Q. My good friend Beth has a 10-year-old son Jason, and we spend a good bit of time together. Recently my son Zach, who is also 10, told me he no longer wants to hang out with Jason, and when asked why, responded, “Because I don’t like the way he acts.” While I want to allow Zach to choose his own friends, I don’t want this to impact my relationship with Beth. How I can best handle this situation?
A. First, find out what behavior your son finds so unappealing in Jason. It could be anything from not taking turns with computer games to something much more objectionable, like using bad language or improper touching. If he is doing something that is clearly offensive and needs correcting, you have choices, such as cutting all ties with Beth, scheduling your time together during school hours or seeing her and her son without Zach present.
Another option I like better is to schedule a relaxed time alone with Beth so you can chat with her in a nonjudgmental, friend-to-friend manner. Explain to her that it’s normal for children to want to choose their friends and that right now Zach wants a break from hanging out with Jason. If Jason’s behavior really needs some correction before it gets him in trouble, you could gently ask Beth if she has ever noticed these behaviors, and if so, offer to help her plan how to deal with them. If she denies ever noticing them, you can back off, as you have planted the seed and she‘ll think about it. You need to be cautious and very tactful, as mothers usually don’t like to hear their child has problems.
That being said, if the issues are things like trying to control game rules, having to win every time or not being considerate, this provides an opportunity for teaching Zach how to deal with people who behave like this. Explain that throughout life, everyone encounters people who don’t play fair, who are inconsiderate, say things we don’t like to hear, insist on winning or who we just simply don’t like. Let him know he can choose his friends and spend time with them often, but that you expect him to play with Jason as a social visitor to your home. Work together to plan the best ways to deal with Jason.
You could also make the home visits less frequent for a while and/or focus more on the relationship between the boys. A project that you and Beth do with your sons will allow closer supervision and may make the visits seem more acceptable to Zach.
With the holidays coming up, we will all deal with people who are challenging for us. We can be tactful and strategize how to survive and even enjoy time with them, or we can create chaos and ill will. I suspect most of us will have lots of opportunities to model for our children how to get along with all kinds of people.
Betty Richardson, PhD, RNC, LPC, LMFT, is an Austin-based psychotherapist who specializes in dealing with the problems of children, adolescents and parents.
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