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A Parenting Dialogue: What to Do If You Don't Like Your Child's Friends

by Vannessa Rhoades 02 Nov 2023
parenting dialogue
A Parenting Dialogue: What to Do If You Don't Like Your Child's Friends


Asking for some advice here. My daughter has grown up with a 5-year-old girl across the street. We enjoy play dates, but the more time we spend together, the more I find myself not liking the type of person this 5-year-old girl is growing into. Things that bother me:

  • Constant comparison. “My house is bigger and better.” “Our car is newer.” “We spent $$$s on this dinner.”
  • General rudeness. She wanted to open my daughter’s presents on my daughter’s birthday. She questioned my husband when we served her lunch on paper plates and suggested that he use a real plate. She complained that my daughter’s birthday is always at the park.
  • Disregard for authority. Her afterschool nanny has complained that this 5-year-old girl does not listen when she comes over and therefore is no longer allowed to come over until I get home.

I know she’s only 5 years old, but I do not like the bad influence this little girl imposes. I’m even more annoyed that my daughter is very impressionable around her. How do I handle this “friendship?”

A Parenting Dialogue: What to Do If You Don't Like Your Child's Friends

The New Mom


I’ve found that complimenting their good behavior goes further than correcting bad. This little girl may not be living her best life at home and is maybe hoping to while at your house. If she doesn’t have much supervision at home, that will also mean little influence and attention. You might be very surprised how including her and occasional praise might change her behavior. It sounds very much like a puppy that’s jumping for attention. 

Having her do simple things, like helping pick up while there or setting the table if she’s eating there, will make her feel more included. Braggers are usually compensating for what they lack. Maybe she always eats off paper plates and thought it would be different at your house. Maybe she’s never gotten presents and was just excited.

You just have to remember these kids are 5 years old and still building social awareness. I can guarantee I was a jerk sometimes at 5 years old (mainly because my parents were going through a divorce), and I had friends whose parents were just mean to me without ever seeking to understand what was going on with me.

The adults need to be adults and go a level further than, “I don’t like X behavior. Therefore, this kid is fundamentally bad.” Ask questions and be thoughtful – you may be able to help a kid in pain.

-- Shawn, mother of one toddler

The Experienced Mother


You maintain boundaries in your home and be an adult who is caring and shows her other options. She’s 5, trying to navigate the world with the tools she has. She’s not evil. She’s insecure and doesn’t know any better. Also… she’s a kid, and they are supposed to disregard authority, lol.

All this to say: she sounds like a typical kid who needs to broaden her horizons. Your different lifestyle and expectations are enriching. And it’s a good lesson for your daughter on how she can be her own person (who’s different from her friends) and that she can move through the world in ways that feel good for her. I say allow your daughter to navigate this friendship. It doesn’t seem unsafe, just annoying.

Right now, as frustrating as this all is to deal with as the parent, it's pretty mild stuff. You're generally able to supervise, and you can intervene when necessary, as well as have conversations with your own child about this. This will be especially important if you see this friend acting in an unkind manner to your daughter. You can talk about healthy friendships and all that. 

I think this will also be a good lesson in that different families/people value different things. And that's okay as long as everyone is generally being kind and respectful. Basically, I'm saying that this child is offering you a good opportunity to have these conversations and build up skills that your daughter will need as she grows up. Remember, you'll likely never be able to influence your daughter as much as you can now. Eventually, your daughter is going to be interacting with peers who may display far more undesirable behavior, but it's not going to be occurring in your presence. And when that happens, you'll want your daughter to have had some practice determining what kind of behavior is okay. You’ll also want her to trust that she can come to you if she's unsure or in over her head.

-- Katie, mom of four grown children

The Psychologists' Approach


It's bound to happen: Your child may befriend someone you dislike for various reasons, ranging from annoyance to genuine concern. However, forbidding the friendship is not advisable. Firstly, your child will probably blurt it out (“My mom said we can’t play together!”), giving others the impression that you're unkind and could lead to disagreements with the friend's parents. Secondly, such restrictions may make the disliked friend more appealing to your child, a phenomenon known as the "Romeo and Juliet effect." Thirdly, it's an overstep of boundaries and denies your child autonomy in forming relationships. Lastly, insisting on the ban can create a rift between you and your child. 

Instead, psychologists suggest parents consider these alternative ways to handle the situation.

