Yes, we know they are often not quite as lovable as our own. But love them or loathe
them, you have to learn to live with other people’s kids – for your child’s sake
if not your own
writes Caroline Deacon
Picture the scene: you are picking your child up from school and she appears hand
in hand with a child you absolutely detest. She’s probably a perfectly nice kid,
you just don’t like her. And now you are faced with the prospect of endless playdates
with your child’s new best friend.
It’s perfectly normal not to like some children, just as it is normal to dislike
some adults. But what you do need to do is to understand your role in the situation.
Your job as a parent is not to befriend your children’s friends, but to enable them
to make friends with each other. Compare it to a work situation – you don’t need
to like your boss to be civil to him and to work well together.
A jealousy thing
Some parents dislike their children’s friends through simple jealousy.
Anna’s mum, Molly, confesses: ‘It took me some time to realise that I hated Anna’s
friend Poppy simply because she’s such
a pretty little thing and by contrast Anna always looks as if she’s been dragged
through a hedge backwards. I felt hugely guilty once I realised where I was coming
Perhaps you see your child’s friend as more popular or more intelligent. Whatever
the reason, it’s uncomfortable but perfectly
natural that at a subconscious level you see this child as a rival and this unleashes
your tiger mother instinct! All you can do is try to be civilised, hoping that some
of the friend’s good points will rub off on your own child.
Bad to the bone
What happens if you find your child is drawn to a child who is
badly-behaved or dislikeable?
Tina found that NCT coffee mornings became a nightmare when two mothers brought their
unruly kids and let them run riot. ’ One occasion, they went into the hostess’s
bathroom and emptied all her expensive cosmetics into the bath to make a potion,’
recalls Tina. ‘The last straw was in another home where they found some permanent
markers, wrote all over the bedroom wall and coloured in the patterns on the divan
bed! One parent was embarrassed by the colouring in, but both of them
seemed to think drawing on the walls was ok. We engineered all future coffees to
happen when we knew they weren’t available.’
Some shocking new research findings, brought together by award winning journalist
PO Bronson in his book Nurture Shock, make a link between popularity, social dominance
and cruelty among children. Despite every adult effort, children are drawn towards
badly behaved kids, according to the findings. And the most
popular kids are often those who are the most capable of being horrible.
Dr Cillessen at the University of Connecticut points out that successfully aggressive
kids need to be highly sensitive and socially attuned. Bronson agrees: ‘Aggressive
behaviour is interpreted by other kids as a willingness to defy grown-ups, which
makes the aggressive child seem independent and older – highly
These findings suggest that banning your child’s friendship is only likely to make
it more desirable. Instead, take time to talk to your child about his friend’s behaviour
and ask him how he feels about it. He is probably struggling with it himself and
the opportunity to talk about what is going on.
Again, remember your job is not to like your child’s friends, but to help him develop
social skills and create a friendship network of his own. Eventually your child will
need to take responsibility for his own friendship decisions. Don’t tell him not
to be friends with kids you find ‘undesirable’ , but make it clear you won’t invite
round to play until they learn to behave better.
Coping with stepchildren
If you have inherited other people’s children through a new relationship, the golden
rule is, never force your partner to choose between you and his children. Give everyone
time to adjust and take the lead from your partner asking him what he would like
Try to make the new children feel welcome and give them their own space in your home
as far as possible. Christina McGhee, author of Parenting Apart suggests using the
word ‘bonus’ rather
than ‘step’ to make everyone feel welcome.
You will need to make a big effort to develop this new relationship: Christina warns
not to get caught up in unrealistic expectations of
immediately becoming a big happy family.
For more information, visit www.bonusfamilies.com
Not in my house!
Other people’s children can really push your buttons when you get them on your own
turf. Ignoring all pleasantries, they tear around the house destroying things, torturing
the cat, and initiating food fights. What can you do?
First thing to remember is that kids always need to know where they stand, and when
boundaries are unclear some kids react by testing to see how far they can go. Most
kids will be cautious and wait to see what is expected, but the more insecure ones
may play up. It’s kinder to them and easier all round to be very explicit
about what is expected.
Don’t confuse correction with punishment. It is absolutely fine to correct other
people’s children, but not okay to discipline them. Hopefully, a sharp word and an
explanation of house rules will be all that is necessary, but if this doesn’t work,
tell them you will ring their Mum and send them home – and follow this through if
Children are bound to be high-spirited on a play date, so don’t expect too much of
them. Rather than be stressed by bad table manners, have a picnic outside or non
messy finger food inside. Distract them if play is getting out of hand, or chill
out in front of a DVD. If it’s impossible to control your child’s friend on your
own turf, arrange play dates somewhere neutral like the park.
Too awful for words!
The first question most parents ask when picking up children from a play date is
: ‘How has he/she been?’ What do you say if the truth is that the child in question
has behaved like a little horror?
First off, it’s helpful if you can feel some empathy for the parents. They probably
are well aware that little Suzie is a handful and are dreading your disapproval.But
equally they may feel defensive, and criticism is never easy to take. Try to be sympathetic
and provide a listening ear. Offer suggestions in a neutral way: ‘My Johnny used
to do x so we found y helped…’
If you know the visiting child is likely to be difficult and the opportunity arises,
you can ask: ‘What should I do if the kids start misbehaving? What is your strategy?’
It’s sad that your children don’t seem to be particularly friendly with your best
friend’s kids. But what you need to establish here is that you respect each other’s
needs. Your kids can have their friends to play on occasions as long as they will
also allow you to meet up with your mates and be prepared to play in a friendly fashion
with their children. You can’t dictate who your children
like and don’t like, but they do need to learn to get on with lots of people. Rather
than trying to engineer friendships, give your children the skills they need to be
sociable, be prepared to give and take, and who knows? They might decide that the
friends you choose are ones they prefer too. If not, try to be grown-up about it!
Nurture Shock: Why everything we think about raising our
children is wrong by PO Bronson and Ashley Merrryman,
£12.99. Ebury Press.
Parenting Apart by Christina McGhee, £12.99, Vermillion.