I remember when I was growing up and my mom didn’t love me spending time with one of the girls in our neighborhood. She didn’t forbid me from being with her but didn’t encourage our get-togethers, either.
Eventually, I realized this friend wasn’t the right fit for me for several reasons, and the relationship fizzled. Years later, I wondered: How did my mom know?
Recently, my son had a friend over. This friend was not very nice to my daughter and his attitude towards me made me question my feelings towards him. Granted it was a mild irritation. I found this friend annoying because he’s loud, destructive and the fact that he’s obviously never been taught to say please or thank you. It also made me worry that this friend may be a bad influence on Cohen.
A friend of mine recently said, “As long as my kids live in my house, I choose their friends.” And I don’t disagree. What I’m saying is this: There are a couple of things that a parent should and shouldn’t do when it comes to a child’s friends.
I choose not to verbally tell Cohen my feelings about his friend. I did not forbid him from hanging out with that friend. If I would say this out loud, Cohen is likely to blab, announcing publicly, “My parents say I’m not allowed to play with you!” This would make me seem mean and could cause conflict with the other child’s parents. It’s also possible that forbidding the friendship could make that friend seem more attractive to Cohen.
Forbidding Cohen seems a little bit overstepping. Unless he is in immediate, physical danger, trying to dictate who he can or can’t be friends with strips him of an important piece of autonomy (what’s more personal than our relationships?) and gets in the way of him learning to navigate the social world. If Cohen continues the friendship, even without my support, it creates a rift between us.
So, I decided that I needed to get to know the other child better and figure out what Cohen finds appealing about this friend. Most people have some likable qualities and discovering these might help me put my irritations in perspective. I try to keep in mind that children are constantly growing and changing, so the behaviors that annoyed me before may fade away as the friend matures.
Modeling Good Social Skills
Cohen doesn’t have a lot of close friends at his school, maybe just a handful. So, I’ve found that laying compliments on thick for my son’s friends who are well-mannered, responsible and kind, tends to be a successful tactic. This is part of those subliminal messages I’m sending to his brain, so he’ll start to feel that emotional reward deep inside his brain when he’s hanging around the “good” kids (the ones I like) and will eventually – God-willing – start to be turned off by the other kids. Instead of discouraging playdates with the kid I don’t like, I went out of my way to set up playdates with his friends that I do like. The goal here is to help Cohen nourish those positive friendships.
You don’t necessarily have to love everyone who your child chooses to befriend, but by being a gracious host, you support your child and model good social skills. A side benefit is that you can keep an eye on things if you have concerns about the friend’s behavior. For example, if things start to get heated, you can diffuse tensions by asking, “Who wants a snack?” or “How about going outside?”
If there’s something that the other child does that annoys you, it may help to explain your rules. Different families have different ways of doing things, and it’s not fair to be angry at a child for failing to respect your rules when you haven’t said anything, so he doesn’t even know what those rules are. Fuming silently will cause your resentment to build and won’t change what the child does.
Listening To Your Gut
Lastly, I listen to my kids and my gut. I ask questions about their friends. Moms can pick up on the very slightest detail being off if we’ll just listen. Cohen is such a sweetheart and has a good head on his shoulders, he needs to discover what friends work in his life. However, I set boundaries at our home to keep him safe, until he’s mature enough to loosen the reigns a bit and to make sure he’s showing kindness. He is smart enough to know that this friend has good qualities and bad qualities and likely knows better than to let those bad qualities rub off on him.
Ultimately, my goal is for my kids to make wise choices in their friendships.
Babies & Toddlers
In addition to the time I devote to being a mom, I also work full-time outside the home, which means my day is hardly ever as simple as nine to five. With an all-too-established schedule, as soon as I walk through the door, my day doesn’t end, but rather just begins. It’s a balancing act, especially with two children, but being a mom is one full-time job that I never want to quit!