  • Make an effort to get to know the child. Get to know your child's friend better in order to understand what attracts your child to them. People generally have likable qualities, and discovering them can help you see past irritations. Remember that children evolve, and annoying behaviors may diminish as the friend matures. Avoid assuming all blame on the other child; your child might be involved or even encouraging certain behaviors. Both kids make mistakes, and neither is entirely good or bad.
  • Be compassionate and hospitable. While you may not adore all of your child's friends, being a gracious host is important. This not only supports your child but also sets an example of good social skills. Additionally, it allows you to monitor the friend's behavior, and if needed, you can defuse tensions by suggesting snacks or going outside when things get heated.
  • Clearly communicate your household rules to the child. It's unfair to be upset if you haven't expressed your expectations. Politely talk to the friend, specifying rules such as taking off shoes, where it’s okay to eat, or seeking permission for fridge items. If a neighbor lingers too long, establish time limits. For instance, you can tell them it’s okay to play until 5 p.m. and then they need to head home. Enlist your child's help in addressing issues, citing specific incidents, and providing guidance on proper behavior. (e.g., “The last time Sarah came over, you two dumped all the Legos on the floor and didn’t put them away. If you want to play with Legos, please remember to pick them up afterward.”)
  • Encourage critical thinking. Guide your child in assessing their friendship by starting with positive aspects, like shared interests and admiration. Gradually delve into sensitive areas by asking questions like, "How do you feel when you're with them?" and inquire about arguments, qualities of a good friend, and how the friend shows care. Aim for a thoughtful evaluation of the relationship rather than outright labeling it as good or bad.
  • Create opportunities for your child to form new friendships or strengthen existing ones. Encourage participation in after-school activities, suggest playdates with different friends, or organize family game nights to broaden social circles.

Children's friendships are often short-lived. Research shows that first-graders retain only about half of their friendships from fall to spring, while fourth- and eighth-graders see about one-fourth lasting less than a full school year. These changes don't necessarily involve dramatic conflicts; often, friendships naturally fade as interests and activities evolve. The disliked friendship may not endure, or both your child and the friend might mature, leading to an improved relationship. Regardless, your child will gain valuable lessons from the experience. Similar to romantic relationships, kids sometimes need to navigate what they dislike to discern their preferences.


    The Holistic Approach

    A:Even within gentle, holistic approaches to parenting, there are times when dealing with one of your child’s friends can be challenging. In the Montessori environment, for example, parents and teachers strive for pleasant interactions among the children. The goal is cooperative work and play efforts and a classroom full of children who enjoy being there and being together. 

    But is it healthy to enforce the idea that “we’re all friends”?

    Betsy Merena, an AMS-certified toddler guide at The Montessori School of Westminster, says not necessarily. She points out that doing so may instead give children a skewed idea of what “friendship” is and what it means to exist in a cooperative environment with their peers.

    “As adults, we live and work in a society with each other. We navigate relationships of all kinds in many ways. But no one ever expects us to be friends with everyone with whom we regularly interact. Why do we ask that of children? Instead of saying we’re all friends, let’s try, ‘We are a community’ instead. In communities, people are expected to act with grace and courtesy toward each other, but they are not expected to be friends with everyone. We can set healthy boundaries and still be kind. We can recognize how other people make us feel and choose who we honor with the title of ‘friend.’”

    In other words, you don’t have to champion the idea of “universal friendship” just because you prefer a more holistic approach to parenting. Help your kids make smart choices in their friendships. Talk to your child about how they feel when they're with this friend, how often they argue, and what qualities make a good friend. Your goal is to encourage a thoughtful evaluation of the relationship, not to make your child label the friend as bad.

    “As guides, and as parents, we know that some children’s personalities are like oil and water,” Merena says. “It is so much more empowering to say to them honestly, ‘You don’t have to be friends, but you must be respectful, kind, and courteous to each other.’ Perhaps then, as these children grow, they’ll have a healthier view of friendship. We can hope that they will have a more robust emotional and social tool kit for existing cooperatively with people [whom] they just don’t click with well. And, what a poignant lesson this could be for us as an American community right now. We might not all be friends, we might disagree, but we must be respectful, kind, and courteous to each other.”


      A Parenting Dialogue: What to Do If You Don't Like Your Child's Friends

      The Bottom Line

      Understanding the available toddler reward systems is crucial in making the right choice for your child's temperament and behavior. Each child is distinct, and as a parent, you are the best judge of your child's needs. Reward systems can be particularly effective for goal-oriented tasks like potty training or getting your toddler to stay in bed at night. However, if you have any concerns about your child's behavior, seek guidance from their pediatrician or healthcare provider.


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