Mom doesn't like how her friend interacts with her son

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  February 4, 2011 06:00 AM

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[This letter has been edited and condensed.]

I'm a mother of a 3-year-old boy, and he is an only child. My friend always makes a scene every time my son makes a little mistake. In the beginning, it was OK with me that she disciplined my boy. Lately it's getting too much for me, like when my boy [is playing with a toy that] makes a noise while we are watching TV... or pressing my boy to say he's sorry when he pushed his playmate. I believe my boy would do that on his own but instead.... my friend reacted immediately and made a scene, which my son is not used to, because what I do is tell him nicely not to push and to share toys. My son will easily melt down, and I know the character of my son more than she does; he responds better to me talking to him rather than confronting him. Do you think I was wrong with this? I feel like my friend is always threatening him, and I don't like to show that I don't like her way because I'm not sure, also, [about my way]. Thanks

From: Greta, Florida

Hi Greta,

It's so easy to be intimidated by friends who think they know best, especially if the person has a forceful personality. Isn't it funny that many of them aren't even parents?

Greta, no one knows your child as well as you do and, no, I don't think you are wrong to not like how your friend treats your son.

You need to tell her that you are troubled by the way she responds to your son. If this is a friendship you both value, the two of you will be able to work this out in a loving, respectful way. If she takes offense and gets huffy, you'll know the friendship needs to change or even end.

No matter how this particular friendship goes, keep in mind, though, that children are resilient, and they benefit from having relationships with adults other than parents, and with people who offer them diversity in terms of style and temperament. What all those relationships must share, though, is an ability to be supportive and nurturing of the child. If your friend can make some changes in how she responds to him, that'd be great! Read this for some strategies that might help you and your friend know how to respond, now that your son is in the preschool stage.

I would also urge you, Greta, to find a parent workshop in your community that will help you feel more confident as a mom. It sounds like you might be a single and/or young mom, and we all need all the support and help we can get.

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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14 comments so far...
  1. Let me play Devil's Advocate. It is possible the friend is stepping in occasionally because you're not doing anything when your son acts badly?

    Example - he pushes a playmate and you do nothing. Friend steps in and makes him say "sorry" to the other child.

    If you are disciplining your child appropriately, your friend won't feel so compelled to jump in. Best wishes.

    Posted by cause_and_effect February 4, 11 09:31 AM
  1. I had two thoughts...

    1-You need to assert yourself. Right or wrongly, it is YOUR child to parent. Any friend who can't respect that doesn't really have a place in your life.

    2-I was, however, troubled by your assertion that a 3 year old would think to say sorry. Developmentally, 3 is really young to have the kind of empathy that would allow for them to see that taking a toy or being what we perceive as unkind as wrong. Pre-schoolers are pretty much all "me, me, me" and it's our job to teach them manners. Look within and make sure you're not choosing to overlook innapropriate behavior.

    However, this does not excuse your friend's behavior. If it was her kid that he'd pushed/stolen a toy from/whatever and you didn't urge your son to say sorry, I can see her making the choice to step in...I would, too (and have).

    Posted by C February 4, 11 11:37 AM
  1. A couple of thouights, in no real order.

    Pressing a child to apologize when he pushes or hits someone -- I'm not sure I see why that is a problem (though forcing a "sorry" is not an effective method of discipline, I am not sure why it is harmful). But I do want to say that while your child might apologize on his own, when violence of any kind rears its head, adult intervention is important in some form or another.

    Why are you and your friend watching TV with your son there? I'm not saying you can't watch TV. But if your friend is visiting, and you watch TV together, you can't and shouldn't expect your *3 year old son* to be silent or quiet during that time. Save the TV watching for during his nap, or be used to the fact that your show will be interrupted by noise. 3 is too young to be expected to sit quietly while mommy and her friend zone out and stare at the shiny silver screen. So by all means, tell your friend this won't work. Tell her your son is going to play, so if she wants a quiet TV time, this visit is neither the time nor the place for that. Be firm here.

    I'd love to hear more specifics about how she causes "a scene." Is she harsh? Harsh with a 3 year old about the infractions you mention is an overreaction -- at 3, a child needs guidance, boundaries, and discipline, but they don't understand right from wrong on a moral level -- so the discipline needs to reflect that. At that age it is about setting the rules, enforcing them, and educating the child about what is appropriate. Not yelling or making a scene. So feedback about what this "scene" is that she makes would be nice.

