How to Talk to My Friend About Her Sons Behavior?

Updated on January 03, 2018
L.S. asks from New York, NY
16 answers

A friend and I met 4 years ago through our now 8 year old sons...they were in kindergarten together. We live in a very small community and I am her closest friend. I'm involved in the PTA, etc. so I know a lot of other families. As the children got older I started to keep my distance from said friend because of her sons behavior. Manipulative, bullying, disrespectful, etc. But it's extremely hard not being honest with her. She constantly wants to hang out, do play dates, etc. She's also a single mom so she sometimes needs help with pick ups, etc. I help her when I can. Most recently his behavior is getting worse and I think he's a bad influence on my son. Not only that, but several people have approached me about him bullying their children in school, etc. She recently invited herself to a friends party once I innocently told her that I was going to. It was a kid friendly party. Low and behold, a few days after the party I ran into one of my friends who told me that the boy teased her daughter so badly at the party...called her a piece of sh*t, fat, etc. These are the same types of things I hear through town. People feel comfortable telling me with the hopes that I will talk to "my friend". It's becoming so awkward. Folks are now ostracizing him and her from Birthday parties, etc. I'm thinking instead of talking about her behind her back I should just have a heart to heart with her. She tends to make excuses for his behavior...there are so many examples I can list here. But just looking for some overall advice on this.

EDITING this to add---any incidents that take place in school is addressed by the school as far as I know. A kid was even moved to another class. Most of these incidents are in social settings. Parents are not being gossipy about it....I'm the one who is conflicted on how to either talk to her or continue to try my best and keep my distance. It's such a fine line.

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So What Happened?

I finally had a talk with my friend. Overall she made excuses for his behavior and defended every incident. She stated that he has a thick skin and that children do the same towards him but that he just isn't a tattle teller. So he gets into trouble because everyone tells on him. She took no accountability. She only said that he was going to get into big trouble. She explained away his behavior...no real concern for how he makes other children feel. I guess she will have to learn the hard way as he gets older. I truly believe she thinks "kids will be kids" and this behavior isn't that big of a deal.

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T.S.

answers from San Francisco on

If this child is truly "bullying" then these parents should NOT be coming to you as a PTA member, they should be dealing with the school directly. Teachers and staff are in the classroom and on the playground, and they can see and monitor exactly what's going on and help this child change his behavior for the better. I would also remind these parents of that it's incredibly inappropriate and unkind to spread rumors about children.
And I really don't understand how a child could say such awful things about another child at a party without anyone intervening. If I witnessed that sort of behavior I would have dealt with it then and there, not asked another parent to "talk" to the kid's mom after the fact.
Tell these horrible gossipy parents to take care of their own business and not insert you into it.

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R.K.

answers from Appleton on

Stop being so PC and have a get together with all the moms and the mom of this child. As a group tell her how all of you feel. Tell her he calls the other kids names and bullies them. Let her know she is welcome to join you for events but her son is not.
This mom needs to get a handle on her son's behavior. She needs counseling and possibly needs to get her son into counseling. Social Services can help you with this more than a school counselor can.

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M.D.

answers from Pittsburgh on

I think that you should not bring up one single incident that has been 'reported' to you. You don't have 1st hand knowledge of these incidents and so, IMO, they are gossip. I suggest that you have a standard response to anyone who tells you something about her. You should say "If you are upset with Johnny, you should talk to his mom, Sue, directly." If they say they don't know her, don't have her contact info, etc, simply say "It's in the school directory" or something like that. Stop talking behind her back by absolutely refusing to get in the middle, and make it clear to people who are telling you these things that you refuse to be the bearer of their messages or even listen to their complaints. If they start to go on and on about it, shut down the conversation with "I'm sorry but I don't like to talk about people behind their backs. You should talk to Sue directly. Is your daughter having fun in art class this year?" (or whatever to change the subject).

You can and should talk to her about her child's behavior when he is in your care - so during those pick ups, etc, if he is disrepectful or picks on your child, then say so. But you ONLY talk to her about things you have seen with your own two eyes.

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B.C.

answers from Norfolk on

Why are people talking to YOU about your friends kid?
They need to talk to your friend.
You tell them - talk to her.
If you want to discuss her sons behavior as to how it relates to your child - fine.
Excusing his behavior isn't helping him - tell her that.
But you should not be the bearer of news/gossip about how her son is relating to other kids.
Those parents need to step up and say something - so she knows - from more than one person - that her kid needs help.
It's entirely possible she won't listen no matter how many people talk to her.
Some parents just can't see fault in their kids even if they are bouncing off the walls.

