Playdates and bullies

guava's picture
Mon, 06/15/2009 - 14:57 -- guava

True mama confession: I hate playdates. The thought of standing around with another mama that I don't know that well, trying to make small talk while our kids play totally stresses me out. Which is why I usually try to arrange for my kids to play with the children of my friends. Though lately, even these arrangements have become increasingly fraught with the parenting land mines.

Case in point. My two boys are 4.5 and 2. They play together a lot and generally have a really good relationship, aside from the normal bickering over toys, etc. But lately we've been having trouble when my older son's friends come over for playdates. In most cases, the older kid doesn't want my younger son to join them, and tries to actively exclude him. Then we have to intervene, explain about sharing and including people, etc. Strangely enough, none of the other parents ever seem aware that this is happening, or else they do nothing about it.

One friend in particular is posing the most significant problem. Admittedly, this kid is dealing with a lot right now - a new sibling and a very stressful financial situation that's putting a huge strain on his parents. So he's kind of acting out because he's craving attention. But every time he comes over, he waits until someone's not looking, then does something really mean/dangerous to my little guy. He has pushed him down a hill, dumped gravel on his head, turned on the hose full in his face, repeatedly knocked him down and ripped toys out of his hands. All of this while his parents are supposedly watching him, and they do absolutely nothing. He does this stuff right in front of their faces, and they just ignore it. In fact, they are constantly going on about how well-behaved and kind their child is. Meanwhile their kid watches you, follows you around and waits for you to do something like go to the bathroom, then he acts.

I don't want to make my older son responsible for the bully, and I try to keep an eagle eye on him whenever I can. I was hosting a party the last time they came over, and enlisted another pal specifically to watch this kid...and he still managed to rip binkies out of little kids' mouths and dunk a baby underwater. These friends live close by and come over a lot. They don't deal well with any sort of criticism. But this behavior is getting worse, and I'm tired of my little son taking a beating at the hands of someone 20 pounds heavier.

I am thinking that I should enlist their help the next time something happens, and say, "How should we handle this?" Or I could just lay it out in the context of: "We've been having some issues with D's friends not wanting to play nicely with T." But I'm not sure if that's strong enough to get the point across.

Comments

earthgarden's picture

how about: Your kid keeps hitting my kid. What should we do about this? then if they act salty about it or unresponsive, stop the playdates.

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guava's picture
Submitted by guava on

Especially the "what should WE do about this?" because it puts the onus on them to pay more attention and come up with a solution, but it doesn't feel blame-y.

sebsmom's picture
Submitted by sebsmom on

Ugh... rough situation!!

I get that you don't want your older son to be responsible for the bully's behavior but I don't think there's anything wrong with letting him know that you expect him to protect his brother even if it's just by telling an adult if another kid is getting too rough. I think 4.5 is old enough to understand that it's wrong to stand by and let an older kid beat on your little brother whether you're directly participating in the bullying or not. So if this other kid knocks your 2-yr-old down in your 4-yr-old's presence maybe you can tell your son that his friend (the bully) needs to go home if they can't play nice with the little one. The next time this kid does something rotten you can say "That's it [bully] needs to go home." If the kid's parents protest then play it off like you're doing what you need to do to discipline your kid. Say that your 4 year old knows the consequences if he or his friends mistreat his brother. It might seem like you're unfairly punishing your older son but all you're doing is asserting that any of his friends who bully his brother will need to go home. Hopefully it will open your friends' eyes to their kid's bad behavior but if not at least you have a semi-diplomatic way to handle the situation...

huck's picture
Submitted by huck on

it is so rare to have a one-on-one opportunity with your children when you have a few in the house. if you are comfortable with the big boys playing together maybe this is your chance to have some focused time with your little guy. it can be special for him and the big boys can have a chance to be big kids together. maybe your boy will be a good influence on him.

though i also agree with the direct "what do we do about this" approach.

guava's picture
Submitted by guava on

thanks! I have talked to my older son about coming and getting me if he sees the friend bullying his brother. So far it hasn't happened. I think he gets caught up in wanting to do what his friend is doing, and doesn't want to rock the boat. We are still working on this. I think the parents would get the message loud and clear if I told them it was time for their kid to leave! I like the idea of making it a "house rule" and about our kid learning consequences.

guava's picture
Submitted by guava on

and generally the little guy will do his best to escape from being with me when the big kids are here, because he doesn't want to be left out! But I haven't tried doing a more structured activity with him, like drawing or making something. That's a great idea - thanks!

