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What do you do when your kid rejects a friend?

By Alice Bradley

There comes an uncomfortable turning point in the parent/child relationship when the child realizes that he has opinions about whom he wants to befriend, and that his opinions do not necessarily jibe with his parents’. Usually, or at least over here in New Jersey (in our house, to be precise), this takes the form of rejecting previously acceptable friends. (We haven’t yet encountered the problem of Henry bringing home a shady character. So few preschoolers drink or smoke, these days.)
To some extent, of course, these children of ours have had opinions about things right from the beginning. For instance:
Parent: “Hey, newborn. We think you should go to sleep now.”
Newborn: “No.”
This continues as they develop:
Baby: “I’m hungry.”
Parent: “I fed you ten minutes ago.”
Baby: “Let me repeat myself, except louder.”
But when it comes to friendships, babies and toddlers don’t really have an emotional investment. Thus, they happily allow you to tote them around to playdates that are more for your benefit than theirs.
Until.
Until the day comes when your child notices the kid playing next to him, and decides that this friend you’ve chosen for him is not the kind of friend he wishes to have. The day that your child thinks, hmm, she’s getting a lot out of this playdate, with her tea-drinking and chortling over there with her buddy, and meanwhile I’m stuck with a mouth-breather who doesn’t know a Lego from a Lincoln Log.
(No offense to mouth-breathers, whom we count among our friends. Most of the children we know are incapable of getting any air through their perpetually clogged nasal passages. But I digress.)
This has been happening increasingly over here, which is why I chose to write about it. It’s Shameless Self-Interest Day, didn’t you know? Please make a note in your calendars. Anyway, yes, Henry has been refusing to see certain friends and classmates in his free time, and I’m conflicted about how to deal with it. On the one hand, he has the right to be friends with whomever he wishes (within reason—I cannot and will not invite Batman over); on the other hand, I want him to be tolerant and kind; on the third hand, sometimes he has to suck it up, because we want to see our friends, too.
I try not to make too much of it when Henry decides to nix a playdate. Usually these rejections are meaningless or short-lived. Sometimes there’s a simple reason he doesn’t want to set foot in the kid’s house, like the other kid is an enthusiastic hugger and Henry would rather enjoy a more low-key greeting. One phone call can ensure that she keeps her mitts off my boy. Other times he’s just being contrary, or a jerk. These moods can shift within minutes, so I move on to another topic, and usually the next time the playdate idea comes up, he’s more than agreeable.
Sometimes, though, sometimes he just refuses to hang out with the other kid, just plain won’t go. And then I’m put in the position of having to tell the parent. Recently I had to tell a woman I was really hoping to befriend that my child wouldn’t hang out with her kid. Not just one time—ever. He would never have a playdate with this boy. Why? He wouldn’t say. He just didn’t feel like it. There were many discussions. Henry stood firm. There were other friends, he said, he wanted to make time for. That’s a feeling, frankly, I can understand. What could I say? I had to try and make light of it to the mother.Ha ha! Crazy kids! With their, um, rejecting of your beloved!
I haven’t heard from her since. Oops.
I didn’t see any evidence that he was being cruel or superficial in his decision not to make this particular friend (the other child has plenty of friends, and is frankly a little bit cooler than my kid, shh, don’t tell him I said so) but still, I would have preferred that he had given the boy a chance. I want him to learn to be kind and generous, especially to someone who extends an invitation of friendship. But he is only five, after all. Lecturing him on the importance of kindness and generosity, at this stage, wouldn’t make an impact. So meanwhile Scott and I try our best to be relatively okay role models, and hope he gets the message, eventually. But if he had rejected a kid who really needed a friend, what would we have done then? Probably resorted to lectures. And threats. I might need a better plan.
So I turn to you, my Internet family: have your kids rejected another, and how did you deal with it? Did you put your foot down? Is it your kid’s business and your kid’s business alone whom they befriend?

Alice Bradley
About the Author

Alice Bradley

Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.

...

Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.

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NewfieldMama
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NewfieldMama

My six year old has been both rejector and rejectee in this scenario. Once, he refused to play with our neighbor’s son right in front of the other child! Boy were we embarrassed. In that situation, I pulled my son aside for a little heart to heart about tolerance and sharing. We discussed his reasons for his actions and how he would feel if the situation was reversed. He was very open to our frank discussion and made the decision to change his mind after much consideration. After our talk, he immediately apologized and started playing with the other child.… Read more »

A
Guest
A

Hmm I don’t have kids (i’m too young!) but i have a handful of little siblings (ranging from 5- 13 yrs old). My 5 yr old brother just started school this year and he talks about some of his classmates all the time…but he stays away from some because he “doesn’t like them.” At a young age, rationality doesn’t seem to set in, obviously, so if he says he doesn’t like them its more than likely for reasons HE doesn’t even know how to explain… Of course, some of my other siblings, particularily the oldest ones, make and break friendships… Read more »

