Tuesday 23 January 2018

Dear David Coleman: How do I tell a 'friend' her son is badly behaved?

Photo posed
Photo posed

Clinical psychologist David Coleman offers parenting advice in his weekly column.

Q. Last year, a distant friend bought a mobile home on the same campsite as ours. She has a five-year-old son who is very badly behaved. She sent him up to my mobile, on his own, and let him stay there for hours without checking on him. He fought with the other children on the field and their parents were complaining to me about him as if he was my responsibility! My friend recently said to me that her son can't wait to come up and play with my son - who is seven - during the summer and I'm dreading it! What will I do?

David replies: I can well imagine how you might be dreading the summer! It is enough to be worried about our own children and the scrapes, adventures and dramas that will befall them, without having to take responsibility for someone else's child too. That responsibility is even harder to accept when the child in question is challenging.

I am intrigued at your description of your friend as a "distant" friend. I take that to mean that she is more of an acquaintance than a close friend. If she is an acquaintance it probably means that you don't share, or don't agree with, her core values or her perspectives on the world.

Generally, when we feel that others share our values and our beliefs, we discover lots of common ground that makes it possible to deepen and increase the intimacy of our friendships.

Either through lack of opportunity, or lack of commonality, we keep our distance from those that just don't seem to fit well with us. I take it from what you say that this "friend" sounds like she doesn't fit well with you.

From the way you describe things, it seems like you would continue to maintain a distance from this woman if you had the chance. Her newly acquired, physical proximity seems to be the only reason you are even in contact with her now.

Does your son like this little boy that hangs around your mobile with your children and their friends? If your own children will be nonplussed about whether he will be around, or not around, then you may not need to do anything other than let the other mums and dads know that this boy is not yours, nor your responsibility.

I think you need to be explicit, with them, that you have not invited him to play, nor do you particularly want him to be around, unsupervised. Let them know where his mother's mobile home is, so that if they have a problem, they can take it up directly with her.

However, if your own children are frustrated with him and have voiced their concerns to you about him disrupting their play, or spoiling the games, or whatever, then you might want to just go directly to this other mum and be clear and unambiguous about the problems that her son is causing you and your family.

I think, if you go to talk with her, then you can only really talk about the direct problems your family experiences, rather than making general complaints about how he may be impacting on other children or other families. It is up to the other families to complain if they have some issue with him.

Before you go to talk with her, plan your conversation a bit. Knowing what it is that you want to say will mean that you are less likely to be distracted, or dissuaded, from addressing the real issues.

For example, you may want to focus on her son's behaviour, as you have witnessed it. You may want to focus on what you perceive to be the excessive amount of time he spends, unsupervised, at your mobile home. If your son is frustrated with her son, then explain this to her.

I could imagine that she might be surprised, or even put out, to hear that her son is causing problems. She just may not be aware of the impact that her son has on you and your family. So, even though you may be quite direct with her, it is okay to be understanding of her position too.

Whilst being empathetic with her, it is fine to also be clear about the limits that you want to set around her son's interaction with your son and your family. While you may not wish to be unwelcoming, it is okay for her, and her son, to learn not to overstay any welcome that is offered.

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