extracurricular activity that my daughter has been taking for over a year. My daughter was thrilled to see her old friend but the other little girl has moved on from the friendship and seemingly has no interest in rekindling it. I don't know how to protect my daughter from more pain. It took her so long to get over the last time the little girl rejected her, I just can't bare to see it happen all over again. I am dreading not so much the fact that they will be doing an activity together but watching my daughter yearn for a little girl who doesn't reciprocate the feelings.

Should I just forbid their interaction and let my daughter think that I am the reason they can't be friends again? Should I tell her that the girl has moved on and doesn't want to be friends again? Should I just make up excuses each week for why she can't go over her house, or have her over our house or have some other playdate? None of these seem like the right solution but neither does letting them circle around each other feeling very uncomfortable - my daughter trying for friendship and the little girl not wanting it but not wanting to hurt my daughter's feelings either. And just so everyone is clear, no abuse or horrible event happened to end their friendship the first go around - the other little girl just moved on and frankly never valued the friendship as much as my daughter did. Hard lessons for everyone at such a tender age. Any advise would be much appreciated. anon

You are making me grateful that I have a son instead of a daughter. I guess the thing to do is talk to her about it. Just tell her that certain people want to be friends with her, and others don't. It's nothing to do with her, it has to do with what the other little girl wants. Tell her that she will have this happen in life, but it's really okay, because she will always have lots of friends that love her and want to play with her. Tell her that this little girl wants to be left alone, but there are lots of other little girls that would love to play with her. I would emphasize all her positive qualities, and how good it is that she has lots of good friends etc. Best

Your daughter does not need to be protected, she needs to learn to deal with the reality that sometimes people we like don't like us back. Yes, it hurts, but it can't be helped. Yes, it happened to my daughter (when she was 5) and it was painful to watch, but as the parent, you just have to give her a coping strategy. good luck

This will sound harsh (and I'm sorry for that) but it isn't our job as parents to protect our children from these difficult lessons. It is painful - for you and for her. But if you try to shield her from this lesson, she won't learn how to cope with it. She needs your empathy, your support, and your love, but probably not your protection with this one. It isn't an unsafe situation (either physically, or emotionally). It's an excellent opportunity for discussion about a real life lesson. She's going to be stronger and better equipped to handle this when she gets older. In the future, she may be a more empathetic friend to someone who is going through similar pain. You're a good mother for wanting to protect her, but you can be a good mother and let her learn from this. And if you must do something, perhaps you can recruit another friend to join this class with her. anon

I'm so sorry your daughter has to deal with this and you're in the awful position of having to witness it. This happened with my daughter at that age too and it is young, she is vulnerable, it does hurt, and it does matter.

I think the truth must be acknowledged because it is just there, that the other girl is not preferring to play with her, but you can help her conceptualize it as a normal thing. Kids and people of all ages flow around and attach to different people over time... maybe there's a story that would be a good metaphor that takes ''fault'' off her with the idea that this is part of life. We don't always know reasons, there are invisible similarities between people.

At the same time, she's still young enough for you to help initiate other friendships and distractions, by suggesting playdates and leading her to some fun activities unrelated to that social scene.

I'd also speak honestly with her teachers about your feelings and concerns as you've done here. They can work with her and you and keep an eye out for what's happening. Be open to anything she could be doing better socially, if that's an issue.

In my own daughter's case, the friendship break was engineered by a parent of my daughter's best friend who disapproved of our family at a time when they were young enough that the adult had control. It did not initiate between the girls so it was especially baffling and heartbreaking to my daughter. The other parent admitted what was going on and eventually I just told my daughter the truth. A baffling reason was better than none and she calmed down a bit. But still I think she attributed a great degree of it to her own self.

Later, I think because of how little sense it made to her and how little control she had and how abrupt and hard the loss was, she felt like a victim and took some victim behaviors into future interactions. That's what we worked on, myself and her teachers. And she was young enough for a long time that progress was made. Until middle school there's a lot that can happen between the child and adults who love her (in middle school they close off quite a bit, especially girls).

I hope this is helpful. Hang in there, stay engaged as you are, stay hopeful, stay free of negativity toward others as you seem to be, remember and build on all the love coming from you her parents because that matters, and keep imagining your daughter strong. - empathetic parent

Let's be clear about what you're asking: you're asking for advice on the best way to manipulate and control your daughter's life, to prevent her from experiencing her life lessons because it is so hard for you to see her hurting.

I can't in good conscience do that. Honesty is the best policy here. No made-up stories, no putting it on you, no avoidance. BTW, I am your daughter in adult form. I was (am) intense and very sensitive, and more likely to want fewer people I'm closer to. I have frequently played the role of rejected one.

If you think this ends in first grade, you're not seeing the big picture. There will be many more friends who will dump her, boy or girlfriends as well, as well as other ways in life where she will be rejected.

You, just like your daughter, are simply going to have to discover some coping strategies for what IS, and meet life head on. There will be lots of emotional pain, but hopefully you grow through these experiences, and manage them as best you can.

So there's the backdrop. But on the surface, the thing to say is simply: It looks like she's doing her own thing these days. We should probably give her some space, and find new and different people to enjoy. She may pause and consider this. She may ask why, or cry, or say she doesn't understand. I still drive my mom crazy many months after relationships end with all my attachments to exes, but she's stuck with it since she's my mother.

Your job is to allow her to have her (authentic, not manipulated) experience, and guide her in a way that makes her most happy and ultimately contributing to society in some way. Because you will not be able to fix every last thing in life; might as well suck it up now and start teaching her how to deal with these thigns. Nurture and hold her when she hurts, explaining (if she asks) that everyone has different feelings and ideas, and that the best thing to do is to let her (ex- friend) go, and open her heart for new people to take up that space. And to assure her that people come and go in life, and whenever someone goes, someone else will come by that you will then care about (the whole you must close one door to open another).

Friendship-making skills for 1st grader

Sept 2008

Hello, my six year old just started first grade and we are wanting to start the year off right. He got along alright in kindergarten but did not end up with any close friends. Toward the end of the school year we had an SST because of some behavioral issues which mostly occurred on the playground because he was bored. He would spend most of his time hiding and startling unsuspecting kids. The SST was unproductive in that no ideas came out of it. My son is not the athletic type and really enjoys doing artwork and dramatic play. He is very active and has trouble sitting still in class. He has a couple of close friends outside school. We would love to put him in a social skills group but fear that he would end up with kids who are much more severe. I'd love some advice on how to help my son have a successful year. BTW, he's already been seen by a psychologist and has no diagnosis. AP

you might look into Trails to Success, an equine social skills group run by Maria Antoniadis and Chris Duis. It is expensive, but the great thing about it is that kids don't realize they're learning ''social skills.'' They are learning about how to take care of horses and to ride, and working on their ability to take in social information and work as a team through that. So it's like 4-H club, but all the activities are focused on learning how to make friends. When we first heard about it I just thought it was too expensive, but my son did the summer version and it was so great we decided to just bite the bullet and keep going. I think there's a year-long waiting list. Good luck!

My son had social issues. The best thing that we did for him was schedule one-on-one play dates. Made a HUGE difference. They should be short - about 2 hours. Also, they should allow the opportunity for kids to get to know each other (i.e., no video games, not an outing with the parents, no siblings around). Coach your kid on how to be a good host as well (i.e., don't leave your guest alone, the guest gets to pick the game/activity, etc.) Have a snack in the waiting in case things go south and a break is needed. Anon

What does your son want? Is it possible he'd just like to be quiet at recess? Have you asked him which kids he likes to play with? or if he'd like to play with other kids? Why not ask the teacher for her thoughts & suggestions? Maybe there are some games he could play on the playground that would help him get the willies out before he goes back to class wiggly. (e.g., maybe he really does need more active time on the playground so he's less active in class).

9-year-old friend's bad behavior - stop inviting him?

March 2008

I am the single mom of 9 year old son who is an only child. My son \x93Sam\x94 loves to have friends come along on trips, to the movies, baseball games, etc. He has many friends and I enjoy the watching the kids together.

Sam has had a friend since preschool (age 2.5). Sam loves his friend ''Ben.'' When they play together they have a great time. When we take Ben to a baseball game, Ben will go into the bathrooms and splash water all over the place, or when we go out to dinner, Ben will have farting episodes - not once but five or six times and then laugh loudly - people turn around to stare, etc. (I am both embarrassed and outraged when this happens). Ben does not know how to order from a menu, he runs up and down the isles in stores and has difficulty playing with children other than my son.

