Are We Being Too Hard on Him?

Updated on July 04, 2011
A.B. asks from Marysville, WA
14 answers

My son is 4 years old and MOST of the children in our neighborhood are a couple years older than him, but they all play together. Our son and a 7 year old boy (we'll call Tom) have named each other "best friends", we’ve started having sleepovers and spending a LOT of time as a duo. Tom is a sweet well mannered child (with quirks!) who is extremely submissive & the issue is it appears my 4 year old has concluded that he is "top dog" in this relationship. They generally get along well and have a lot of fun with one another, but we are having increasing conflicts regarding my sons behavior (not HUGE things but LOTS of little ones) and Tom is constantly tattling on my son for all kinds of things. “He’s not sharing” or “He did…” “He said,..” We recently had to ground our son and cancel their sleepover because he hit Tom b/c he wouldn’t stop shooting him (they were playing StarWars on the Wii) We’ve had so much tattling that our son started telling him "If you tell on me, I won’t be your friend" I am starting to feel exhausted from reprimanding my son AND even more frustrating-it feels like our strategy is just not working! I often have to remind myself that he IS ONLY 4 especially when I ask the boys to do certain things and see the older kids up and following directions quicker and better and there's my little man whose dilly dallying like there's no tomorrow. Are we over reacting? Maybe we are being too hard on him to comparing his behavior with the older kids? After all they have at least 3 years on him to have honed their "please" and "thank you's" and other social skills, they’re in elementary school for goodness sakes! We've had discussions with Tom's parents and they mentioned they noticed our son was "kind of a bully" with their child and that it was good we are working with him on that bc some parents dont. Another *Sigh* He’s a good kid, are we doing the wrong thing? How do you properly foster a relationship of children with at different developmental stages? He’s been to preschool before and will be going again this fall, I can’t even express how much I’m looking forward to him building relationships with children his own age!

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So What Happened?

FYI - We have always worked with our son from day one regarding social skills and he IS a fantastic well mannered thoughtful boy (most days lol). All the children come to OUR house to play with HIS toys, swords, riding Jeep, legos, Wii etc, and he shares them without second thoughts, sometimes he even tries to give them away! This particular relationship being that they are BFF's and with school out they are together more than not is becoming a little challenging. I do not believe my son is a bully, maybe I didn't come off correctly... Feeling like a constant referee and that by constantly being on him we're not giving our son a chance to think it through and do the right thing. Yesterday I finally told Tom that he did not need to come tell us EVERYTHING that goes on in their friendship. I tried to discuss with my husband that maybe we need to take a step back with this and his take was that he hasn't been tough ENOUGH. TIred of hearing the "stern Dad voice" at dinner and the seeing/giving the disapproving looks and finger point! Ugh! Just looking for tips from those who've been through it and things that have worked. Thanks in advance!

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answers from Chicago on

I think 4 and 7 is a HUGE age gap and there are too many differences going on for them to be able to successfully play together regularly.

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answers from Lexington on

I teach prechoolers and the "or i won't be your friend" threat is very popular. I'm not trying to sound mean, but it sounds like the 7 year old is a bit of a pushover if he's going to let the 4 year old bully him. The tattling does need to stop. Kids have to learn to get over little, if it's something really dangerous or someone is bleeding, that's a different story. If there is hitting or pushing, i've gone so far as to give the bullied child permission to retaliate. I'll say it in front of both children and usually the bullied child won't, but the other child gets concerned he might and stops. If the two continue to have problems, i'd encourage you to find another playmate for your son and see if it goes better.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

O. day your son's BFF is going to have enough and that will be the end. I hope HIS parents are working with HIM as well to develop assertiveness. How ODD that a 7 yo boy (I have an 8 yo son) would allow himself to be bossed around by a 4 yo.
Generally, let them work things out between them but GUIDE your son from bullying to respect.

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answers from Los Angeles on

I believe your son is a good kid, I think all kids are good kids that just need consistent guidance and training in certain areas. I don't think you're doing anything wrong, you just need to take the bull by the horns. That said, you've got a few dynamics going on: the age difference, social development, submissiveness and dominance, tattling, hitting, etc.

If both these boys were your sons it would all be attributed to sibling rivalry. But as a parent I'm sure you'd have your concerns, which is good, and there would be consequences for inappropriate behavior like the hitting and cancelling the sleep-over.

There's a couple of quick fixes: if your son can't handle the "shooting" while playing the Wii game, then don't let him play it. He may need a little more time and age behind him before he can handle it. Have him play more age-appropriate games. If he hits, antagonizes, tells Tom he won't be his friend, he loses a privilege as with the sleepover.

As far as saying "if you tell on me I won't be your friend" regardless of where he heard it, I'd tell him that isn't nice, or acceptable, and ask him how he'd feel if someone told him they wouldn't be his friend. If he says he'd be sad of feel bad then tell him that Tom feels the same way. If he doesn't care then 1) I would not allow Tom to come over, at least for awhile, and 2) I would work on my son developing empathy for others.

