My son does not like playdates with my friend's son

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?

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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.

That kind of happened to us. It was hard but I told the mom I was very sorry but my son wasn't getting along with her son. We had a really good talk, I told her I enjoyed her company. She understood. Perhaps you can find a time when just the 2 moms can go out for a nice coffee and talk as friends without kids. Would your son be willing to invite the boy to his birthday parties, when the dynamic is different with other kids around? That is a nice jesture to invite to a party as a show of good faith but accept that they aren't best buddies...take care!

This one makes me want to cry.  My son is a friendless special needs kid.  He once had a friend like your son, but the other child outgrew the friendship.  It was very painful, and my son has never had another successful friendship.  

That said, your son is a child too, and his feelings matter.  Every child needs to believe that his parents listen and care about what he thinks.  So I think it's reasonable to ask your son to play with a special needs kid occasionally, but not all the time.  

How about agreeing with your son that you will limit playdates to, say, once every 2 months (or whatever you agree on)?   That way your son gets the message that sometimes we all do things we don't want to do, because it's the right and compassionate thing to do, but he doesn't get burned out.  

Your son sounds like a wonderful, caring, aware child, and it's impressive that he is able to "put on his big brother hat" and set aside his own preferences for this other child.  

I would say don't force the playdates. You can let the other mom know diplomatically with: "My kid is at an age where he really wants to pick his own friends, instead of friends that I suggest for him. Hopefully your kid can get into an activity that he likes, and connect with people there."

A compassionate boundary is often the solution. Best of luck.

I think now that your son is 6, you can start to turn it over to him whether he wants to accept invitations or not.  I do believe that family obligations should trump this at times, which might mean that your son sometimes has a playdate with a kid because you want to hang out with the mom, or because you don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. But usually your son can decide who he socializes with. The way this plays out is that when another parent calls you about arranging a playdate, you say "Let me ask Billy - can I call you back?"  Then you do ask Billy, and if he says no, you call the other parent and make a polite excuse.  This happened to me when my oldest was around that age - I was on the other end. It really surprised me that the other mom was leaving it up to her kid whether there would be a playdate. But now, many years later, I can see that this is the logical progression in helping our kids learn how to socialize, be diplomatic, be independent. I will say, though, that we do still set up get-togethers sometimes that our kid doesn't really want.  If it doesn't work after a few attempts, then we don't insist unless it's a very close friend where it is more like a family obligation - like getting together with cousins you don't especially like but they are your cousins!