Talking to Ben's mom has not helped - ''Boys will be boys.'' My son's behavior does not change when he's around Ben, he still behaves, but he's beginning to be more and more embarrassed by Ben's behavior.

Now the question, do I say to Ben directly, ''Ben, we love having you with us at our home and other places, but farting, splashing, etc. is not okay. If it continues I don't know if you will be invited to come with us.'' Or do as I did with Sam and just leave the cart in the store, pack up our food to go, leave the baseball game and go home when the behavior disrupts me and other around us? Also, what to do about Ben's mom, who laughs off the bad behavior. I should also say at this point that Ben\x92s Mom thinks I am to strict with Sam and that I expect behavior from Sam that is not age appropriate.

My other thought was to just stop inviting Ben altogether. My problem with this is that Ben has told us that he does not have any other friends. The only kids he plays with are the children of his Mom's friends.

Any suggestions are appreciated. Want to do the Right Thing -AND- Don't want to be Embarassed

Hi - I understand your frustration - here's my thoughts after several years of montessori education for my kids.

Set clear limits with consequences for this child when in your house or with you. Be gentle, pro-active and fair (i.e., don't wait until he's made you mad or embarrassed because then your reaction will be much more severe).

For example, tell him that you would like to take him to dinner with you and your son, but that you have some rules about restaurant behavior and that he will need to respect those rules or be asked to sit in the car/waiting area/leave the restaurant. And most important - stick with your consequences. He might not get it the first time or the second or the third even, but eventually he will.

Good luck! montessori mom

Of course you should set boundaries with your son's friend. In life different behavior is expected in different venues and with different people. I see absolutely nothing wrong with telling your son's friend what your expectations of behavior are when he is with you - either in your home or elsewhere. It's no different than telling a child the rules of your house that may differ from the rules he is subject to at home. For example jumping on the bed may be o.k. at his house but not at yours. You would be well within your rights to tell him ''we dont' jump on the furniture in our house'' and expect him to abide by that limitation or not come over. The same is true for rude and/or disruptive behavior when you are chaperoning an activity.

As for the mother, I think you need to be clear with her about what your expections are of her son when he accompanies you to various outings. You should inform her not only of his behavior but also your response to his behavior. Tell her that you love the boys friendship and would like to continue to have her son come with you on various outings but that you will not be able to continue to invite him to things if he doesn't behave differently. Ask her for her assistance in communicating that message to her son. If she is unwilling to do so, then you stop inviting him without apology. It takes a village

You say that ''Ben'' has no other friends and he is embarrassing your son with his unpleasant behavior? You're the only mother who still lets ''Ben'' play with your son? Do you see something wrong with this picture?

Why are you trying to teach your son that he's obligated to tolerate someone who doesn't respect him and who is a bad influence? Someday, he'll come home with an ill-mannered fiancee he felt obligated to spend time with.

Tell ''Ben'' directly that his behavior was inappropriate and disrespectful, that you are taking him home immediately, and that he will not be visiting again until he no longer does behavior X. Don't waste time talking to the mother; ''Ben'' can explain himself what he was doing wrong. Peer-pressure believer

I think you should be direct with Ben. You are doing him a favor in the long run. It's okay for him to learn how to behave appropriately in public even if his mother doesn't think he needs to. Here's your wording, altered to what I would say...''Ben, we love having you with us at our home and other places, but farting, splashing, etc. is not okay because.... If it continues I won't invite you to come with us anymore. We like you and would like you to go places with us, so I hope you will start to make different choices about how to act when we go out together.'' it takes a village

My general rule, that I tell my kids (and I've read about this on this list)is that every family has their own rules, and that when we have other children over, they have to follow our rules. I think you are on the right track, and if he really just can't follow your rules, you will have to be firm and not include him. I have a daughter who is nine, so I'm not so clear on boy behavior, but what you are describing sounds more like younger child stuff. Also, I think that outings with kids should be fun for parents also (with the limitations, of course, that kids have -- they will get grumpy, tired, mad, etc. more quickly than we would). If it's just a real drag for you to always have to deal with his behavior, why bother? Perhaps you can help your son think of other children that you'd want to invite along. In my opinion, it's good for children to have new friendships, and sometimes they need our help figuring out who to invite. And, maybe if you take a few months off from including Ben, and then try again, he will try to follow your rules. anonymous

Have you ever explained your expectations to Ben? I would simply say, ''When we go out to eat--I would appreciate it if you try to be on your best behavior. Each mom has her own rules. Your mom might be ok with you making farting noises in public but I don't think it's appropriate so please don't do it when you're with me''. However, I would avoid the threat of--- ''OR else you can't come over anymore''--that's just insensitive and a kid of age 9 would probably just get hurt feelings instead of actually understanding.

It might take a little more energy, but every time Ben does something that you don't approve of, instead of just walking away, leaving the baseball game, cutting the dinner early, etc-- actually take the time to explain why his behavior is upsetting to you and how you expect him to behave. I'm a strong supporter of the belief ''It takes a village to raise a child''. If you really care about your son and his best friend of 7 years, take the time to ''parent'' him a little bit without being too invasive. Make sure it's ok with his mom that you give Ben friendly reminders about how you expect him to behave when he's on playdates at your house or outings with you family. With a little bit of extra guidance, he could learn to change his behavior--he's only 9! --Optomist

I would suggest that before you embark on the next outing with ''Ben'' you non-judgmentally explain to him that your family rules require a certain type of behavior - be explicit. don't condemn his behavior or his mother's acceptance of it. Tell him very clearly that if he is not able to do this, you all will leave the venue. Then follow through. If you do have to leave, explain to him why and say that you hope next time he can comply. Try one more time - hope it works. If it doesn't, explain to him that when he feels he can behave as you have asked you would be happy to include him again.

This won't be easy and may not be successful. But I think it is important that your son see that you mean what you say. I also think it is important to be very matter-of-fact about it. It is not a negotiable issue. I have done this when I drive one of my three son's carpools. I explain at the outset to the car full of usually all boys, that certain language and behavior is not acceptable in my car. Almost always they comply, if they don't I remind them. On the rare occasion it continues, I pull the car over and stop. I usually say nothing and they get it and stop. Boys can be well behaved

When I watch other kids with my child, I discipline them for the same things that I discipline my child for. It sounds like Ben has not had anyone really show him what good behavior is. Tell him what is acceptable and what is not if he wants to continue to play with Sam (and be sure tell him that you would love them to continue to play together). If he misbehaves, do and say to him what you would do and say with your son. You may not be able to do anything about the mom, but you can talk with Ben and deal with his behavior. good luck!

As the mother of a 10 month old, I haven't had to deal with these issues yet but I do have some gut feelings about your situation. Having been raised by a mother like you who expected good behavior at ALL ages, I know kids can behave when it's expected. I'm sure this is a very stressful situation given how close your son is to ''Ben'' and that ''Ben'' doesn't have any other friends. It seems obvious why he doesn't. If I were you, I would explain very simply to Ben that his behavior is unacceptable at your house and when he is Sam's guest. I've been amazed at how adaptable kids are; behaving well when they know they can't get away with bad behavior. Kids recognize and welcome limits. Unfortunately, talking to his mother directly isn't working so try it with him. Explain clearly what you expect and the types of behavior you want him to exhibit as well as the consequenses if he doesn't behave. Show him how to behave at a restaurant (basic manners, coloring, reading a menu, etc). Sadly, it seems he's never been taught and may not know what to do. Then follow through. If he misbehaves, leave the situation and take him home. My guess is he'll learn very quickly that if he wants to hang out with Sam and do all the fun things you provide, he'll straighten up. It may take a few times but I think he'll get it. Best of luck and by the way: Sam is very lucky to have a Mom who cares so much about him and his friends. No Farting at my table either

Just because your parenting style is different than this boy's family uses at home, doesn't mean you can't follow it. I think if it's in your house, it's your rules. There's nothing wrong with your rules. If you are out and about, you are in charge and he has to follow your rules. This doesn't need to be a challenge for him. Don't worry about getting approval or offending the other mom. Wouldn't you expect your son to follow her rules if he was at his friend's house? IMHO

If I were your situation, I would continue to allow your son to invite Ben over to play, but I would not include Ben in any future outings. At some point, your son will choose to stop playing with this boy or he will make him shape up. If the other Mom asks why he isn't included in outings, you are within your right to say that he is 'just too much of a handful for you.' Period.

