What To Do If Your Friend's Child Is Bullying Yours

The world of a 4-year-old seems like it’s getting a little rough these days. All of the sudden our sweet little toddlers have teenage attitudes and can become mean to other kids in an instant. The other day at the park, two of my kid’s friends from class told him that they didn’t want to play with him. When one yelled, “Stop following me!” my heart sank a bit.

My boy was upset, too, and began to cry, saying how they hurt his feelings. I wasn’t sure what to do, so we left the park and indulged in a little retail therapy. Of course, these situations are always challenging. But what happens when someone close to you has a child who bullies yours? It’s a little harder to walk away from that.

One of my friends has a cousin, and their kids grew up together. Now, at the age of 5, one kid is a lot rougher than the other, and playdates have become dangerous. The tougher cousin will be playing nicely one minute but will all of the sudden get angry and push the other kid down. He’s even punched him in the stomach once.

Another good friend of mine has a daughter, and it seems that she and my son don’t play well together at times. When we are all hanging out, her daughter will ignore my boy completely — and he absolutely adores her. No, she’s not technically being a bully, but she is being rude. And while it’s a fun playdate for me because I get to chat with one of my best mom friends, it might not be the right playdate for my son.

Fellow mom Rose explains a similar situation with one of her best friend’s kids. “The boys were close as toddlers, but at around 4 it got problematic,” she explains. “My friend’s son is bigger and wasn’t always in possession of solid boundaries. Luckily, they went to different schools for Kindergarten. Now the mom and I just meet for coffee when they’re at school because we both realized that the boys weren’t into playing together anymore.”

Licensed Psychologist Dr. Emily W. King, who works with children and teens in private practice in Raleigh, North Carolina says, “What’s important to remember about child development is that all children can go through stages of having difficulty regulating their emotions and controlling their impulses. If a child is struggling with these skills, it’s very possible that it is a temporary problem that will improve with maturity and exposure to learning in groups at school.”

Here are some other tips she shares:

Get Structured

A great first step is to think through any ways to better structure playdates so the children are engaged in parallel activities (such as at a children’s museum where they can do their own thing and you can still hang out with your friend). Free-for-all unstructured play is often hard for many children, so it might be that some structure is all that’s needed.

Take a Break

If interactions don’t improve, it might be helpful to take a break from playdates and continue fostering your friendship with this parent in adult-only get-togethers.

Have The Talk

It’s most helpful to talk directly to your friend about how you love spending time together, but that it doesn’t seem like your kids love it as much as you do. Honesty here is key. Deciding to take a break from playdates can be misunderstood if we’re not clear with each other as parents. I’m guessing that playdates for the parent of the child having behavioral struggles are stressful as well, so talk about it.

How To Frame Conversation

Focus on the fact that your children don’t fit together at this point in both of their development, and emphasize that you don’t want this to stop you from getting together as friends.

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