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S.T.

answers from Washington DC on

you actually have two separate issues here. one is how to handle your friend and her son directly, as they impact you.

the other is the 'awkwardness' of you being put in the position of community mediator.

the second is the easiest to handle. decline the position. 'i'm sorry to hear that marianne's son was so mean to yours. i hope your conversation with her goes well.'

this is not yours to fix.

however, you do have a duty to keep your own child out of the line of fire, especially if the other boy's actions are impacting your kid negatively. 'marianne, dexter was very rude and disrespectful to me today when i picked him up. i've told him that if it happens again he won't be allowed in my car. i know we've got plans for me to get him after school on wednesdays, so you need to deal with this.'

and if he does it again, 'i'm sorry, marianne, dexter's behavior is simply unacceptable. you'll have to make other plans for wednesdays.'

no excuses. no apologies.

it doesn't have to be a big angsty confrontation. a simple, low-key, no anger 'oh, thanks so much for inviting us to the park, hon! i'm afraid we can't do it. i'm having some issues dealing with my parker after he's been with dexter, and so i'm going to limit their time together until this has worked itself out. i'd love to have coffee with you, though. can you get free any time in the next week or so?'

no blame. no suggestions on how she should handle her son. no stories of how awful he's being to other kids. no tattling.

and yeah, no gossiping behind her back.

your only business in this is how it directly affects you and your son. period.

unless, of course, she outright asks for your advice and input. but you don't indicate that this is the case.
khairete
S.

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E.B.

answers from Honolulu on

First, I would figure out a brief statement to say when people feel comfortable telling you how difficult this woman's son is. I would say something like "Please either tell [Marge] your complaints about her son directly. But please don't tell me. I have decided to stop listening to things I have absolutely no control over, and [Marge]'s son is one of those things."

And I would stay consistent with it.

Then, I would talk to [Marge] but ONLY about your own concerns. Tell her that you are happy to help HER, but if it involves her son, you're going to have to say no. If Marge needs you to pick up her prescription since you're going to the pharmacy, fine. But if she wants you to car pool her son, it will have to be no. Then try to give her specifics if she asks. Don't say "he's a bully" or "he is so disrespectful". Say "he called me a stupid driver several times during the ride to school, even when I asked him not to". "He kept hitting my son in the back seat which caused a serious distraction to me." "He continue to curse and swear the whole ride to school and he kept saying that his teacher was a b**ch, which is language that I don't allow in my car or house."

Bring her a cup of coffee when you say these things so she realizes she's not being thrown out of your life. You're not rejecting her. You're not even rejecting her son, but you are rejecting his behavior. The problem is his language, his hitting, his words, not the boy himself.

If she is responsible, she'll put two and two together and realize this is why she's not being invited to parties. You might tell her about a time when you needed some advice, and how you went to the school counselor, or something that helped you with a problem. That might give her some direction about which way to go to get some help for her son's behavior.

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D.B.

answers from Boston on

There is no easy way to handle this.

The other parents who come to you about what happened at the birthday party or in the classroom need to be stopped. "I'm sorry, but you need to deal directly with her" (birthday party) or "you need to deal directly with the school" (classroom/recess). "It is not appropriate for me to deal with these issues with your child, as sympathetic as I am."

And while you feel these parents are coming to you for help, by definition, what they are engaging in is gossip. I know people feel that gossip has to have a bad intent, but that's not true. Simply stating things to a 2nd party to lower that person's regard for a 3rd party is technically gossip.

Just because you are in the PTA does not make you responsible for children. Just because you are her friend does not mean you intercede on others' behalf. You deal with yourself and your child ONLY. I know it's flattering that people come to you, as it is flattering that she comes to you, but it really doesn't sound like this is beneficial for you at all. You have to create more boundaries!

You say all the things that you do for her, but you don't say that she's a particularly good friend to you. Does she support you, help you out, listen to your problems? Or does her neediness just feed your ego a little bit and invite more neediness on her part? Try to read into your actions to see if she is taking them the wrong way.

So, don't tell her where you are going. She doesn't have enough sense to refrain from inviting herself and her child to a party where no invitation was extended? You have to keep totally mum about your plans. Just "Sorry, I have plans that day." Period.