It sounds like you have tried talking to the other Mom about your concerns. Her line 'Boys will be boys' is a bit of a cop out, but in reality may just mean that she is overwhelmed with the situation or doesn't know how to work on certain behaviors with her son. I think that we've all 'been there' at some point or another with our children. Most of us choose not to throw up our hands, but try to find an effective way of handling unappealing behaviors. Maybe this woman will come around, but until then you don't need to deal with it publicly. You actually don't need to deal with it at all, but I generally find playdates at my house to be easy even if I don't always approve of another child's behavior. -anon

There's nothing you can do about Ben's mom, so stop worrying about her. Also, don't invite Ben over as a charity case, ''because he has no friends.'' However, if *your son* likes Ben, simply make it clear to Ben that while he's in your house (or with you on a trip), that he must follow your rules. You might want to curtail the treats like baseball games or restaurant trips with Ben until he learns to behave. Tell him you're not going to take him out again until he has demonstrated good behavior at your house.

You're actually doing Ben and his mom a big favor by being strict like this. Maybe he'll actually learn some normal behavior! Nine years old is plenty old enough to not be disruptive in public. No wonder he has no friends! The sad part is that unless his mom learns to teach him to set limits, he will be a miserable adult too, because no one will like him then either, and he will not understand why. feel sorry for spoiled kids

When you have responsibility for a child, I believe that you can set the limitations for that child. I would not tolerate the behavior that you describe from any child that I was out with. I think that Ben is old enough that you can tell him what the expectations are if he is going to go out with you. Let him know that he will not be invited if he can not meet your expectations. When you are out with him if he is acting out, take him home immediately, even if it means spoiling the day for your son.

Since you have already talked to his mother, and she made it clear that she does not think that there is an issue, you will not change her mind.

When my children are with another adult/family I tell them that they must follow the rules of that family. It is so nice of you to take another child with you to the movies, baseball games, etc., that you should feel comfortable. Meanwhile, encourage your son to branch out and invite other kids to come with you. You might find another boy and family that is more aligned with your parenting style. Joan Bell

Does ''Ben'' have special needs? The behavior you describe would not even be tolerated by my 3 and 5 year olds (and I have a very active son).

When my kids have playmates over, we go by house rules. I think I would make it very clear to Sam that if he is to go on an outing with you and your son, that he must follow appropriate behavior, or else he won't be allowed to go with you anymore. There is a reason that the other kids won't play with him and his mother is not doing him any favors by brushing this off as normal boy behavior. anon

7-year-old's friendship with 14-year-old neighbor

March 2008

My best childhood friend's 7 year old daughter has made friends with a 14 year old girl in her condo complex. The 14 year old is very immature for her age.At first my friend thought by having talks with her daughter about making different choices than her friend - since the teen talks back and often disobeys her parents, her daughter would be ok. They see each other several times per week.

The other nite my friend found some papers with things like ''have sex with a boy'' and more explicit things i guess they were using to play a game with. My friend was horrified, but unsure what to do. She was thinking of giving the teen a second chance, talking with her daughter about why it was wrong and sex in general. For me it seems clear that this was beyond reasonable and that ''talking with your daughter'' was not going to sufficiently address the situation - that 7 years of age was far to young to be exposed,let alone try to comprehend in a game,the actions they were toying with. I also told her that she is putting far too much responsibility on her daughter and that it was unreasonable to think her daughter could possibly make the ''good choices'' all the time when she is at a buffet of bad ones.

Aside from this, her daughter's best friend at school is very poorly behaved - so much so that her daughter's teacher has made it known that she doesn't think it's the best idea for her to be best friends with this other child. So she can't be constantly going against these friends who make more bad choices than good ones.

I have shared my feelings - but i know my friend is challenged when it comes to putting her foot down with her kids. I suggested that she try to find opportunities for her daughter to play with other kids. We also discussed how to share these findings with the 14 year old's dad with whom she is friendly with.

I'm also a bit concerned that if this continues (or is it too late) since my 5 year old adores my friend's daughter - but now I'm not sure if she will share these ideas with her!

I'm wondering if there are things that we have not considered in this situation, what others would do and how to enforce the new boundaries? I know her daughter will protest fiercely and that will be very hard on her mother. concerned

You gave your friend wonderful advice. I hope she takes it. Her daughter needs to meet girls who are not a bad influence. Is her daughter's self-esteem so low that she always seeks out the misfit kids? Counseling wouldn't hurt, either.

Maybe the daughter could entertain your daughter (under your watchful eye) for awhile, until your friend is able to get her into a class at the Y or any activity where she'll meet kids who are not future delinquents. Peer-pressure believer

Wow -- your post was horrifying. I would absolutely not let this 7-year-old spend any more time with this 14-year-old. The whole thing sets off all sorts of alarm bells to me. 7 is way too young to know how to deal with anything sexual. I would worry about abuse. ''Explaining'' to the 7-year-old is not going to cut it -- you have to tell your friend to take her child away from this 14-year-old immediately. The only exception would be if the girl's mother is in the room with them all the time. Sorry to be so harsh, but this really sounded scary. I would also not let your 5-year-old have contact with the 7-year-old unsupervised either -- who knows what she has been exposed to?

Helping my 5 year old with mean friend

Nov 2007

Hey there, one and all. So, my eldest daughter recently started Kindergarten. She's among the youngest in the class, having just turned 5 at the end of the summer, and the class is very small, just 14 kids, only 5 of whom are girls. Among this 5 is a very glamorous, charming 6 year old who I will call simply M. My kid fell head over heels for this girl in about ten minutes, and the first couple of weeks was all 'I want to be like M, M is my best friend, M found a cure for cancer at recess today' and like that. However, it has now become clear that M stands for Mean, and my kid is floundering with a couple of issues: 1) What do you do when someone you like is mean to you? 2) How do you stand up for yourself if you're afraid that person won't be your friend any more? 3) What do you do if that person 'forces' you to be mean to other kids? (Yes, I raised a collaborator, oh the shame.) My kid is intense and sensitive, and is behaving very well at school and then blowing a gasket when she gets home. Screaming, yelling, pulling unbelievable 'tude, hitting, then bursting into tears, you name it. She is clearly acting out the anger she is subduing at school, and I am trying to support the feelings without supporting the behavior, etc etc, but it's hard work. Can anyone suggest good books, tools, movies, methods for helping her get through this? Obviously this is a lesson that keeps coming up over and over, but when I talk to her she gets all teenagery about it and demands that I 'not talk to her ANY MORE' (exit, slamming door). I would giggle in her face, but that's probably not a good strategy. Help! Abbi, mother of a 5 year old teenager

My first reaction is: where is the teacher? We went through this in a way when my son was around that age. I confronted the teachers with the issue. The teachers did do some classroom behavior social graces type of education and practice. It seemed to help for a while and then the issue started again. The mean girl in our situation actually confronted ME, which opened the door for me to have a dialogue on niceness with her. THAT, interestingly enough, seemed to settle the issue once and for all. Not that I necessarily condone that, but I am really good at appropriately calling kids on their ''stuff'' and helping them figure out another way. There are good books out there. Books on bullying would be helpful. Also, there are some books out on ''Mean Girls'' and ''Queen Bees''. I am not remember the titles right now...perhaps google those phrases? I would separate the girls. I wish you the very best, it is a certainly a challenge. anon

Read the book called Odd Girl Out. I forget the author's name right now but it is a very good book about social dynamics and cliques in the little girl world. The author points out that little boys seem to play less social games than little girls. It's actually kind of a scary book since she points out that little girls' social games can scar some people's psyches into adulthood! It offers helpful suggestions about how to encourage your daughter to not be a bully or participate in the scapegoating or ostracism of her peers. Rebecca

Hi--This is a common problem for girls, which will play out year after year in school. You probably won't like my advice, but here it is:

1) What do you do when someone you like is mean to you? Point out to her that if someone is mean to her, they are not acting like a friend. She should look for other kids to play with if this girl continues to be mean. If you daughter insists on hanging out with this mean kid, then tell her she shouldn't complain about being treated badly.

2) How do you stand up for yourself if you're afraid that person won't be your friend anymore? That person is not her friend anyway if she's being mean to your daughter. If your daughter continues to follow around a girl who's mean to her, she's learning to be a doormat---nip it in the bud.