sebsmom's picture
Submitted by sebsmom on

I also agree with what Madame Filth said about reprimanding the bully kid directly. You can do this without being super harsh or yelling at him. Something like, "Please don't do that. That hurts [2-yr-old]. You don't want to hurt him do you?" If you see it again you can do something like I suggested above like ask the kid to leave with the explanation that you've made a rule that if your older son OR ANY OF HIS FRIENDS are mistreating his little bro the friend will have to go home. You've made it your rule for your kid so they can't really say anything about it.
OR if he does it again after you've nicely asked him not to you can go to the bully kid directly again and say something like, "I think we need to talk to your mommy and daddy about this." Bring him over to them and ask him to tell them what he did. Best case scenario he listens to you and confesses. If not you can tell them... something along the lines of "well, I saw [bully kid] playing a little rough with [2-yr-old] and asked him to stop because that is dangerous - right?" Let him confirm this and then say "But just now [bully kid] was doing the same thing again to [2-yr-old]. I told him we'd need to talk to mommy and daddy about this." Try to say it sympathetically like you're all on the same side (which you are really) and act like there's no question in your mind that they will be concerned about this behavior and will address it with their kid. You haven't said their son is a bad kid - you've just alerted their attention to his misbehavior. And you're not really criticizing them as parents - you're showing that you have confidence that they will do their best to correct the behavior. If you go this route I would do it even if you think the kid's parents saw what he did. It sounds possible that the parents are stressed/exhausted/burnt out... whatever. They might be watching what's happening and may be concerned about it but are too worn down to jump in and take action. If that's the case they could be rationalizing their inaction by telling themselves that you haven't said anything about it and no one's really gotten hurt so maybe it's not a big deal. If you let them know that this IS a big problem for you while maintaining the illusion that they must not have seen what happened (or else surely they would have taken care of it) that might just be the kick in the ass they need to deal with their son.
I mean... if you do this and you're nice about it I really don't see how they can be pissed off unless the kid denies what you're saying and they believe him over you. In that case the friendship btwn you and them is doomed anyways - if they think you'd make up a lie about their son bullying your son then they can't think very highly of you. If they DO believe you then what are they going to do? Argue that they don't see anything wrong with their 5-yr-old doing the things you described to a 2-year-old? Again, if they think that way you don't need them as friends!

idyllia's picture
Submitted by idyllia on

I only know what I have read here, but my first year with two kids was sheer hell. And every extra stress made things exponentially worse.

It sounds like the kid has issues @ home, he is angry (looking for attention usually means kids will act out to an audience, hiding the misbehaviour suggests resentment/revenge), he likely feels powerless, marginalised, insignificant, worthless, and insecure. He should know that he isn't an unlikeable or awful kid, he's just dealing with a ton of bullshit right now, distracted parents, a new baby, and likely a history of disconnection, correction, and anger.

Armchair psychology aside, what do you do?

The mamas here have offered their advice and I say follow what speaks to you.

My experience with playdates as a new mom to two (with one being a 'terror') is that I totally took advantage of the extra adult eyes so that I could just breathe a bit, I was so very very very overwhelmed back then. I did have friends stop playing with us, it totally sucked, but we moved on. If you like this family or if your son get on well with this boy, I suggest you doing what you can to help. Free hour of babysitting? Casserole? Drinks with the mama? A non-judgemental ear to listen/shoulder to cry on? A sense that this will all one day be long past and life with two kids will start to feel normal and ok? I was lucky enough to get these things and more when I really needed them.

Lots of vibes.

idyllia's picture
Submitted by idyllia on

I also hate them. Usually. Mostly because my kid is super intense and I feel the judgments flying my way when we're having an off day.

But I like meeting people and I like having guests over to the house, mostly we keep busy doing other things, life things, and the play is a flowing part of that.

guava's picture
Submitted by guava on

That's part of why I feel bad about this situation. We've been trying to help out where we can - mostly by having them over a bunch for dinner, or bringing food round and just trying to be a listening ear, etc. There are other things going on with them that I suspect, but don't want to elaborate on. The family is definitely going through a rough time, and it's hard to balance trying to be there for friends with the escalating situation with the kids.

Generally speaking, I enjoy having friends over because I am usually perfectly happy to let the kids run all over the place and entertain themselves while I finally relax! I'm sure that's part of what is going on with them too.

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