With Tom's tattling which I wouldn't like either, you need to not step on his parent's toes for not addressing it, but realize that maybe they are and you haven't become aware of it. I'd tell Tom that if he doesn't like something your son does, unless it involves a life-threatening situation or an injury, i.e., your son sets the house on fire or walked out the front door and is heading for the street, or that he hit him while playing a game, etc., you don't need him to tell you. Encourage him to tell your son he's not being fair and for them to work it out.

Tom would then be dealing with the situation on his own rather than looking for you to solve it, but the problem with this is that your son is 4, and sees his world as a 4 year old, not as a 7 year old and may not respond to Tom's comment. Be blunt and tell Tom that if he's unhappy at any time with the way your son is playing then he, Tom, can and will go home right then. This more than anything may serve as a tool to teach your son he can't treat others inconsiderately, which can turn into bullying, (I don't think it is as of yet), and Tom to make choices about what he tattles about.

The age difference is a huge factor in all of this, personally I would get my son around other 4 and 5 year olds now during the summer, and not wait for preschool in the fall. Take him to parks or libraries that have summer programs so he can interact with kids his age.

Whatever it is you want the boys to do, and the consequences you have chosen, sit them down and tell them before they begin to play. And I wouldn't keep reminding them, they need to listen to you the first time, even at 4. Simply say at the beginning of play on a new day, "Remember what we talked about, those are still the rules." If they fight while playing Wii, go in and turn it off and tell them they're done with that for the day and to find something else to do. If there's hitting Tom goes home. If Tom tattles he goes home. Be consistent in enforcing what you've said, and remember, you don't have to put up with behavior you don't like, from your son or Tom.

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answers from Boston on

Remember he is just 4. My daughters are 3 years apart (3 and 6) and they play pretty well together much of the time. However, I sometimes have to remind my older daughter that her sister is younger. I always reprimand and remove the younger one when she hits her sister, but I often make the girls work out smaller issues on their own. It sounds like Tom needs some help on this. Tattling really isn't the way to go. You want kids to feel comfortable talking to adults, but it definitely isn't going to make him too popular with kids if he tells on everything. He needs to learn how to deal with some issues on his own and reserve the tattling for issues where someone is hurt or something serious is going on.

I am curious what Tom's parents mean by saying your son is a bully. What kind of behavior are they noticing? I think you need to witness some of this first hand and find out from Tom's parents what they are seeing. If it is real bullying, it definitely needs to be addressed. Part of me thinks it might just be different personalities and your son might not really be doing anything inappropriate for his age and social maturity.

It is also good to remember that too much time together always breeds conflicts. With younger kids, short playdates might be the way to go. I know even kids that are the same age have issues with sharing or not wanting to play the same thing. These are things that all kids have to work on. When my oldest daughter has friends over I sometimes remind the kids that they can compromise. I like to let them figure out the compromise, but sometimes they need reminders that they have to consider both peoples' feelings.

The next time Tom is over, you might want to try observing the boys together. When they are fighting over something, try not to instantly reprimand your son. Or when Tom tattles that your son isn't sharing, try to say something to both boys like "why don't we see if we can find another car so you both have one" or "it looks like <son's name> is really enjoying that toy right now. maybe you can play with it in a few minutes. Why don't you play with this right now?" Maybe you'll feel less like you are angry with your child and maybe both boys will be able to learn how to deal with the situation on their own.

When all else fails, redirect both boys to doing something new. I keep a few craft sets at my house in case a playdate goes awry. If the kids can't figure things out on their own, I try to get them involved in doing a craft.

Try not to be too hard on yourself or your son. He is still young and he is still learning. The fact that you are involved says to me that you probably aren't doing anything wrong.

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answers from San Francisco on

Before Tom comes over again, Tell your son the minute they start fighting, Tom will have to go home and no more Wi for the day period. Tell Tom's parents the same thing and when Tom arrives, sit the boys down and say it again. Follow through if they start up.

Personally, I think Tom is a little too old for your boy even if your boy has the stronger personality. However, what you describe sounds more like the way brothers act toward each other. If that were the case, I would put them both on a time out or if there was hitting, they would both be sent to separate rooms.


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answers from New York on

If they were in school Tom would be taught it is not appropiate to keep tattling and he needs to deal with it himself. When kids dont know what's tattling and what is we say " are you telling me because someone's hurt?" "because you're worried someone will get hurt" "Or because you thing so and so should get in trouble" Do not respond unless your son if being physically aggressive. a 7 yr old needs to say STOP it! Or MY TURN.

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answers from Honolulu on

That is a BIG age difference and in development.

I have a 4 year old son.

