Help! I Love My Friend but Our Kids Don't Get Along
How to Handle the Situation Where Kids Don't Get Along but Parents Do
You know that saying, “Birds of a feather flock together?” In most cases that is true. I have found that if I get along with a woman, more often than not my children tend to get along with her children, too. Or vice versa—if my kids get along well with other kids, I tend to get along well with their parents, too. However, every once in a while this theory breaks down like the temperament of my children. What started as a beautiful friendship begins looking like an ugly divorce leaving me wondering, am I cuckoo or can this thing be saved?
The Cuckoo bird does not build a nest at all but lays a single egg in another bird's nest. When the baby Cuckoo hatches it will push the other eggs or chicks out of the nest so it can get all the food for itself. Talk about making yourself at home, huh?
Taking your children over to your friend’s house to play is a lot like sticking your eggs in someone else’s nest. Before the feather’s start flying, this mama bird has learned a few techniques to keep everyone from going “cuckoo.”
#1. Play-time Is a Spectator Sport
If you leave a group of children alone in a room together, you will have chaos. The chaos theory states that unpredictable results can and will occur in systems that are sensitive to their initial conditions. Don’t leave your children completely unsupervised with other children for extended periods of time, especially if they have a history of tall tales and even bigger bruises. Moms work hard and need to play hard too. Unfortunately for most young mothers, the only down time they get is when their kiddos are down the hallway playing keep away with your best friend’s toddler. Before you know it someone’s tinker toy is lodged in someone else’s eye socket and everyone is screaming. Save yourself the trouble, even if it means one thousand interruptions-to-the-third-power before you finish one sentence with your best friend. Take turns checking on your precious brood.
#2. Take Notes
If you have been following rule #1 this will be that much easier. Next time your kids are playing with the frienemy, make observations of your own to decipher the root of the problem. Who is instigating? How does the other child react? Playtime is an excellent opportunity for parents to teach their kids conflict resolution. “Use your words,” “Ask nicely,” “Take turns,” “Tell your friend how their actions (or words) made you feel,” are all excellent phrases to express to your child when initiating reconciliation with the other child. Of course, it helps if mommy and daddy practice these things as well ;)
#3. Open Dialogue With Your Friend
Another way of saying this is, keep the lines of communication open between you and your friend and don’t just open those lines- use them! If you can’t communicate your issues, how do you expect your kids to? Talk about how you feel, how your kids feel, and what you want or need out of the friendship.
#4. Attack the Problem, not the People
There’s nothing more dangerous than a Mama bear, except for an angry Mama bear. Mothers are defensive of their children by nature, and rightfully so. It is our job to defend our babies, no matter how bad they can be. When addressing the sticky situation between your children and your friend’s children, choose your words wisely. Think carefully before you speak. How you would feel if she said “______(fill in the blank)” about your kids. Make requests, not demands. Saying things like, “You need to discipline that child!” is not going to be effective. Help your friend to be a part of the solution rather than a part of the problem by saying something like, “Johnny has Susie’s doll. She is very upset. Can you help me get it back?” Focus on your child, address your child, and only discipline your child (never your child’s friends). Usually the other mom will get involved with her child when you are addressing yours. (Side note: If your friend is not around, you may inform his or her child that you will be giving his/her mother a full report. Then follow through or else this method will prove ineffective.)
#5. Establish Boundaries
Talk to your children ahead of time about what is and isn’t acceptable behavior specifically drawing from past experiences. Conversationally play out pretend scenarios in the car on the way over, discussing issues that may come up with your friend’s children based on incidents that have taken place before. Agreeing upon a set of ‘rules of engagement’ with your friends would be ideal, but when your parenting styles are very different, it may be difficult to find a middle ground. One of my friends had a ‘survival of the fittest’ (her words, not mine) approach to parenting. Whatever happened to her child or because of her child was a life lesson for those involved. When the children would play a board game her child would usually get frustrated at some point, scream, start throwing game pieces, kicking the game board, and basically destroying anyone’s ability to continue playing the game with or without him. She would do nothing. I advised my kids to not play board games with her kids as a pattern emerged. Games like tag were easier to continue in the case of a severe temper tantrum on her child’s part.
#6. Assess the Risk Factors
Boys love to rough and tumble, but when push comes to shove, someone usually ends up getting hurt, the question is, how bad? Depending on the size, temperament , and athleticism of the other child, one wrong move and your kid could be damaged beyond repair. If one of the children playing is much larger than the others, he or she may hurt their playmates without even meaning to (I’m thinking Of Mice and Men right now). If the child is easily frustrated, he or she may attack without warning, exhibiting unpredictable acts of aggression. If the child is extremely athletic your child may not be able to get away. The question is what is at stake: their feelings, their ego, or their lives? Is some extra down time with your favorite gal-pal worth the risk? We had to ask ourselves this same question when our son began playing with a child who was a dangerous combination of all three threat factors (size, temperament, and athleticism), but agreed they could play under close supervision by either set of parents. Our son loved this boy despite all the cuts and bruises he took home. We continued allowing the boys to play together until one day he came home from his friends house (our son was 8, his friend was 9) telling us how his friend took him down in the basement and showed him his dad’s gun. This ‘friend’ not only showed, but pulled out, held, and handled the gun. Needless to say, we ended their friendship right then and there.
#7. Make a Date
If you really like this friend then try to meet with her in the evenings (get a babysitter), during a work lunch, during school hours, or at a time when the daddies/spouses can watch their own kids while mommies go out.
#8. Don’t Force the Kids to Interact
Remember Newton’s Law of force; every action has an equal and opposite reaction. The more you push, the more they will pull away. If all of the children have to be in the same house, restaurant, or yard together they can play amongst each other rather than with each other. Allow your children to bring a few of their favorite independent activities to your next play date. Books, hand held video game systems, and crayons can provide hours of endless entertainment. Sometimes when left to their own devices, the kids will come together naturally by their own desire. If not, that is okay too. It doesn’t matter how long you force me into a room with Mr. Burns, I never liked him and I never will!
#9. Explore Different Locations
A dog is fiercest in his own yard. I am not saying your children are dogs, but the same rule applies here. Sharing your house and your toys can be hard enough even if you like the other kid, but if not, the task may seem insurmountable. Try meeting in neutral territory, like a park, where everyone can spread out and no one has the upper hand.
#10. Give it Time
Give kids time to adjust to new friends, new rules, or new stages in life. Maybe later down the road the children’s interests will develop with their maturity levels. Until then, you may have to wait.
My friends mean the world to me. As a military family, friends become just that, family. Those secondary relationships take a primary role in our lives, pulling double duty to supplement the lack of familial contact we have as we travel around the globe shadowing my husband as he shadows the enemy. I value friendship almost as much as I value family… almost. If there is anything I can do to maintain a friendship with someone I value enough to call “friend,” I will do it, short of putting their needs before those of my family.
If you have tried all of these steps to no avail, it may be time to let go. I don’t believe a child should control the fate of the whole family. But the family must take control of their lives. If you have to get less frientimate- affirm your friend by reminding her of your affection for her, discreetly explaining the reason you will be seeing less of each other (Example: “I love spending time with you, but our children’s inability to get along is robbing us of any joy we might experience during our time together. For right now, it is going to be difficult to get together. If something changes or if we can get together without the kiddos, I’ll give you a call. I’m sorry, this is hard for me too.”) This will decrease her separation anxiety and may leave a window of opportunity for you to rekindle the friendship later down the road.