    Finally, don't assume that your friend is jumping in because you are not disciplining appropriately. Maybe, maybe that's true. But trust your own instincts here. Some people are pushy. She might *think* you aren't doing it right somehow, but that doesn't mean *she* is right, and it doesn't mean you are wrong. Do what feels right for you, don't be afraid of being firm and setting limits with your friend about how or IF she is allowed to step in.

    And yes, get some support here. Sounds like you could use a confidence boost.

    Posted by jjlen February 4, 11 11:47 AM
  1. @cause_and_effect: This statement: "If you are disciplining your child appropriately, your friend won't feel so compelled to jump in."

    I can't wrap my head around it. What if I have a friend who believes in spanking as the best form of discipline, but I, personally, do not spank. What if both my form, and my friend's form of discipline both ultimately the same desired end result (i.e. an apology, a behaviour modification, etc.) What if my friend spanked my child anyway because he or she felt that my form of behaviour correction wasn't to their standard? He or she would have seriously overstepped their boundaries, even though my form of discipline was appropriate - and I can assure you that we would not remain friends.

    While my example is a little drastic, your assertion that the LW is not "appropriately disciplining" her child and your support of the friend stepping in is wholly unfounded and frankly, unsound.

    It makes me a little grateful that we are not, in fact, friends.


    Posted by Phe February 4, 11 12:13 PM
  1. "If you are disciplining your child appropriately, your friend won't feel so compelled to jump in."

    Maybe. Or maybe the friend is really nitpicky--they are only three after all, they're going to do things you don't want them to do. Or maybe she not only disciplines out of proportion but makes a big show of getting on the scene first and out of trying to teach the other mom? I used to work with a gal like that, who didn't even have any kids.

    Posted by di February 4, 11 01:22 PM
  1. It is always hard to comment without having been a fly on the wall during these events.

    I also have a friend who is, well, I love her, but she's very, very wired. One time she gave my son a birthday gift. Before he had a chance to say thank you, she jumped in and said "What do you SAY?" The thing is, my son is one of those kids that other parents always comment about how polite he is, what a good kid he is, etc. The thing with jumping in on anyone and forcing the thank you is that you not only not-so-subtly insult the person who did not get their "thank you" out speedily enough for you, you also devalue the gratitude that they do get to express. What I mean is, my son was about to say his own thank you, but once it was forced by someone else, it no longer seemed genuine. You have to give kids a chance to own the gratitude, or else "please and thank you" are just empty words.

    On the other hand, the incident where one kid pushes another really depends on the circumstances. In some cases, like if it's some mutual jostling perhaps, I can see waiting BRIEFLY to see how the kids handle it themselves. However, most of the time, pushing/biting/kicking/hitting are completely off-limits behavior and kids need to be told that right off the bat. So, immediately saying "No pushing!" is important. I'm torn on the "Say you're sorry," though. Again, how much of that is empty words, versus having a more involved talk with your child -- "How do you think feels to be pushed? Don't you think Jimmy feels the same way? Maybe you should say you're sorry." That maybe sounds wishy-washy to some parents, but I can't tell you how many bullies-in-the-making I've heard being told "Say you're sorry!" to no effect at all. Their parents feel their job is done, meanwhile their child continues their aggressive behavior having no idea what saying "sorry" was supposed to accomplish.

    In the same way that you have to let kids own their own gratitude and their own remorse, you need to let parents do their job with their own kids. When you step on another parents toes, you may be taking away their own teachable moment. If there's actual bodily harm or (less likely with 3-year-olds) hurtful talk, then you need to step in to keep your own child from getting injured, but it's not your job to teach the other child. Of course, you can still send out loads of messages when talking to your own kid -- the other child will hear you telling your kid "no hitting" or "that's not how we treat our friends". Kids are sponges who will pick up your ideas even if you don't address them directly.

    Parenthood: 2% White, 2% Black, 96% Grey.

    Posted by SandyEE February 4, 11 01:39 PM
  1. Barbara - I have to say as someone who doesn't have kids (but yet still reads this column semi-regularly) I was slightly annoyed at the "Isn't it funny that many of them aren't even parents?" comment. I look at how my brother parents and I am often appalled and know that I have a better parenting knowledge set then he does. And while I don't know exactly what its like to care for children 24 hrs a day 7 days a week, I do know that sometimes people who are actually the parents don't know how to parent (I am not saying that the letter writer is this kind of person). And don't think I am just a know it all, I recognize that all my other friends and family do great jobs of raising their kids.

    Posted by fatcat February 4, 11 01:57 PM
  1. Your kid has to come first. always. too many times moms don't do this and the kids end up abused or dead. Put up a boundary around your child and you versus all other people. You know him best and you care more than "friends" or lovers for that matter.

