Question: Our best friends have a preschooler about the same age as our children. This boy is habitually mean and aggressive around our kids. We try to keep visits short and supervised, but inevitably one of our children ends up getting kicked or whacked. How do we put a stop to this without offending our friends?

Answer:

The first question that comes to mind is this: why is your friends’ son so impulsively mean and aggressive? Without knowing more about the situation, we can only speculate, but we’re guessing that his behaviour is due either to ineffective parenting, some kind of family dysfunction, or some more severe psychological problems.

The benefit of a professional opinion

Since the parents are your best friends, perhaps it wouldn’t be inappropriate for you to suggest that they have their son evaluated by a mental health professional. This could be a child psychiatrist, a child psychologist or a licensed family counsellor. If it turns out that his aggressive behaviour is simply a result of ineffective or inconsistent parenting, your friends should be able to get some good parenting instruction from the professional who conducts the evaluation. Naturally, we also have a wealth of excellent parenting materials available here at Focus on the Family Canada. For more information, you or your friends can visit our online store or the parenting section. For referrals to licensed therapists practicing in your area, feel free to call our counselling department Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Pacific time at 1.800.661.9800.

Protecting your own children from harm

In the meantime, you need to protect your own children from harm. It’s your friends’ responsibility to step in and administer consequences when their son becomes violent or aggressive. Since it sounds like this isn’t happening, here’s what we would suggest.

Sit down with this couple and explain that while their friendship is important to you, the safety of your kids needs to be your number one priority. Then ask them if they will agree to this plan: the next time your children visit, they should inform their son that if he is mean to them or acts aggressively in any way, your kids will immediately need to go home.

Then, the next time it happens (as it certainly will), you should clearly announce that hitting is not allowed and that your family is leaving. Don’t stay to discuss the matter. Leave immediately, even if their son protests or cries. Do this every time he displays aggressive or mean-spirited behaviour of any kind. Since he obviously values playing with your children, it will probably only take a few incidents like this to put a serious dent in his negative behaviour. If you and your friends are consistent the behaviour should eventually disappear.

If you feel the need for some more personalized advice, don’t hesitate to call our counsellors at the number given above. For some helpful hints on handling unwanted behaviour in kids, you may also want to procure a copy of Dr. James Dobson’s book The New Dare to Discipline. It’s available through our ministry and can be ordered by visiting our online store.

© 2010 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

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