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How do I handle the bad behavior of my kids’ friends?

How do I handle the bad behavior of my kids’ friends?

Dear Mama Drama:

Hope it’s okay I’m a dad.

My wife and I have a 4 year old in preschool and have recently been struggling with whom our little guy is friends. There is one particular boy at school that we feel is a bad influence from whom our son seems to be picking up bad habits. Should we let his teacher know and perhaps ask them to not allow them to spend so much time together throughout the day?

(photo credit)

We even have the kid’s mother now asking for play dates and we’re not sure if we should encourage our son to hang out with this other little boy. Are we being too protective and controlling?  What would your advice be for encouraging our son to hang out with nicer, more well-behaved kids?

Thanks ~ Flustered Father

Dear Flustered:

Thanks for your email, so glad to have a dad join the conversation. You are in a tricky, although fairly common, situation. It can be challenging to find that balance between protecting our little ones and allowing them to explore friendship choices.

If there is behavior coming home from preschool that you are uncomfortable with, it is important to speak with your son’s teacher so she can address the behavior as it occurs at school. I suggest doing this without naming the child from whom you think the behaviors originate.  Ask her to keep an eye out for these “bad habits” and encourage more appropriate behaviors from your son. She can take the lead in addressing the behaviors with other children.

Regarding play dates, you certainly have the right as parents to choose with whom your preschooler plays outside of school. Here are a few options for how to handle the invitations. You can avoid the play dates with scheduling issues; be direct and talk with the mother about the concerning behaviors both boys have been engaging in and work on them together; or invite them to play at your house where you can supervise their interactions and set limits in regards to behavior that is allowed at your house.

In the meantime be clear and consistent with your son about how you expect him to behavior. Notice and praise the positive choices you want to encourage and see more of, even using stamps or stickers if you feel he needs more concrete recognition to shift his behavior. You can also bring his attention to how he feels when other treat him politely and how they respond when he is kind as well.

Use planned attention with regards to the unwanted behavior as long as it is not dangerous. When he engages in the bad habits, ignore and do not give him attention – positive or negative. As soon as he changes to acceptable behavior, give him lots of positive attention and eye contact acknowledging the positive choices as stated above. If the behavior is dangerous or you just can’t ignore it, redirect him to a different activity or behavior instead of commenting on the negative behavior. If you must comment, using “uh-oh” as a reminder rather than lecturing decreasing the attention your are giving to the negative behaviors.

Reading books can also be helpful in teaching and reinforcing good social skills as well as directing him toward friends who treat him well. Some good options for preschoolers are How to be a Friend by Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown, Do Unto Otters: A Book About Manners by Laurie Keller, and Billy Bully by Ana Galan. The Franklin the Turtle series as well as the Arthur books are also good resources.

How do you handle bad habits your children’s playmates share?

Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Fridays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. 

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1 Comment

  1. This is a great topic. Last year in kindergarten a few of our neighborhood boys befriended a kid in their class who was a really bad influence and same thing–the mother asked for a playdate. My son was OK but for one of the boys, it was a BAD experience (hitting, swearing, meltdowns, etc.) and I had no idea how to handle it with my son. Lucky for me, the mom stopped asking. 🙂

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