    Posted by suburbanmom February 4, 11 02:01 PM
  1. My "playing Devil's Advocate" disclaimer applied to my entire comment, not just the first paragraph. I was just posing a hypothetical. It's a "something to think about" type comment - I don't know if it's true.

    Greta just sounded very passive about the whole thing.

    Posted by cause_and_effect February 4, 11 03:45 PM
  1. Barbara -- you may know more about parenting than your brother does. Being a parent does NOT mean a person knows what they are doing -- any joker can become a parent. I have to say, though, that the people who seem to shout out criticism the most are people who are not parents. You know, the people who respond to any parenting issue with "You're the parent, just say no! That's the trouble nowadays, parents let kids get away with anything. When I was a kid..." etc. etc. As if parenting is easy -- all you have to do is spank the kid, or yell, or take away their phone, or whatever it is. Or "If I had a kid, he'd never kick the chair in front/yell in the store/grab a toy" etc. Because theoretical parenting knowledge is far different from on-the-ground parenting knowledge. A parent can have really poor parenting skills. And a non-parent can have fantastic child development knowledge. But all things being equal, practical experience -- not to mention knowledge of the child involved -- is invaluable.

    Posted by jjlen February 4, 11 04:09 PM
  1. Greta,

    Why are you placing the needs of your so-caled "friend" above your three-year old?

    And this:

    "In the beginning, it was OK with me that she disciplined my boy."

    Why was it OK with you?

    "makes a noise while we are watching TV"

    That's what toddlers do. If "friend" doesn't like it, she can go watch TV at her place, without children around.

    I agree with suburbanmom:

    "1.Your kid has to come first. always. too many times moms don't do this and the kids end up abused or dead."

    And if you follow the news at all, Greta - Do NOT leave your precious little son with a BF or some other questionable person.

    Please do your own disciplining - of your "friend." Sounds like she's the one who could use the discussions so many of us have with our children.

    Posted by reindeergirl February 4, 11 11:26 PM
  1. A parent can have really poor parenting skills. And a non-parent can have fantastic child development knowledge. But all things being equal, practical experience -- not to mention knowledge of the child involved -- is invaluable.

    Posted by jjlen February 4, 11 04:09 PM
    ----

    Except for the single mothers who leave their infants and small children with their boyfriends - and the children end up dead. All too common :( A way must be found to end this crisis, and save the children before it's too late.

    Posted by reindeergirl February 5, 11 08:02 AM
  1. So? We don't know if this is a live-in friend of the LW.

    If not, WHY take your kid to a place where you don't like the way he is being treated??? No need to say a word--JUST DON'T GO THERE AGAIN.

    Posted by Irene February 7, 11 09:59 AM
  1. jjlen - I am not the type of person who thinks that yelling or spanking kids is the answer. My brother often yells at his kids, one example is when he yelled at his 2 year old to stop standing up playing in front of the TV as he was watching it (not really a yelling at offense for a 2 year old in my book). I do get about theoretical vs realistic. For instance in theory children under 2 shouldn't watch any tv, realistically I know most parents allow some tv, however my brother has tv's in both his 7 year olds and 2 year olds rooms, that shows me he doesn't get it at all.

    Posted by fatcat February 8, 11 02:26 PM
 
14 comments so far...
  1. Let me play Devil's Advocate. It is possible the friend is stepping in occasionally because you're not doing anything when your son acts badly?

    Example - he pushes a playmate and you do nothing. Friend steps in and makes him say "sorry" to the other child.

    If you are disciplining your child appropriately, your friend won't feel so compelled to jump in. Best wishes.

    Posted by cause_and_effect February 4, 11 09:31 AM
  1. I had two thoughts...

    1-You need to assert yourself. Right or wrongly, it is YOUR child to parent. Any friend who can't respect that doesn't really have a place in your life.

    2-I was, however, troubled by your assertion that a 3 year old would think to say sorry. Developmentally, 3 is really young to have the kind of empathy that would allow for them to see that taking a toy or being what we perceive as unkind as wrong. Pre-schoolers are pretty much all "me, me, me" and it's our job to teach them manners. Look within and make sure you're not choosing to overlook innapropriate behavior.

    However, this does not excuse your friend's behavior. If it was her kid that he'd pushed/stolen a toy from/whatever and you didn't urge your son to say sorry, I can see her making the choice to step in...I would, too (and have).

    Posted by C February 4, 11 11:37 AM
  1. A couple of thouights, in no real order.