Next: your son and Tom, already have a "pecking order" and your 4 year old is the one, bossying Tom around. Sure, at certain ages, they do this yada yada yada and its part of their sense of independence and whatnot.

But, if this is your son's only friend... and he does not have regular interaction with others and other kids... then, your son may get into the "habit" of thinking he can dominate all his friendships. And your son is not learning much from this. Except, negative social reactions and provoking.
Sure, all kids go through this. But...

You just start to teach him, NOW, about social interaction and what is acceptable or not, how to treat friends, how not to bully.

I began teaching my kids about social things & friends, from a young age. Since they were 2 years old.

Your son is 4. It is time to teach him already, about what is right and wrong. And consequences.

There will ALWAYS be, 'timid' kids and stronger kids in life, that your son will encounter.
BUT... so does it mean that its okay to "Boss" another kid, just because they are labeled as "timid" or considered "timid?"
And, being timid does not make one child worse than the other.
These concepts, HAS to be taught to a child.
What if it were your child that was "Timid?"

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answers from Hartford on

How many of these conflicts have you witnessed? I would supervise for a while when the boys don't realize it and see what's really going on. I have a feeling that your son isn't entirely to blame and that maybe this boy is tattling just to tattle. He doesn't like getting shot so much in a Star Wars game on Wii? It's a VIDEO GAME, shot happens. But he tattles. The phrase that stuck out is "he tattles so much that..."

I think it's wonderful that you're trying to balance the friendship and not allow your son to take advantage of someone who is more timid regardless of age. I'm just saying that maybe this boy is using tattling as his form of controlling the situation rather than bolstering his personality. Because when my girls do things like this to each other, I tell them to work it out between each other. It's not bullying behavior from what you've told us. It's tattling behavior. I don't abide tattling. I encourage kids working things out together.

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answers from Medford on

I think the best thing you can do for both your son and Tom is to not intervene on Tom's behalf when he "tattles." It sounds like the stuff he's tattling about are not safety issues, but fairness issues. Tom is probably used to parents solving his problems for him. If you respond by asking if he's told your son how he feels, the boys will have to find ways to reconcile on their own. If they can't make peace over something, a natural consequence may be that one of them won't want to play with the other at that moment. These are learning opportunities. They may need some help navigating the discussion, since it will be new to them. You can remind them to talk about their feelings, and ask probing questions to get them to share. I do this with my almost 3 and 5 year old, even though it's hard for a two-yr-old to identify feelings. Still, they're learning to sort things out on their own. If your son gets to hear from his friend the natural consequences of his choices, he'll change his behavior on his own, without any "discipline" from his parents.

One caveat: I think there is some danger in telling kids that "tattling" is not allowed. I have had arguments with a friend over this. Of course you want your kids to tell you if a friend of his is doing something dangerous. Kids can't always differentiate between "tattling" and sharing important information. I think the best solution is to not declare that tattling is prohibited, but remind them when it sounds like a problem they can solve on their own. This is empowering to kids!

Also, I thought I should mention that your son sounds extremely normal for his age. My son is doing similar testing of his social position. I'm hoping it doesn't last forever!

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answers from Phoenix on

I think the age difference is too big. 4 year olds & 7 year olds are worlds apart.

Yes, it seems as though the 7 year old is passive & a tattle tale, BUT, your son is also 4 years old & due to his age, maturity, and level of social skills, he may be hard for the 7 year old to reason with or get through to. The 7 year might be getting frustrated because your 4 old isn't responding to his attempt at a resolution or compromise.

You really don't know until you witness these exchanges, so I would ask that they play in a common area where you can spy until you figure out the true dynamic between them.

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answers from Portland on

JMO but, I think you are far too ahead of the game for him. IMO he should not be having sleep overs at his age and spending so much time with older kids. I think that once in a while, under supervision it's fine but IMO you are setting him up for some conflict and disappointment by constantly having him play with older boys. He is just not big enough, mature enough to play and act the way the older boys do and he is asserting himself the only way he knows how. I would back way off on having him play with the older boys so much, find an activity with kids his age or meet some friends from preschool for play dates.

Just my 2 cents.



answers from Portland on

I have always taken the toy or video game away when they start tattling on each other. If they can't play nicely, share, and behave, then no one gets to play with it. And it is only taken away for that incident. I have tried to teach my sons to share and be nice. Kids need to learn to work things out for themselves sometimes, and the easiest way for them is to tattle and let you do it.


answers from Eugene on

What if you had a seven year old and the four year old as your own children?
You have to talk to the older child and say please don't tattle for every little thing. We aren't employed as referees.
Children usually play with an age range of friends. Your son needs some skills that build skills. Have you ever put him in a gymnastics class or swim class.
He definately needs to learn to swim well. Every child does. Gymnastics will build his confidence in himself and he won't have to bully anyone.

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