3) What do you do if that person 'forces' you to be mean to other kids? Your daughter needs to know that she cannot blame anyone else for her behavior. No one can make her be mean to other kids. If she chooses to be mean she is just being a follower. good luck

You may want to try something that you wouldn't do if your daughter was dealing with a mean 13 y.o. Keep in mind this girl is only 5 - although she may seem like the evil prom queen/head cheerleader you remember from high school, she IS a five year old. Suggest that your daughter have the girl over for a playdate. You can monitor their interaction and see what's going on, and you can talk to the girl directly. Seeing you deal with this girl yourself will also empower your daughter and de-mystify this girl's mystique. If she's nice to your daughter one-on-one, and mean in a group, you can talk with your daughter about why that might be, too (insecurity). Good luck.

We are also dealing with a similar issue with my 4 yr old in preschool. I'm not sure how effectively, but my plan of action is 1. To allow her to express her anger without violence. This is hard, because I have to recognize it's not about the immediate issue or directed at me, personally. Also, I'm not sure if she is mature enough to exercise any judgement about what physical expression is appropriate. At this point, she gets an immediate consequence for violent expression and constant reminders at the time and during calm moments about appropriate physical expressions (kicking the floor, jumping, hitting pillows) I accept that at this age the concept might not stick and my job is to give consistent consequences and constant reminders about appropriate behavior. 2. To help her find individual things she is good at. I was the target of ''mean girls'' in junior high and what saved me was playing violin and having music class friends that didn't go to my school. I put a lot of energy into keeping up my daughter's non-school friendships and pointing out things at school that she does well when I pick her up-like ''you really work hard and make beautiful things in the art corner'' . 3. To act out mean scenarios with her where I'm the meanie and she tells me (in a strong but appropriate way) what she thinks about that, or with dolls and each doll deals with it differently (she is pretty happy when the mean doll and the violent doll get in trouble). I read a book called ''Raising Calm and Compassionate Children'' that talks about helping kids find their own personal power. That's what we are trying to do. anon

Kindergarten boyfriends?!?

Oct 2007

Call me old-fashioned but this has me bothered! My daughter has just started kindergarten, and during a playdate I heard one of the little girls from her class talking about how another little boy was her boyfriend -- they hold hands, he gives her little presents, their ''playdates'' are called dates. Not that this is a HUGE deal, but isn't this a bit inappropriate? They may not be doing anything that parents would dissapprove of now, but to me it just seems like gateway behavior -- the first step in contextualizing (sexualizing even) relationships in a way that is not realistically appropriate for years to come for these kids. I just think it warrants pointing out to kids (although I would not say it to someone else's kid, I would most certainly tell mine) that kindergarteners actually don't have boyfriends and girlfriends, just plain old friends and gender doesn't factor in -- am I the only one for whom this just doesn't sit right? I see the wisdom in not making a big deal about it, but does anyone else think that it is maybe just a little bit of a deal, so to speak? Just curious -- Old-fashioned mommy

I think this boyfriend/girlfriend thing is pretty normal at that age. I have a 4yo and he has a ''girlfriend'' (his word) at preschool -- basically they're just best friends. I think it's kind of cute/funny. I remember my 1st and 2nd grade classmates having mock weddings at recess -- I think they're just exploring another aspect of the grownup world, like playing fireman or chef or whatever. If you don't make a big deal out of it, they probably won't either. Not Stressing

It's no surprise that little kids, little girls especially, pick up on these messages about themselves and about gender relationships. I've always found it's important not to judge or lecture (they are just trying to adapt to their world, after all, which is something we praise them for all the time), but instead to ask questions. ''Really? What is a girlfriend/boyfriend?'' ''Why do boys buy girls gifts? Do boys get gifts too? How does that work?'' ''Gee, I wonder what would happen if...'' Usually, the kids have their own interpretations of these things, since they're just getting stereotypes from the culture around them, and then supplying their own ''reasons'' for it. I've had some very interesting conversations with my kids (now 4 and 9) about such things (gender, race, disability, wealth, etc), just by asking questions. With a few ''Hmm. I don't get it''s thrown in. I hope such conversations continue into the 'tween years, when their assumptions about the social world get really nutty. The point is to get them *thinking about it on their own* and not just having your well-meaning words go in one ear and out the other. Oh yeah, and we'd all be better off if no one bought their little girls ''Born to Shop'' t-shirts. Sheesh. Think ''Chauncey Gardner''

When my brother was in kindergarten (in 1985) he had a girlfriend - he called her his ''true love''. He had another true love in first grade. He then remained single until middle school. I think it's pretty cute. older brother

OMG!! Your post really brought back the memories for me. I was one of those kindergardeners who had a ''boyfriend'' (34 years ago, now!). Mostly we played together, but one day I kissed him on the mouth. WOW it was electric! I was determined to get him into the girls bathroom and do some more of THAT. Never got the chance though. He and his parents moved back to France. Sigh.

So, speaking from personal experience, you're way overreacting. I was not some overly sexualized kindergardener, I was a normal kid who was curious. I didn't engage in truly sexual behavior until I was much older, made sure the first one was a nice guy, managed to avoid pregnancy and STD's and am generally a happy well- adjusted adult, with a healthy sex-life.

I think that children can have curiosity about sex and sexuality quite early (I certainly did). Unfortunately, there are sick adults out there who use this fact to assert that children are, therefore ready for sex quite early (with said adults). I absolutely disagree, obviously, but I do think that exploring (by that, I mean calling one another ''boyfriend'' and ''girlfriend'' and even ''playing doctor'') with their peers is perfectly normal and NOT ''gateway'' behavior. Frisky-At-Five

I think Kindergarteners DO actually have crushes and are attracted to others, so your daughter may be having this with the boy. I would talk with her about ALL the kinds of relationships we have, boyfriends, girlfriends, just friends, etc. I think there is a problem when she would think that's the only kind of relationship she can have with a boy. I know I did and my daughter did have boys as ''just friends'' when we were little. It makes a good mix especially in the 5-6-7th grades when the girls' relationships can get so psychologically complicated, what a relief it is to just go and play basketball with the boys! anon

You are not old fashioned! My friend and I were just having this discussion and find it a little unsettling, too. I feel so old when I say this, but no one I knew had kindergarten boyfriends 'back in our day'. I think given the messages about sex in the media, it is our responsibility to counterbalance that...I think your response about everyone being friends is excellent...and I DREAD the day my nine-month-old hits kindergarten! anonymous

I remember having crushes and boyfriends as early as kindergarten. It never lead to anything serious or even sexual experimentation. However, it is part of sexual development and I think asking kids to repress these normal feelings and expression of feelings is asking for more trouble. anon

Boy can I relate! My kindergarten daughter told me that she has a ''boyfriend'' who happens to be a 10 year old boy! I have no idea what that means to her but it made me very uncomfortable. I spoke with my daughter's teacher about it and have said to my daughter that the time for boyfriends will come later. But I don't know what else to do. I look forward to reading other responses. anon

Well...they aren't doctors, or astronauts, or mommies or daddies or fairies, or dancers, or dogs, either. Depending on the context, what you're hearing about could be no more dangerous or confusing than all the other fantasies little kids have. I think I'd ask the girl's mom about the whole thing - whether she knows, and what she thinks, etc., but just out of curiosity.

I remember being engaged for most of elementary school -- and even who I was engaged to -- but I don't remember anymore if he knew or cared about our engagement. Heather

I agree with you 100 percent! Kids that age have a hard time with boundaries. What starts off as ''cute and innocent'' can easily lead to behavior that in this day and age with zero tolerance and elementary school student sexual harrassment suits/policies, could get a kid expelled.

I'd raise it with the teacher if you're not comfortable discussing it with the parents. Also I'd bring this situation up in casual conversation at the next birthday party or class gathering to gauge where other parents are on this issue. It's possible they don't even know it's going on.

Either way, I think the tact you are taking in discussing this with your child is dead-on. Who cares if you're old-fashioned. You have to do what you think is best for your child. For what it's worth, there's at least one other mom (and dad) out here who agree with you. old-fashioned too

I wouldn't worry about it. When I was in first grade, I had a ''boyfriend'' for some time (a week? Can't remember). We called each other boyfriend and girlfriend and made a big deal about it. At one point, someone dared us to kiss and he kissed me on the lips! (It was very quick and clumsy and I thought it was yucky.) Anyway, I think these are harmless ways kids explore adult roles. Don't make a big deal out of it and this too shall pass. Andi

I have to disagree, just based on personal experience. Not only did I have a ''boyfriend'' in kindergarten, the boy (my next door neighbor) and I were engaged to be married, too!