    Pressing a child to apologize when he pushes or hits someone -- I'm not sure I see why that is a problem (though forcing a "sorry" is not an effective method of discipline, I am not sure why it is harmful). But I do want to say that while your child might apologize on his own, when violence of any kind rears its head, adult intervention is important in some form or another.

    Why are you and your friend watching TV with your son there? I'm not saying you can't watch TV. But if your friend is visiting, and you watch TV together, you can't and shouldn't expect your *3 year old son* to be silent or quiet during that time. Save the TV watching for during his nap, or be used to the fact that your show will be interrupted by noise. 3 is too young to be expected to sit quietly while mommy and her friend zone out and stare at the shiny silver screen. So by all means, tell your friend this won't work. Tell her your son is going to play, so if she wants a quiet TV time, this visit is neither the time nor the place for that. Be firm here.

    I'd love to hear more specifics about how she causes "a scene." Is she harsh? Harsh with a 3 year old about the infractions you mention is an overreaction -- at 3, a child needs guidance, boundaries, and discipline, but they don't understand right from wrong on a moral level -- so the discipline needs to reflect that. At that age it is about setting the rules, enforcing them, and educating the child about what is appropriate. Not yelling or making a scene. So feedback about what this "scene" is that she makes would be nice.

    Finally, don't assume that your friend is jumping in because you are not disciplining appropriately. Maybe, maybe that's true. But trust your own instincts here. Some people are pushy. She might *think* you aren't doing it right somehow, but that doesn't mean *she* is right, and it doesn't mean you are wrong. Do what feels right for you, don't be afraid of being firm and setting limits with your friend about how or IF she is allowed to step in.

    And yes, get some support here. Sounds like you could use a confidence boost.

    Posted by jjlen February 4, 11 11:47 AM
  1. @cause_and_effect: This statement: "If you are disciplining your child appropriately, your friend won't feel so compelled to jump in."

    I can't wrap my head around it. What if I have a friend who believes in spanking as the best form of discipline, but I, personally, do not spank. What if both my form, and my friend's form of discipline both ultimately the same desired end result (i.e. an apology, a behaviour modification, etc.) What if my friend spanked my child anyway because he or she felt that my form of behaviour correction wasn't to their standard? He or she would have seriously overstepped their boundaries, even though my form of discipline was appropriate - and I can assure you that we would not remain friends.

    While my example is a little drastic, your assertion that the LW is not "appropriately disciplining" her child and your support of the friend stepping in is wholly unfounded and frankly, unsound.

    It makes me a little grateful that we are not, in fact, friends.


    Posted by Phe February 4, 11 12:13 PM
  1. "If you are disciplining your child appropriately, your friend won't feel so compelled to jump in."

    Maybe. Or maybe the friend is really nitpicky--they are only three after all, they're going to do things you don't want them to do. Or maybe she not only disciplines out of proportion but makes a big show of getting on the scene first and out of trying to teach the other mom? I used to work with a gal like that, who didn't even have any kids.

    Posted by di February 4, 11 01:22 PM
  1. It is always hard to comment without having been a fly on the wall during these events.

    I also have a friend who is, well, I love her, but she's very, very wired. One time she gave my son a birthday gift. Before he had a chance to say thank you, she jumped in and said "What do you SAY?" The thing is, my son is one of those kids that other parents always comment about how polite he is, what a good kid he is, etc. The thing with jumping in on anyone and forcing the thank you is that you not only not-so-subtly insult the person who did not get their "thank you" out speedily enough for you, you also devalue the gratitude that they do get to express. What I mean is, my son was about to say his own thank you, but once it was forced by someone else, it no longer seemed genuine. You have to give kids a chance to own the gratitude, or else "please and thank you" are just empty words.

    On the other hand, the incident where one kid pushes another really depends on the circumstances. In some cases, like if it's some mutual jostling perhaps, I can see waiting BRIEFLY to see how the kids handle it themselves. However, most of the time, pushing/biting/kicking/hitting are completely off-limits behavior and kids need to be told that right off the bat. So, immediately saying "No pushing!" is important. I'm torn on the "Say you're sorry," though. Again, how much of that is empty words, versus having a more involved talk with your child -- "How do you think feels to be pushed? Don't you think Jimmy feels the same way? Maybe you should say you're sorry." That maybe sounds wishy-washy to some parents, but I can't tell you how many bullies-in-the-making I've heard being told "Say you're sorry!" to no effect at all. Their parents feel their job is done, meanwhile their child continues their aggressive behavior having no idea what saying "sorry" was supposed to accomplish.

