It’s important for our kids to have friends. At a technical level, having friends teaches our kids their first lessons of interaction and socializing. But mainly, it feels good to have friends. Their first friends are usually their parents’ friends’ babies – and dubbed their first boyfriend or girlfriend. They are friends with their brothers and sisters, their cousins, and whichever small child is brought along for a playdate so that the adults can get in some coffee and chat time. But it isn’t until they hit preschool that they get to choose their own friends. And this is when your child will be drawn to other children without someone else telling them they have to be friends and play nicely with each other. For the first time in their life, they get to like someone because, well, they like them.
We want our kids to have friends. Many of us will go out of our way to open up our home for playdates, or to organize birthday parties for our children’s friends to attend. We will learn the names of our children’s friends’ parents, and suddenly the shoe is on the other foot – our children are choosing our friends for us. But it’s welcomed, an easy way to meet new people and also stay involved in our children’s lives as they near that road of independence.
But sometimes friends aren’t welcome. Little Timmy comes over to play with your son, and lets himself into your home as soon as you open the door. And even though he came over to play with your son, suddenly your child is playing by himself in the living room while Timmy rifles through his things upstairs. He invites himself on your family outings. He opens your refrigerator to see what you have to eat. Maybe he lies repeatedly. Maybe he makes a mess of your home and then leaves before cleaning it up. He might use language that doesn’t fly in your home. He might be a hitter, or a biter, or use some other form of brutality to get his way. He might even steal your child’s belongings, maybe even yours. Whatever he’s doing wrong, the kid gets under your skin. Little Timmy has no sense of boundaries whatsoever, fails to follow the house rules even though you have reminded him of them repeatedly, and you have noticed that your child’s behavior has gone downhill dramatically ever since Timmy made his first appearance. And yet your child insists he wants to be friends with him.
So what do you do?
Do you do nothing, since this isn’t your child and have no place telling him what to do? Do you hope that maybe the positive energy of your home will have some effect on this troubled child? Do you discipline the child, coming down harsher than the gentle reminders about how the household works? If spanking is a part of your own family’s discipline, do you spank your child’s friend if they cross the limits? Or would you give them a time-out, or any other form of punishment? Do you go to his parents and talk to them about Timmy’s behavior? Do you forbid your child from playing with Timmy? How far is acceptable when it comes to other people’s children?