Not only did he and I not marry (though we are good friends, as we should be), I turned out to be a fairly late-bloomer in relationships, marriage, etc.

We were mimicking what was around us--our parents' relationships, our older siblings--and that's it. It passed as quickly as it came. just a phase

I wouldn't worry too much about this. I'm 41, and when I was in kindergarten I had two fiancees--little boys my age who had each given me Cracker Jacks rings and had promised to marry me. That kind of play ended for me after kindergarten and wasn't a sign of anything sexual at all. As long as this isn't something being pushed on the children by adults, I'd classify this as play-acting and not worry about it. Anon

Not to minimize your concern, I had to laugh when I read your note. I had a girlfriend in kindergarten (we held hands, called each other boyfriend and girlfriend, even kissed in the cloak room once). My next girlfriend was freshman year in high school. The next one after that was junior year in college. Let's just say that my kindergarten thing was not a gateway to anything... :) Kingergarten was the high point! :)

I think the problem with you is you are seeing things with ''adult eyes.'' Children are children and their innocence is a beauty and something to be cherished and admired. I fondly remember having a huge crush on a boy when I was in kindergarten/first grade. Why start the judgments so soon? Let children be children and relax. anon

my daughter's in 1 grade. i recall she and her best friend spent much time last year chasing a particular boy, and she'd tell me she was ''in love'' with him, wanted to marry him...

as i recall, my best friend since 3rd grade (in 1972!!!) had a ''boyfriend'' in 1st grade that she would hide with and kiss during recess. and last year i heard that several girls at her (then kindergarten) son's school were all claiming him for a boyfriend, which he found mostly irritating, although he likes girls a lot. especially mine. ;)

so relax, they're just ''trying on'' the gender roles, and practicing crushes, and it seems to be more about relating to their girl peers than to the boys. anon

Oh, please! Children are children! anon

Don't worry! Kid's play reflects their world; they play mommy and daddy, fire fighter, teacher, you name it. My son was engaged to be married in kindergarten. He and his fiancee eventually had an amicable break up. They are still in the same class. I am just waiting until they are grown up and I can tease them about it. Berkeley mom

I'm remembering the Beverly Cleary books - didn't Ramona run around telling everyone she was going to marry Henry Huggins when she was in kindergarten? Those books were written in the 50s or 60s, too, I believe. So this has been around for a while, I think. Also Old-Fashioned But Unalarmed By Kindergarten Crushes

First grade daughter lacks a good friend

April 2007

My daughter is in a Berkeley public school, does well above the standard performance, is fun, kind, and happy. She has a collection of friends who she plays with at recess here and there, but hasn't any one friend in particular who she is close to. She also plays soccer, goes to Sunday school, and camps in the summer. My concern is that there is no one is particular who she is building a friendship with, who comes to her mind as her friend. I see kids in private schools who seem to have more in common with their interests and schedules, and generally hang out together more. Am I missing something here? Thanks for any input. Concerned Mom

I, too, have a first grade daughter in a public school, where she does well academically and socially, but she lacks a ''best friend''. I think this is just the way it is in first grade, at least for a lot of kids. They fall into little groups of friends instead. The ''best friend'' title may even be given to a different kid on different days of the week depending on what happens at school each day. But for the most part, my daughter has 5 or 6 best friends that she hangs out with, not one. If your daughter seems happy, as mine does, I wouldn't worry about it at this point in time. heidi

Sounds to me like she has friends. But I don't know the situation. Perhaps you are looking for one bestest friend. Not all kids operate that way. Does this bother her? One thing you can do to make your family feel more connected to other families in your community is to take the initiative to invite another child or a family along. This can be a child or family from school, or one from soccer, or one from camp. You can reach out and invite a family to meet you at a park at a given time, or at a swimming pool in the community during open swim time. Or the library. Or for pizza. Starting at a neutral spot may be easier for you or for them. Or can you have an after-school play date with one child and then bring them home later, or have their parents pick them up at your home? Do you go to school evnets? Get to know the other families in your child's class and ask the most likely candidates if they'd like to do ''x'' with your daughter and you some time, and then follow-through and set it up. Have fun! Anon

If your daughter is happy, why are you worried? It sounds like she has a nice collection of friends. I don't think it would be different for her at a private school. It seems like there is this feeling that if we send our kids to public school that they are somehow ''missing something'' (i get that way too, sometimes). kids are kids wherever they go to school. maybe yours is just the kind that prefers groups to one-on-one play.

From what you wrote, this sounds like your issue - not hers. Your daughter is doing lots of great things and not everyone has a best friend in first grade. I think the best thing you can do here is just relax and let her be herself. Heather Jacobsen

Hi- I have two thoughts. One, is she happy? Maybe it's all OK with her. Two, happy or unhappy, at her age you have some control over her social life. You can socialize with other parents and make playdates with the ones whose kids play with your daughter at school, or have get-togethers with other families. Also, let her know she can ask so-and-so over if she wants to. This might just get the ball rolling. Anon

6-year-old sits out recess, won't play with other kids

Feb 2007

My 6 y.o. son's teacher has expressed some concern about my son's retreating during recess. She was wondering if there was something happening at home. When I told her there wasn't she seemed surprised. Apparently my son refuses to play with other children and instead sits in a far off corner, during recess he opts to stay close to the teacher on duty instead of playing with the other kids. He's always been a happy go lucky kid with tons of confidence, but lately he does not seem happy, sulks quite a bit and gets easily frustrated. I've talked to him about what is going on at school, if there are any kids mistreating him, if he's happy, etc. etc and although he answers each question I feel that there is something he is not telling. He's asked me not accept birthday party invitations, but I don't want to encourage his behavior.Is this a developmental phase or should we seek professional help? My husband and I are very concerned and don't know what to do. Concerned Mom

This sounds terrible! I have no idea what is going on, but it sounds like your son is scared of another child or of getting in trouble or something. Just guessing. You need to get him to talk to you. Maybe he isn't telling you because he thinks you might be disappointed, or thinks he might get in trouble? The book ''How to talk so your kids will listen & listen so your kids will talk'' is pretty good at giving skills on reluctant talkers. Not rocket science, but may have some helpful hints. Best Wishes Read that book myself

He sounds really unhappy and might benefit from talking to a counselor. I had some creeps bullying/harassing me at school when I was a little older, at 9 and 11, and though it didn't make me less social, it was really disturbing. Each time it was only one person, so not obvious to a teacher, probably. In both cases, I felt so sensitive about it that I didn't want to tell even my parents. (As a parent now, I hate to think that my kids won't turn to me with their problems. But from my own experience I know that kids often keep troubles to themselves, even with extremely loving, supportive parents like mine!) At age 9, I must have finally blurted something out about it, because I remember talking to the school counselor, who then got the kid to stop. I don't remember telling any adult about the incident when I was 11. Bullying or not, it seems like it would be good for him to have a chance to talk to a counselor, at school or elsewhere. Perhaps someone he's not emotionally involved with can help figure out what's going on. kept problems to myself

Take heart: whether this is a phase or his personality, there are many ways to help. My son has similar behavior and has been diagnosed with social skills defecits. When I visited the playground, I had great sympathy for him and other kids who are intimidated by the chaos of it all. My son now works with a speech therapist at his school, working in small groups of peers with social nuances: how to start a conversation, read body language, give and take advice/ideas. It has helped quite a bit. I have gotten mixed advice about the playground: some saying let him have his time alone to decompress, and some saying we should be structuring his outside time as well, so that he feels comfortable integrating into a larger group. I am not sure of the answer. My advice is get professional help if the behavior lasts more than a few weeks; the school system or private physchiatrists can be of great help, and there so many resources out there to help kids with basic social skills. Good luck. Anon

Hi, I am so sorry you and your son are struggling, him with an unknown issue, and you with feeling you are left in the dark!

Something IS going on with your son. Trust your instincts...and his teacher's! She has noticed a change and has expressed a concern. Typically a teacher does not jump to a conclusion too if she has approached you, she has been observing this behavior for more than a couple of days.