You probably should cut back on your get-togethers since you don't seem to get a lot out of them. And stop doing all the pick-ups for her child. "Sorry, that won't work for me. Good luck!" is all you have to say. Actually, it's said that "No" is a complete sentence. You don't have to explain why you can't do things for her. Just say you cannot. If she persists, you can say that the boys have gone their separate ways and it's not a good fit anymore like it was when they were 5. Soften it by saying that kids often diverge in these later grades and have different interests, personalities, needs, wants, etc. If you want to (and she won't take it well, you can add that he's way too disrespectful and tries too hard to get his way. (Sounds better than "manipulative" but conveys the same thing.

The other thing that you and the other parents need to do is call her to come get her kid, or take him home, if he misbehaves. The host of that party should have stopped her at the door and said, "I'm so sorry, but this party is by invitation only and we just can't take walk-ins." But you can ONLY talk to her about your kid and your needs, and keep the other parents out of it. If she asks about another parent, tell her you have no idea and to ask them. The way to truly hurt her is to be the spokesperson for others and let her know everyone's talking about her behind her back. That's cruel and unnecessary.

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D.D.

answers from Boston on

Just throwing it out there that its not your circus, not your monkey. When someone starts to talk about this kid and his behavior to you put the brakes on the say 'Sorry but if you are having issues with XXXXX then you really need to talk to his mom'. You aren't being a friend to this woman by listening to gossip from others and talking with them behind her back instead of addressing your issues directly to her.

As far as your interactions with this child? You control how he behaves in your car so if he starts saying things he shouldn't be saying or using language that he shouldn't be using you can do what I use to do. Pull the car over, throw it in park, turn around and say 'I'm sorry but you must be mistaken. That language doesn't happen around me. You need to stop or this will be the last time you will be in my car.' Then if it does happen again you tell him mom that you are sorry but you warned him about his language or behavior and it didn't improve so there's no more pick ups by you.

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M.G.

answers from Portland on

I think you have to watch that you're not viewing yourself as responsible for your friend. You don't have to be the middle man. You say parents feel comfortable coming to you. Then that's partly your personality. Nip that in the bud right now. Not your job.

That's also very disrespectful to you - for these people to put you in that position.

If your sons are no longer friends, just don't have them hang out. Have your son be busy with his other friends/interests and if your friend asks why he's not available, just say that he's more into such and such these days. I personally wouldn't get into specifics.

The part where you say you're HER closest friend, you help her out, and she 'constantly' wants to hang out - sounds like she's become a burden. Again, she's not your responsibility. This doesn't sound like much of a friendship. It would be kinder to her to let her go.

Added: If you want to continue the friendship and feel the only way to do so is to talk to her about her son's behavior, then I would just do so in a very matter of fact way - but I'd leave out the part about everyone else. I'd just focus on the key deal breaker for you with your son. You say he's been a bad influence - give an example of that. The best thing would be to say "I've noticed our boys do THIS when they hang out - I'm not ok with that, so how can we handle it? Here's my suggestion ... ".

Or are you looking to remain friends and not have the boys hang out? That might be harder and may not be possible.

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M.6.

answers from New York on

I get it. I ended up gaining a friend through our mutual children about 20 years ago. Our daughters were best friends. She also had 2 boys - both of them HUGE trouble makers. Her mantra was always "boys will be boys" and held them accountable for nothing. It didn't really affect me much since our daughters were the friends and we had no boys. Then we adopted our boys from Russia and two of our three boys were the exact age as her two boys. She felt it was natural that they should all just be best friends. We ended up putting our boys in a small charter school when they first came home so she moved her boys to the same school (which came on the heels of them both being suspended from their original school anyways). I ended up running the parent committee so I heard alot of the complaints about my friend and her boys.

I would just tell people, "hey, look, Susie is a really great person but her and I have radically different child rearing styles and ideas - you really should reach out to her if you have issues with her." I would let folks know that she was a really nice person, but that is all I would get involved with so I wouldn't end up being the "go between."

As far as letting our boys play together, I just really didn't. I know she figured it out, but I was also pretty open about our differences in child rearing and I made it ok that I wasn't hinging our friendship on that. I never made it sound like she was parenting wrong and I was doing it right, just that we were doing it differently.

She is going to put her son above all, so I don't think talking to her is the answer. I guess if she is really your friend, then you can find common ground other than your children. If you can't, then she really isn't a friend and then you can decide what you want your future contact with her to look like.

