Thursday 23 November 2017

Family life: 'My daughter's new friend has turned her into a nightmare'

David Coleman

David Coleman

This girl does not hold more sway over your daughter than you

I am a mother of a six-year-old girl who is turning into a nightmare and giving me, my husband and our son, aged four, a hard time.

My daughter went to pre-school and now is in primary school, with another girl who is rude and doesn't care about anyone or anything. This girl tells my daughter how she hates her own brothers and so my daughter has become tough on her little brother.

My son drew a picture of our family the other day. There were three ticks on it for Mummy, Daddy and himself, and a big X for his sister.

My daughter's friend is from a family of separated parents and is 'farmed out' to us for playtime, when her parents haven't time to look after her.

She has no other friends and because my daughter is now turning out as nasty, as she, too, has no other friends. Even up to last year my daughter was very friendly and was invited to lots of parties. This year, so far, she hasn't been invited to one.

I have considered asking the teacher to move my daughter to another class (there are two classes in her year) to separate the girls. What do you think?

From the picture you have drawn, it does seem as if her friend is negatively influencing your daughter. The fact that your daughter has moved from having a wide circle of friends to being limited to just the one suggests that your daughter's behaviour has changed for the worse. You also describe that she is becoming a "nightmare".

Your son, too, sounds like he has noticed a change in his sister and his X beside her picture suggests that he doesn't like that change. This is not much of a surprise given that his sister has been treating him nastily since she has come to believe that brothers are to be hated.

It seems to me that there are two issues to address. One is how to manage your daughter when her behaviour, language or politeness steps out of line. The second issue is what, if anything, to do about your daughter's friendship with this girl.

By the manner in which you have described the situation, you seem as if you feel almost powerless to influence her yourself. The tone of your email hints at a belief that this other six-year-old girl holds more sway over your daughter than you or your husband.

In fact this is unlikely to be the case. At her age you still remain the primary influence on her and her behaviour. If you tolerate her mean or her nasty behaviour then she will continue to act that way.

You still need to set clear boundaries about the kinds of words and behaviours that you expect from her.

It sounds like you need to be very firm, but understanding, when she is acting meanly so that she doesn't ever believe that this is okay or acceptable to you.

She may not even be aware that she sounds rude or acts meanly. So you may need to point out to her when you spot her acting particularly negatively and then intervene to prevent her continuing this behaviour.

I would suggest that you regularly use phrases like "when you speak nicely then I will be happy to speak back to you" or "when you can play in a cooperative way then you can continue to play with your brother".

These kinds of phrases help her to recognise when her behaviour, words, tone or actions are mean and rude and also give her an indication of what the consequence will be if she continues to act in these ways.

Also, if you can ignore the less serious misbehaviour and instead focus on acknowledging her good behaviour she will also notice that she gets more positive attention for acting good.

Regarding the second issue, I am amazed that you let this other girl be "farmed out" to you for playtime. If you really disapprove of her rudeness and misbehaviour then it is okay to say no to the other mother or father when they suggest a playdate for the girls.

Perhaps you feel the need to be polite and don't like to disappoint either the girl, her parents or maybe your daughter. You may even feel that you are being mean by reducing their contact.

However, given how worried you are about her negative influence I think you need to be direct and clear in saying no to them spending additional time together.

Nurturing friendships takes time and if that time is not given to them the friendships do wither and die away. You are in the luckier position that your daughter is still only six and so is more dependent on you to facilitate her friendships.

This means that you can influence who she is friends with, to some degree, by promoting or restricting time with different children outside school.

If you have options to move her class in the next school year then it sounds like a good plan to me. You are quite clear that you attribute her changed attitude and behaviour to this friend and so the easiest way to regain her old attitude and behaviour is lessen the contact with this other girl.

It is quite likely that you will find that if you have the girls in separate classes and you don't facilitate their meetings over the summer and at weekends, when school resumes they will lose interest in each other.

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