It is so tricky. Kids do go in and out of phases based on both personality and developmental leaps (and regression) and getting information from a 6 year old can be challenging! See if you can find time when he is playing in his room by himself to ask some leading questions. Tell him a story of when you were young and faced exclusionary play at school (make something up if you have will still go through the pearly gates!) Leave lots of space for him to fill during the conversation, and try NOT to make much eye contact until he really starts to open up. Make suggestions of trusted adults he could confide in if he ''ever had a problem he didn't feel comfortable expressing to you''. One job of parents is to help their children learn how to get help...since it won't always be you they turn to! Make a journal with him that he can draw in. Tell him you would be happy to help him write any words in it or take dictation. Let him know that he can write silly, funny, wacky, things as well as frustrations, sadness, anger, and fears. Don't suggest to him it is private...or it will be one more way he keeps information hidden. On the other hand, don't suggest it isn't private...or he may not use it. Just be neutral as to it's privacy and let him take it from there. Keep in contact with his teacher. If you discover an issue TRY to remain calm and think through steps to help HIM work it through. Consider that what you hear is from his perspective. Believe him and yet know it may not be a complete picture.

ALWAYS trust your instinct with the caveat that humans experience events depending on their own perspective on them. For instance he may feel excluded by a group of kids. They may not know he feels that way. They may not know he is even there...or they start to notice that he is feeling excluded...and that power that they have just realised...becomes very alluring. Then they exclude him on purpose. Then maybe they tease him. They see that that gets a reaction...more power. and so on.

On the other hand, it may not be about exclusion at all. Keep listening for clues to the issue!

I know you will both figure this out with some creative navigation on your part! Niki

5-year-old not sociable, prefers her own company

Feb 2007

I have a five year-old girl who is very intelligent and independent. She is capable of handling herself well socially and seems confident in most situations. My concern is that she does not seem interested in developing friendships outside her one close/ best friend. She goes to a great preschool in Oakland and interacts with the other kids, just doesn't seem that interested in play dates with her classmates. I set them up and am often disappointed in how they turn out (they play little together or she gets bossy and wants to only do things her way). She spends A LOT of time reading (she has been a fluent reader since she was 4) and playing make-believe on her own or asks me to join in. Does this sound ''normal'' to you? Are there any other parents out there who have had similar experiences? If so, I'd love to hear your thoughts and any observations of how things pan-out for kids like this over the years. concerned mama

Your daughter sounds very much like mine. She much preferred (and at 9, still prefers) her own company to that of her peers. She's bright, at ease in most settings, a voracious reader - and shares few interests with other children. She has one, maybe two close friendships; at 5 years old I'm not sure she even had one. I also worried, and still do at times. I want her to be happy. But when I'm honest with myself, I see that she is happy. She's different from her peers, but comfortable in her skin and happy with her life. I expect that she'll always be a bit ''different,'' but I try to concentrate on making her strong in who she is, so she can weather the sometimes difficult times I know she'll have to go through. Sophie's Mom

My daughter sounds a lot like yours. She's 6 1/2 and has been reading fluently since she was 4 as well. She will insist, however, that she learned on her 5th birthday, since that's when she *said* she was going to learn! She's very independent and enjoys other kids but most of the time she can take them or leave them. She's very happy playing by herself with her little people in her room, or reading, or whatever. My son is the opposite! I think that my daughter and your daughter just have a very good sense of self. I think that it's kind of neat. laurel

I can only speak to how I was as a kid, not being a mom yet. However, you could be describing me when I was little--I read about your daughter and I totally see myself. I was a early reader, very precocious, and just didn't get close to a lot of other kids. I wasn't unhappy--I just liked reading and being in my own head better than doing ''normal kid stuff.'' I was always getting in trouble for reading when I was supposed to be ''having fun.'' By middle school, this pretty much worked itself out--I got interested in other activities, met people I liked, and had friends like any normal kid. Now, in my 40s, I'm incredibly social. I think I just had to find people I liked interacting with, and I didn't feel unfulfilled if they weren't around . . . I just read a book (still do as a matter of fact--I've been known to read a book at a punk rock show if I didn't like the band. I consider that ability a plus, not a handicap!) If you're really worried, I'd say try to figure out stuff she'd really like (dance, gymnastics, art, etc.) and get her involved in classes around those interests. That's what really helped turn me from a bookworm to a person involved with others-- sharing activities. Former Weird Kid

I would not worry too much. She has one good friend - the key is to have one friend to buffer against social isolation. She doesn't sound that interested in socializing, but it sounds like she is comfortable with peers, so again not a red flag for problems. My daughter is also an obsessive reader and we have a rule that she cannot read when a friend is over. It took her awhile to become interested in play dates and eventually it happened. Anon

We have a daughter who is almost five and your daughter sounds quite a bit like mine. (Your description of playdates sounds way too familiar.) My 10-year old niece is similar too. I don't have any good advice, but I wanted you to know that you're not alone. My niece has a couple of good friends and does exceptionally well in school. She might not ever become Ms. Popular and have a huge group of friends, but I think she'll do just fine in life. I try to remind myself that my daughter will do fine too and that she doesn't (and shouldn't) be like everyone else, even if the behavior seems antisocial sometimes. It's just who she is. I just need to provide social opportunities and encourage her without pushing. (Pushing absolutely doesn't work with my daughter.) Good luck! Me Too

First of all I want to say that your child sounds bright and based on your brief description of her characteristics, may be possibly ''gifted''. You said yourself that, ''she is capable of handling herself well socially and seems confident in most situations''. To me that says it all!!! If SHE is happy with her level of social activity and enjoys reading, then let her be and don't force her to be or to behave in a way that she is not comfortable with. Accept ''her'' as she is. You expressed that, ''my concern is that she does not seem interested in developing friendships outside her one close/ best friend''. Some people are just interested in having one good friend and that is enough for them, yet there are others who enjoy having multiple friendships. Some of us are intoverted, while others are extroverted. One way is not better than another, it is just how each of us are in our own unique way.

I am an introverted adult and was somewhat as a child. I was one of those children who had one great friend, (we are still best friends 43 years later!!!). Growing up I always felt wierd or that there was something wrong with me, with how I was. My mother, much to her credit, used to say that most people can only count their really good friends on one hand!

It wasn't until I was an adult that I began to understand that HOW I am in the world is okay. I have also always enjoyed spending a lot of alone time inspite of living in a society of primarily extroverted individuals. I now have a 7 year old daughter that may be of a similar personality type. I'll admit that I was a little bit uneasy at first because I still carry a bit of old baggage that says that having lots of friends and being outgoing is better. But then I realized that I can empathize with her because I understand intimately her unique style and the beautiful way that she is. sympathetic mom

She sounds normal. My daughter used to be like that. Now, she has lots of friends and is always talking to them.I think it's a phase. anon

Gosh, this sounds just like me as a child. Here's how I turned out. I've always liked one-on-one interactions more than big groups. Not a big fan of parties full of strangers. Learned to be less bossy. Still really like to read. Pretty creative and into art stuff and solitary pursuits. Did relatively well in high school, did better in college. Did not fully understand the girl social scene as a child. Would've liked my parents to accept my non-girliness better. Been married over ten years, have two great kids, have been gainfully employed for most of adult life. Consider myself ''normal.'' Hope this helps. Introvert

Your posting brought me back to my childhood. I was exactly like your daughter. I never had issues with it. I was happy that way and I have to say that throughout my life (I am now 32) it has given me so much strenght. To this day i watch my peers being so dependant on others for validation and feedback and think how lucky i was that i did not that. It certainly helped me not keep toxic people in my life. But i have to say that i felt innapropriate as long as i lived near my parents/family. They felt it was weird and always made little comments that hurt my feelings. Ultimately i never changed because i was happy that way but it did damage my relationship with my parents and relatives as i felt they never accepted me and i don't even live near them now. However I do have very close friends but I was only able to develop that kind of friendships in my late 20s..when it seemed to me that people were then more true to themselves. I have a husband a baby and interract a lot more now but still have what i think are very good boundaries with others....and it makes me happy. What is wrong with the way she is? It's the way she wants to be. She isn't rude, innapropriate or doing bad things. just being herslef. and she deserves that. So let her be wh she is and she will be thankful for that later on. magaliusa

That was me at 5! I also learned to read at 4, and wanted to read ALL the time-outside, in math class, you name it-I was always getting in trouble about it. (: I had a couple of friends that I enjoyed but really preferred my own company most of the time. I was on the more introverted end of things until college- and from then on I've been definitely social and extroverted-but I still love to read! I'm always sad to hear the range of behavior and personality that exists in people questioned as ''not normal''. Just think of all the adults you know-some quiet, some loud, some introverted, some extroverted-it's all ok. It takes all kinds to make a world. Former Shy Girl

