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Holy Terror! Why you should never tell your friend you don’t like her child’s behavior

Kids come in all shapes and sizes and with a wide range of personalities, ranging from adorable and polite to obnoxious and rude. While parenting plays a role, children are born as unique human beings with their own way of seeing the world and interacting in it. While manners and good behavior can be taught, some kids take to them more naturally than others. And as tempting as it might be to want to bring up your friend’s child’s bad behavior, it is NEVER a good idea.

Let’s say your best friend, Alice, has a boy the same age as your three-year-old son. And let’s say every time little Seth comes over he wreaks havoc on your house, grabbing snacks off the table without asking, destroying Lego towers and demanding juice without saying please or thank you. Alice sits with her tea, seemingly oblivious to the unacceptable way her child is acting, except to sometimes say things like, “Oh, Seth. Play nice.” While your own children may not be perfect, you know they would never, ever act like this in other’s people’s homes, and you’re frustrated that your friend isn’t doing anything about it.

But… no matter how justified you might be in wanting to point out Seth’s poor manners, it will not turn out the way you want it to.

Parents are notoriously defensive of their children. We’re hardwired to protect our kids, just like animals in the wild. So if someone comes at us attacking our child, even if it’s about something valid, our natural tendency is to defend. Starting a discussion about Seth’s shortcomings could very likely open the floodgates for Alice to point out every little thing your own child has ever done wrong. This can turn sour and become a series of personal attacks on each other’s parenting, which is not what anyone needs. Parenting is hard, and we’re all in this together. Supporting our friends, even when we have different parenting styles, is essential to maintaining these vital friendships.

So what can you do?

  1. If, and only IF, she asks you for specific help or laments about her child’s behavior, you can discuss it with your friend. Don’t say things like, “Oh my god, it’s about time you noticed how awful he’s being!” but more like, “Ah, yes, I see how it could be frustrating for you that Seth grabs toys from other kids. My kids do things that drive me crazy too…
  2. Never lecture, but instead point out a few tricks you read about or tried that really worked. For example, if she complains to you about how her son won’t get ready for school in the morning, tell her you had that problem too, and that you read this really great suggestion about making a morning check list and giving a small reward if all the tasks are complete before you need to go. This way you’ve offered help in a meaningful way without sounding like a know-it-all.
  3. Model good parenting skills. Parents of young children are often at the end of their rope, especially if they have younger children as well, so they can’t always make the best decisions. Sometimes seeing how someone else manages a tricky situation can give parents ideas to try on their own kids. Just do the best you can, and some of your good habits will wear off on her.

If it’s really becoming a problem for you and you don’t want your child to be around the other child anymore, make excuses with the other parent when it comes to playdates, and suggest that the two of you try to spend more time out together alone. Go and enjoy each other’s company free of children so you can both recharge. And if parenting comes up on those relaxed evenings away from the chaos, you can always make gentle suggestions if she asks for them.

The bottom line is, none of us like to feel judged, and almost all parents are sensitive about their own shortcomings. Nobody’s perfect, so the more we can support each other, the better!

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