Hey Laura, I’ve got great friends with a horrible kid

“Frustrated Friend” writes:

We have some great friends, we, the wives get along. The hubbies get along…

The kids - not so much!

My friends have the most aggressive, undisciplined little hellion I have ever met. Her son is mean and a total bully to both of my sons. He hits, pushes, bites, break toys and on top he YELLS EVERYTHING. This kid has no filter to good, bad, polite or impolite.  I have hinted that he plays rough, asked him to play nicely, even separated my son and him and put them in two different spaces of the house.

How do I tell her that her son is a bully without alienating her and ruining our friendship?

Good couple friends are hard to come by, but truly priceless is when the entire family enjoys each other! Conversely, it’s a total buzz kill when you share everything but parenting styles with a friend.

Because you’re asking the question, I am guessing that you have decided that giving up is not an option. You aren’t willing to walk away from a friendship just because of a bratty kid, nor are you willing to let the bratty behavior continue to rule your interactions with the whole family.

Assuming the child is within the “normal” range of the Autism spectrum, free of any hyperactivity disorders, and is simply undisciplined (not incapable of typical social integration), you have a few options.

In all likelihood, your friends are not unaware that their kid is out of control - the kind of behavior you’re describing is pretty hard to miss! If they’re not responding to it, they may either be in a deep state of denial, or they may be so overwhelmed that they’ve given up entirely. 

Most humans don’t like to be pulled out of denial or given unsolicited instruction in an area of weakness. So tread lightly and remember the Golden Rule!

Be direct + invitational
When they’re visiting your house (not kosher to do this in their home, unless you’ve all made a prior agreement) and an incident occurs, ask your friend “Do you mind if I step in here, or do you want to handle his bullying/destruction/yelling?”

(If you are visiting their home and your son comes crying to you about an incident, you’ll have to just explain to him that different families have different house rules, and if he doesn’t feel safe playing with the other kid, he is welcome to play nearer to you so you can supervise.)

Be apologetic + collaborative
In a neutral moment (ie: not when her family is already at your house!) tell her your kids have voiced their concerns about having her son visit, because of X, Y, and Z behaviors. Tell her how much you love spending time with her, but that you also want your kids to feel safe in their own home. Ask her how the two of you can help her son have a successful visit.

Keep it simple and don’t expect to eliminate every bad behavior. At the very least, you can hope to reduce the two or three most egregious ones!

Let the men deal with it
Sometimes women tend to over think things. Maybe all it would take is a casual, “Dude, your kid is being a dick” between the menfolk to let them know you have a problem.

Ask for help/opinions
This is probably the trickiest if you are not well versed in passive-aggressive communication. I am loathe to even suggest it, because I really dislike this kind of approach (I tend to err on the side of being over direct!). However, if it fits your communication style, you may be able to pull it off.

Find an article about bullying, or think of a situation where you’ve had an issue with your own kid, and use this to start a conversation with your friend about behaviors X, Y, and Z. Your intention will be to guide her toward thinking of her own son’s behavior and what she does (or doesn’t do) to correct it. You will couch all of this in the language of asking for her opinion on the article, or help: “My son just started bullying his brother; what do you do to combat your son’s bullyish tendencies?”

The greatest risk here is that she sees right through it and doesn’t appreciate the pandering. But if she doesn’t have a hair-trigger alarm for passive-aggression, she might really respond well to this. You know her well; you make the call.

YOU be the parent
Since they’re not parenting to your standards, just step in and do it yourself (again, only on your own turf). Tell the child your house rules when he arrives (ie: “Please use an Indoor Voice, Please be gentle with our toys, Please use your words instead of hitting,” and enforce them shamelessly. You may spend most of your time correcting their kid right in front of them, but don’t give in to embarrassment.

You can hope that they’ll figure out you expect more than what they are doing and maybe they’ll step up their game. Depending on how you play it, this can be a kind of passive-aggressive way to go. However, your responsibility is to your own children, and you can’t have them terrorized in their own home!

I would recommend stopping short of actual disciplinary actions, but directing his play and interaction with your kids? Absolutely.

Final words
Whatever tack you take, make sure you are communicating with your friend about this difficulty in a way that is consistent with all your other communication with her.

Do you confront problems head-on with each other? Then it’s probably safe to tactfully and gently confront her directly. Though if your friendship has never weathered a storm, this is a pretty gnarly one to start with! If you’re more comfortable with an indirect approach, make sure you are compassionate and your motives are clean.

You need to realize that however you tackle this problem, you probably are risking the friendship - so you need to believe that it is worth the risk. Do everything in love. Your goal is NOT to change every aspect of their parenting style; just do what you can to help your time together go more smoothly. 

Here’s hoping for a wonderful breakthrough wherein they turn into rockstar parents and you all live happily ever after!

Hey Laura, I think... Hey Laura, I’ve got great friends with a horrible kid

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