9 yr. old son kissed a friend that was a boy

Nov 2006

our 7 yr. old neighbor (boy) just recently told me (he was laughing when he said it) that my 9 yr. old boy tried to kiss him twice. once in a dark closet. i have never suspected my son to be gay, but this seems like a clear indication? i don't want to ask him about it because i don't want to draw attention to it and make him feel bad, but on the other hand i'm curious as to what's going on? i think the neighbor boy was telling the truth when he said it but i'm not sure it means what i think. we recently moved to a remote area and changed schools twice in one year. he is lonely i know it and has always wanted a brother. anyone have any advice ? confused mom anonymous

Rather than assuming anything at all, I think I would have (as soon as you were told) just asked your son what the story was. Sometimes its hard to be as casual as an occasion warrants, but making a big deal of what is likely to be an impulsive action isn't the way to go. In my book taking this as ''a clear indication'' that your son is gay is as harmful as would be going off on him because you're afraid he might be. I remember having a very odd experience one night (at about that age) with a (girl) friend who is also now happily married, with 3 children (and not gay). If our parents had ''accepted'' us, or ''rejected'' us, it would have been equally harmful. Calm Mom

I am a straight married man with kids saying that many boys at that age do this (I did) and I think it's considered normal and is not necessarily an indication of anything. Tim

First of all, what would do if it had been a girl instead? Would you talk to him about it? If so, I would react the same way to it. Just ask him about his feelings. Secondly, if he is going to be gay, he will probably know it already (though he might not know exactly what that entails) He's sure to have feelings (crushes) on other boys by now. I don't think it would benfit either of you to not talk about it. Do you think it would make him feel badly if it had been a girl and you brought it up? I think if you talk to him openly about it, you will not only NOT make him feel badly about it, but you will give him the message that you support him no matter what he is feeling. If you don't talk to him about it, and he turns out to be gay, you might be unconsciously be telling him that you don't approve of or support him, and hopefully that is not the case. anon

I think you need to talk to your son about appropriate and inappropriate behavior. This is something that could get him in trouble, if not dealt with. I wouldn't stress the gay versus not gay thing, as much as it's not okay to try to kiss other kids. You might want to talk to a counselor about this as well. If we lived in another society it wouldn't be a deal, but I think in this society, it's best to teach your children to not try to kiss other children, especially a nine year old trying to kiss a seven year old. I am not being judgmental, but I just think a hands off policy is best. You can deal with his sexuality later, as needed. Anon.

My neice has exibited gender bender speach and behavior ever since she was 2 years old. We suspected that she migh be gay, but thought that it could also be young misunderstandings of social conventions. She is now 12 and has come out tho her mother(my sister) as being bi-sexual. We have alsways been very careful with her and her sister(not gay), not to do or say things that would imply that beeing straigt is the way you should be and to emphasize that there is nothing wrong or strange about people with different lifestyles than the heterosexual norm. For example we never teased or asked if they had ''boyfriends'' in kindergarten, and when someone at their school started using the term ''gay'' as a put-down we countered her usage with pointing out that there was nothing wrong with being gay and acted like it was a bizarre thing for her to imply. It seems that she is growing up with a very good self image and we hope that she will avoid a lot of the shame people feel about their sexuality if it is different from the ''norm''.

I think it is much better to talk about it with your son, but you must be very careful not to imply, in any way, that it would be a bad thing if he is gay so you might want to think about what you will say and pepare yourself, because from your post it sounds like it's something that bothers you(but that you don't want to admit it- which is a perfectly valid way to feel- and quite normal). ''Not wanting to bring attention to it'' is just like saying ''lalala this isn't happening, if I ignore it maybe it will go away''- and the unspoken message is that it is a bad thing, kids pick up on those messages. I think the healthiest message is that some people are gay and some people aren't and it really doesn't matter either way- confront it and bring attention to it, bu then don't oever emphasise it's importance. This can be hard if you havent stared talking aboput sex with your kids yet- but 9 is not to early. The truth is that some kids start experimenting with theire seuality as early as 12, ad it is better to start the dialog wth them before they get to that point wether they are gay or straight. proud aunt

You think this is a clear indication he's gay? No way. Did you not ever play with your little girl friends when you were a kid? It's simply because we tend to play with our own gender as a child, so that's what's available. If this neighbor were a girl, and they kissed each other, people would say ''Oh that's cute''. Keep that in mind and treat it the same way you would treat it if you knew he had kissed a girl in the closet. Might he actually be gay though? Sure, just as much as any other kid. The issue is not his orientation, but how you feel about your 7yo kissing other kids, and whether or not you think that sort of physical affection is okay at his age, and what boundaries he should have, etc. anon

I think it's time to have a discussion with your son just as if he'd kissed a 7 year old girl - about feelings, consent, saying and accepting ''no,'' and then any values you might have about romantic feelings and sexual exploration at this age, with an invitation to come talk to you anytime. *Not* talking about it can induce embarrassment and shame - what is wrong with calling attention to it? He may know that he's gay or may be bisexual or he may just be kissing someone handy. You can save him years of difficulty by accepting him for whatever he is, while stressing the importance of physical and emotional safety for him and whomever he chooses to kiss. Dana

Hello, I wanted to respond about your 9 year old. I am a father of two little ones but was once a ten year old boy that started experimenting with friends, boys and girls, and the only trouble it led to came about from parents being told, kids getting scolded and some friendships eventually waning. The kind of things i did with boys, less with girls, would have scared adults because of how real and sexual it would have seemed, but we were innocent and our imagination not yet tainted by any pornograghic exposure or, as far as i know, any adult mistreatment. I think your intuition is good. If he decides to, let your son talk to you about these things since no one is getting hurt. That, in the end is the only thing that matters. I think it is normal that kids, before puberty and self conscious discomfort, play and explore and while i could never say anything about your son's ''orientation'' what he is doing now won't be the defining moment of his adult sexuality. The changes in your boys life makes me think of the 2nd divorce and school change that came around that age in my life, but the couple of friends that explored things with me had married parents and stable homes. It could be part of the equation, but I think it is the age. I had crushes on girls throughout this age but they were unreachable, maybe boyfriends were just closer and less threatening. By fifteen, I was falling in love with a girl and my boyhood exploration with boys had ended. Later in my mid twenties, I had a short adventurous period with men, and it ultimately conctretized my heterosexuality. I have no guilt about those explorations, nor do i feel gay. I will say that my politics were probably affected by my experiences. It comes back around to this issue of safety and honesty again. If no one is getting hurt, I believe everyone should have the right to do as pleases them. Try not to worry yet. His innocence and experience are still one in the same. I hope this helps anonymous

Kids are bursting with emotions. Relax. Everyone loves their friends. The dark closet part bothers me though. Why are kids in dark closets? Stuffy airless spaces aren't healthy. Repeat the no means no & when someone says stop, STOP rules with everyone and let them love each other. They are just goofing off.

First grade daughter's rude best friend

Oct 2006

My first grade daughter, who is pretty cheerful and pleasant, has a very surly best friend. The other girl is an only whose parents work a lot, so I'm sure she gets pretty lonely. That said, she is rude to adults (her own parents included) by talking back, not answering when spoken to, and sighing dramatically when asked to do things. Since this school year has started, my daughter has started picking up on these behaviors and testing them out at home. I have told her that this is unacceptable, and that even though other people may behave this way, that is no reason for her to imitate. I don't want to tell her not to play with this girl (who I hate to have over because besides the reasons above, she is mean to my other child), but I'd welcome any advice on how to make sure this doesn't get out of hand. Sick of Surly Girl

A few years ago, I would have said to relax and try to be a positive influence with the girl, but after our experience with a really mean girl, I have to say: Ease your daughter out of this friendship if you think the girl will not change.

We had a similar issue in kindegarten with my daughter. My daughter picked up horrible habits from a very rude, rule-breaking friend. My daughter is not perfect and she had plenty other nonperfect friends, but for some reason this was the kid she totally emulated. First we tried constructive engagement. We figured if our daughter liked this kid so much, we would be firm but loving with her in our house and hopefully we could at least get her to behave at our house and maybe even affect her behavior overall. Well, that didn't work. She was a total Eddy Haskell who learned to be nice to our faces then we heard her plotting with our daughter how to break the rules we just explained!

