Other people's children

 

Other people’s children

 

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 from.’

 

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

coveted traits.’

 

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 would welcome

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 them

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 from you.

 

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 necessary.

 

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?’

 

Social engineering

 

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!

 

More info

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.

 

 

March/April 2012

All information is correct at time of publishing

Behaviour