    In the same way that you have to let kids own their own gratitude and their own remorse, you need to let parents do their job with their own kids. When you step on another parents toes, you may be taking away their own teachable moment. If there's actual bodily harm or (less likely with 3-year-olds) hurtful talk, then you need to step in to keep your own child from getting injured, but it's not your job to teach the other child. Of course, you can still send out loads of messages when talking to your own kid -- the other child will hear you telling your kid "no hitting" or "that's not how we treat our friends". Kids are sponges who will pick up your ideas even if you don't address them directly.

    Parenthood: 2% White, 2% Black, 96% Grey.

    Posted by SandyEE February 4, 11 01:39 PM
  1. Barbara - I have to say as someone who doesn't have kids (but yet still reads this column semi-regularly) I was slightly annoyed at the "Isn't it funny that many of them aren't even parents?" comment. I look at how my brother parents and I am often appalled and know that I have a better parenting knowledge set then he does. And while I don't know exactly what its like to care for children 24 hrs a day 7 days a week, I do know that sometimes people who are actually the parents don't know how to parent (I am not saying that the letter writer is this kind of person). And don't think I am just a know it all, I recognize that all my other friends and family do great jobs of raising their kids.

    Posted by fatcat February 4, 11 01:57 PM
  1. Your kid has to come first. always. too many times moms don't do this and the kids end up abused or dead. Put up a boundary around your child and you versus all other people. You know him best and you care more than "friends" or lovers for that matter.

    Posted by suburbanmom February 4, 11 02:01 PM
  1. My "playing Devil's Advocate" disclaimer applied to my entire comment, not just the first paragraph. I was just posing a hypothetical. It's a "something to think about" type comment - I don't know if it's true.

    Greta just sounded very passive about the whole thing.

    Posted by cause_and_effect February 4, 11 03:45 PM
  1. Barbara -- you may know more about parenting than your brother does. Being a parent does NOT mean a person knows what they are doing -- any joker can become a parent. I have to say, though, that the people who seem to shout out criticism the most are people who are not parents. You know, the people who respond to any parenting issue with "You're the parent, just say no! That's the trouble nowadays, parents let kids get away with anything. When I was a kid..." etc. etc. As if parenting is easy -- all you have to do is spank the kid, or yell, or take away their phone, or whatever it is. Or "If I had a kid, he'd never kick the chair in front/yell in the store/grab a toy" etc. Because theoretical parenting knowledge is far different from on-the-ground parenting knowledge. A parent can have really poor parenting skills. And a non-parent can have fantastic child development knowledge. But all things being equal, practical experience -- not to mention knowledge of the child involved -- is invaluable.

    Posted by jjlen February 4, 11 04:09 PM
  1. Greta,

    Why are you placing the needs of your so-caled "friend" above your three-year old?

    And this:

    "In the beginning, it was OK with me that she disciplined my boy."

    Why was it OK with you?

    "makes a noise while we are watching TV"

    That's what toddlers do. If "friend" doesn't like it, she can go watch TV at her place, without children around.

    I agree with suburbanmom:

    "1.Your kid has to come first. always. too many times moms don't do this and the kids end up abused or dead."

    And if you follow the news at all, Greta - Do NOT leave your precious little son with a BF or some other questionable person.

    Please do your own disciplining - of your "friend." Sounds like she's the one who could use the discussions so many of us have with our children.

    Posted by reindeergirl February 4, 11 11:26 PM
  1. A parent can have really poor parenting skills. And a non-parent can have fantastic child development knowledge. But all things being equal, practical experience -- not to mention knowledge of the child involved -- is invaluable.

    Posted by jjlen February 4, 11 04:09 PM
    ----

    Except for the single mothers who leave their infants and small children with their boyfriends - and the children end up dead. All too common :( A way must be found to end this crisis, and save the children before it's too late.

    Posted by reindeergirl February 5, 11 08:02 AM
  1. So? We don't know if this is a live-in friend of the LW.

    If not, WHY take your kid to a place where you don't like the way he is being treated??? No need to say a word--JUST DON'T GO THERE AGAIN.

    Posted by Irene February 7, 11 09:59 AM
  1. jjlen - I am not the type of person who thinks that yelling or spanking kids is the answer. My brother often yells at his kids, one example is when he yelled at his 2 year old to stop standing up playing in front of the TV as he was watching it (not really a yelling at offense for a 2 year old in my book). I do get about theoretical vs realistic. For instance in theory children under 2 shouldn't watch any tv, realistically I know most parents allow some tv, however my brother has tv's in both his 7 year olds and 2 year olds rooms, that shows me he doesn't get it at all.

    Posted by fatcat February 8, 11 02:26 PM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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