Finally, we leveled with our daughter. We told her that we would punish her severely for acting like her. And if it kept up, the friend would never be invited back over to our house and she would not be allowed to go there. We did this without being cruel or condescending about the other girl. We said that the family had a different way of handling things and that it didn't mesh with ours. We also explained to our daughter that she was trying to act like someone else and we expect her to be herself and respect the values we hold as a family. After all was said and done, we ended up moving to another city anyway, so we let the friendship slide. If we had stayed where we were, we would have definitely cut off the friendship. No playdates, she could see the kid at school, period.

This may seem like a minor social issue, but it is important to get your daughter to be true to herself and not act like an ass just to get attention. You need to lay this groundwork NOW, way before the preteens approach Been there and it's awful

Your posting has been bothering me all day, because I have a daughter who can be rude. I might even be the mother of your daughter's rude best friend whom you are sick of. My daughter is an only and I work out of circumstance and necessity. She has many good qualities, including confidence and independence, and I'm truly sorry you are sick of her -- mom of a good girl

I take great offense at your description of your daughter's friend being lonely because she's an only child whose parents work a lot. I have an only child and work full-time. My daughter is a very happy, optimistic child. We will encounter things that we don't like about our children's friends for the rest of their lives. Perhaps you can take this opportunity to talk to your child about how people behave differently, setting some boundaries for playdates at your home, etc. Maybe this girl needs you and your daughter in her life. You're not really doing your daughter and her friend any favors by limiting their contact. But please, do not relate this to the girl being an only child!

10 y.o with no friends at school

Sept 2006

Today while talking about class elections my son quietly volunteered that he was not very popular and on asking the reason informed that no one plays with him during recess.My son has been at this school since kindergarten-granted each year they redistribute classes so they get different classmates but they are the same bunch of people.All day the school gives importance to academic excellence so they cannot talk to each other except at recess and I learned that there are various groups-some playing basketball who won't allow him to play because''You did'nt play with us yesterday'':some play soccor with 7th graders who tell him only two specific students can play with them-and so he tells me he stays by himself.There are teachers but they don't care-it is recess. I don't know how to approach this probelm-I was'nt even aware it existed-My son is an emotional person who has anger outbursts once in a while. Should I approach his teachers? Is there any resource that might be helpful? a distressed mother

The same thing happened to my son. He was sitting alone at the lunch table for the entire recess. He was so upset he didn't want to go to school anymore. Explain the situation to hs teacher and ask her if there's anything she can do to help. My son's teacher was kind enough to step in and help guide him. The first thing she did was have my son and a classmate ''buddy up'' for the day and the next day she and my son approached a couple of different groups and asked it my son could join in. My son now plays with a lot of different children and is happy at recess. Another idea is to arrange play dates outside of school. This will give them a chance to bond one-on-one. Good luck. It broke my heart when my son told me he was lonely at school. Mom of happy child

I'm so sorry that your son is in this challenging situation and know how frustrating it can be as a concerned parent. I would recommend talking with the teachers/administrators immediately just to assess the situation. ''Not caring because it's recess'' is not an excuse in my book--recess is where most social growth happens and bullying too and is a vital part of the school day. The teachers/administrators should be able to give you guidance about other kids your child could interact with or just monitor the soccer and basketball for a few days to make sure the ''you can't play'' doesn't happen so he can join in and get established Next I would recommend giving your kid some tools about recess--what are things that he could do that are ''appropriate'' that would give him social interaction but not require that he try to break into already established cliques. (By appropriate, I mean maybe playing chess or some sort of activity club, but maybe not going inside to the library to read or some other withdrawing from the playground.) I have found that bringing playing cards and playing card games is a good way for my son to engage a few friends. They play something like the old card game War and something else called ''BS''--things that 11 year old boys play. Of course, practice the games at home first so your kid can explain the rules, etc. In addition, our school has a garden that is always a good place to go hang out and work with other kids at recess. Finally, make sure that your kid has a few good friends outside of school. This has been a lifesaver for my son because whenever he feels like he has a rough day at school, he knows that these other 2 kids are out there in the world and they like him and want to spend time with him. That helps on tough days.

Finally, if you have the money, I can recommend that you see a child psychologist to help you have the tools to help your kid in these situations. Some of the ideas I've suggested above have come from a professional I consulted to help me help my son.

These situations are so difficult, but as your child's biggest advocate, I think you can make a difference behind the scenes so he can have a better recess/school experience Been There--My Son is Happier Now

Friendships for brainy 7 year old

Sept 2006

Our seven year old may benefit from meeting other children who are passionate about science and/or examining life and the world around them. He has several friends he has enjoyed and seems well liked at school, but lately (on his own)he has been reporting that most kids he knows don't ''think'' like him, don't ever want to talk about things he is interested in, or are not fun for him to spend time with. He is beginning to feel isolated, that he is unusual (in a bad way) and doesn't feel that he is developing friendships he enjoys. Our goal is to help him become a well rounded individual (e.g., sports activities etc.), but most importantly we want him to be happy and have frienships he enjoys. We are hoping to find clubs, groups or kids that are kindered spirits. Any ideas out there? m

If you were looking for friends for yourself, you'd try classes and groups in things you were interested in. Same principle in helping your child. For the ''average'' kid, school provides enough of a world for friendships; but some kids need a bigger world.

Try afterschool classes at his school (or work with the PTA to bring some there), science classes at Lawrence Hall of Science, and next summer ATDP. Then, you can follow-up with playdates (a good time to make potions or volcanoes in the backyard.) Many studies have shown, it's not the quantity of friends, it's the quality of the friendships. Most of my child's strong friendships are with kids she's met in supplemental classes, or that she knew both at school, and from an activity.

You may want to check your local community center guide. I live in Concord and our city has several classes for kids, including several 'Mad Scientist' camps and classes. The Lindsay Museum in Walnut Creek also has some great classes for kids. My son took an awesome Gross Science class there. Chabot Space and Science Center has classes too. Some libraries have chess clubs and book clubs for kids. There are bound to be other kids enrolled in classes like these that have the same interests your son has. Good luck, and have fun! anon

How about chess? The Berkeley Chess School has classes, workshops, camps and tournaments and the kids who participate in them seem intellectually curious and friendly. CC

My 4th grade son has few friends

Dec 2005

My son lacks social skills. He is very bright and does well academically but does not connect well with other boys or work well in groups. I have been told that he walks to the beat of a different drum. Other kids tease him about being overweight and wearing glasses. He doesn't respond authentically to them but calls them names like ''pooh-head''. Occassionally, he has not worn socks and his feet smelled. He plays alone and works alone, usually. He say he feels like he's ''surrounded by a circle of hate''. I don't want his self-esteem damaged. He is not naturally gregarious. Other kids shun him and he is not popular, but to know my son is to love him (yes, I admit bias). His teacher (and I) very concerned that he learn social negotiation skills. What can I do, besides improving his hygeine? k

My heart goes out to you because this behavior does sound possibly more serious than you may be acknowledging. Could he have early signs of a mental illness? The hygeine issue, feeling in a ''circle of hate'', could be related to depression at the very least, but maybe more. I would have him evaluated soon, as there may be appropriate treatment that could address some of his behavior/feelings. Anon

My daughter did a social skills group through Dr. Kathryn McCarthy at the Berkeley Psychology clinic (649-3399) when she was 8 and it was very helpful, as well as enjoyable for her. I believe Dr. McCarthy has similar groups for boys, or you could try the Ann Martin Center in Piedmont. Good luck! anonymous

Your son sounds very much like my son at that age. I'm happy to report that things got much better when he got older, but it did take some intervention. We found a ''social skills group'' for boys his age that was wonderful. The other boys in the group were similar to him in varying degrees. The group facilitator worked with them how to act in social situations through play and roll-playing. I think he felt comfortable with other kids like himself. I think it really helped to ''practice'' good social skills. Another thing is I realized that I needed to pay more attention to his clothes. He was still wearing sweatpants and velcro sneakers, because it didn't matter to him and I was oblivious. Other kids wore jeans and team jerseys, etc. My son stuck out like a sore thumb. I took him shopping and had him help me pick out some more appropriate closthes. Other boys played basketball at recess, but my son did not know how to shoot baskets. So my husband spent some quality time with him at the playground on the weekends, just shooting baskets and talking about things. I think the main thing is to make sure that his self confidence is not ruined. Find something he is interested in and help him be involved. The person running the social skill group that my son went to was Jim Beatty. He had great rapport with the boys. You might also try West Coast Childrens Center for other groups. -Been There