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C.T.

answers from Santa Fe on

That's so hard. It is the right thing to do for other people to not invite her son. When friends come to you about this problem I would tell them to talk directly to her about it instead of expecting you to do it. Or to simply not invite her son. If he just shows up to a party uninvited the host needs to protect their child by telling her sorry, but he needs to leave due to him hurting their child in the past. This sounds mean but she needs to understand her son cannot treat others like that. And the same goes for you...when her son acts badly and it affects you and your kids have a gentle talk with her about how this is becoming a problem and you are concerned. Her son needs help, guidance, consequences, and consistent parenting. If her son does not change then I would only get together with her just the two of you - no kids. She needs a parenting class. For example, when her son bullies someone does she know about it? When she does know about it she needs to take immediate action letting her son know that it is 100% not acceptable. He needs consequences, a strict talking to, and he needs to apologize. I would strongly suggest she sign him up for a weekly therapy session as well. This will mean another adult on her side helping her son to have better behavior. Give her the name of a great child psychiatrist in your area who specializes in this kind of behavior. The therapist may meet with her one on one at times as well. She has her hands full as a single parent and is probably exhausted...but if her son treats other kids badly then yes, the other parents and kids should not be inviting him to parties and playdates. That is not your problem.

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R.J.

answers from Tampa on

This is a tough situation. I have had similar situations myself where I had two friends who I enjoyed spending time with, but their kids were unfortunately a different story. The boys in both situations were rude, and treated my kids poorly. After a few instances I just started declining any invitation that involved their kids. After one dinner where one friends son was completely rude to my kids, I did approach her and let her know what was said. She seemed surprised and I don't know if she said anything to her son or not And the funny part is one would talk about the other kids' behavior, It blew my mind that they couldn't see their own child's behavior.
The friendship with one woman has completely fizzled out, but I am still good friends with the other. The few times that we have been in a setting where her son is there, if he is rude to my kids I say something. And he actually has gotten better.
I agree it is not up to you to tell your friend what other people are saying, that is up to them. But you absolutely should talk to her about how her son's behavior is affecting your child and see what happens. If nothing changes or she ignores the behavior simply decline invitations that involves the kids. Hopefully she'll catch on.

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J.C.

answers from Anchorage on

The worst that will happen if you tell her is that she will no longer be your friend, but since you have been trying to keep your distance anyways that would really be no big loss. On the other hand if you talk to her honestly and without judgment she may listen to you and finally address her child's issues. If it were me I would have that difficult conversation with her even though I know it will be scary.

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T.D.

answers from Springfield on

oh wow, i could of typed this myself. ( with a few differences though) i think that in my situation i saw the future and didn't like it so i dropped all ties with the mom, i notified the school about the child being a bully, and if any parent came to me about her or her kids i just told them that i no longer talked to her and they should go talk to her about things.

the woman i refer to always uses the dad leaving her as her excuse.. ie: "oh he acts like that because of his dad." never addressing the childs behaviors. when her child got physical with mine i stepped in, firmly told her kid that his behavior was unacceptable and to go sit by his mother. then helped my kid and his friend get up off the floor (they had been shoved down) and sent them along to play happily. other parents have come to me telling me about what her chld has done to their kid and i always ask how she responded when they told her about it and when they say they didn't talk to her i say then that is where you should start, by talking to her.
so from experience, cut all ties, and refer all other parents back to her to deal with her kids behavior. and if shes inviting herself and her kid the host of the party should simply ask where her invitation is and when she does not have one reply with then you were not invited and it is seen as rude to show up uninvited. and ask her to leave

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N.B.

answers from Oklahoma City on

I think I would meet with the principle and ask if he/she would be willing to discuss her son's actions with the mom. This is serious and it seems like no one has told the mom anything.

If she allows it to continue after being faced with his actions then it's on her and she deserves people telling her to her face that his behavior is unacceptable.

I'd have come unglued on that child and told the mom to get his butt out of my house if he'd have teased one of my kids like that. He sounds like an absolute jerk.

S.L.

answers from New York on

Do you really think she doesn't know her son is very difficult? She never brings up anything to indicate she is worried about him? I'm sure the school has contacted her. If you are her closest friend, it's sad she never admits there are difficulties. That's a problem we mothers have, not even telling our closest friends because we don't want to be judged as "less than great". Start by telling her something you're embarrassed to admit, you're son can't ride a bike yet, your son has trouble in math, something. See if she'll open up. as everyone said, Don't talk about the other moms, just what you've witnessed. Make sure anything you say about her son sounds like a concerned, loving "aunt/friend", who's shocked that this kid you've know since Kindergarten is being like this! If she admits any concern, don't give advice, suggest consulting an expert.This problem is well beyond a little advice from a friend.

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