Andrea
Guest

My oldest is nearly 5, so the fun has only begun in our world. To be honest, *I’ve* been feeling like the rejector of late. My son has a friend — who happens to be the son of one of my friends — who pushes his buttons like no one else can. He is the only kid I know who can reduce my son to tears. It drives me nuts. My son has another friend — also the son of one of my friends… which makes me think I need to broaden my social circle a little — who kind… Read more »

suburbancorrespondent
Guest

As always, it depends…but I don’t think I have ever told another mom that my kid doesn’t want to play with her kid. I’ll make some other excuse and gradually wiggle out of any getting-together obligations. Or, if she and I really want to get together during the day, I’ll arrange we meet somewhere like a playground, where the kids can play separately or with other kids there. In one situation, a good friend of mine’s oldest was an insufferable pain in the neck and my children hated playing with him; yet she was in the habit of dropping by… Read more »

ohkwarimama
Guest
ohkwarimama

SO the rule we have is the same for people as it is for food: You don’t know if you like something until you’ve tried it. Seriously, unless the kid is violent or wipes boogies on other children, my son can and should play with them when the opportunity arises. I’m a big fan of letting kids sort things out amongst themselves, they can talk to each other about why one of them doesn’t want to play, maybe with help from an adult. I think the whole “you don’t have to go because you don’t want to” thing is a… Read more »

k
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k

I know this isn’t the place for this, but I always find myself on the wrong side of these discussions. What I mean is that my 3-year-old is the aggressive one that other kids don’t want to play with. It breaks my heart, and if we hadn’t moved I’m sure it would’ve cost me some friendships. I’m completely on top of him and have zero tolerance for pushing, swiping, clawing, but every time we’re with another kid, he does it. Time outs have yet to sink in. Often I’ll just make him leave. I guess I’m curious; is there anything… Read more »

Fairly Odd Mother
Guest

My daughter once asked me to call the mom of a friend who was due to come over for pizza. She said this friend picked on her for ‘talking too much’ and it made her feel bad. I wanted to respect her wishes and show her that I take her concerns seriously, so I called the mom and tried to make light of the situation. However, the mom then told me that the daughter had plans and couldn’t join us for pizza and that was the last I heard from them. In one way, I think that perhaps they weren’t… Read more »

SuburbanCorrespondent
Guest

Hey, “k”, there’s no link to you, so I’ll answer you here. You’re going through a tough time now, and I know it’s hard. A friend of mine went through that with her young daughter – very bright, impulsive, physical little girl. The first time she and my Anna played together (at a playground), she pushed Anna, which made a not very good impression on us. But the girl gradually grew and matured, and she is actually Anna’s best friend right now. The key in these situations is for the adults to be mature. If I’m in a situation with… Read more »

Ellen
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Ellen

“Be nice. Even if you don’t like someone you can still be nice.” I think this has sunk into my kids. And, looking back, there were some kids I liked and thought they would be nice friends for my kids, but found out from my kids (at a later time) that the other kids were not nice AT ALL, to the point of participating in illegal activities. Sometimes our kids have insider knowledge that we don’t have.

kylee
Guest

First, Alice, what if you made Henry call the friend or the friend’s mom and cancel? Would he think twice about it? Why should you have to do the dirty work? Second, K, I can totally empathize with you in many respects. I have three sons, and my 3 1/2 year old middle son is the impulsive, aggressive little boy who made it nearly impossible to go in public for a LONG time. And he is slowly getting better. One of the things that has helped is his recent diagnosis of Sensory Processing Disorder. His nervous system can’t handle sensory… Read more »

Magi
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Magi

As someone who was forced to go play with the neighbor boy when I was 5 and still remember the dreaded walk to his house 25 years later, I have to say I will NEVER do that to my child. I agree with Ellen, your kids know things you don’t. On the other hand, as the parent of 3 year old that remembers EVERYTHING we tell him I agree that going along with his wishes without making him play with the child at least once could become a very slippery slope. As far as talking to the other parent and… Read more »

janny226
Guest

Last fall another mom in DuckyBoy’s kindergarten class and I hatched the bright idea that our boys should practice their socialization skills on each other with a weekly playdate. She and I clicked but the boys, hit-or-miss. The more we could leave them alone and not direct their play, the better they did. But then — my guy went through a phase of saying mean things to basically everyone around him. His responses to other children’s overtures of conversation to him were along the lines of “I don’t care,” “I already know thaaaat,” and the like. We adults could chastise… Read more »

lolismum
Guest
lolismum

I don’t think you should push your child to play with someone he does not want to play with, if you like the parents, meet them on your own time, without the kids. I also think you should never tell another parent your kid does not want to play with their kid unless the other kid is really aggressive, bites, hits to hurt, pulls hair etc. Ever heard of a white lie? I am even a little shocked that you made a phone call to a parent so her daughter would not hug your son when she greets him? I… Read more »

Marnie
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Marnie

I have been in this situation, and I think avoidance is absolutely appropriate, and here’s why: fickleness. I know my daughter isn’t alone in that she changes her mind on what she likes – her favorite color, foods, clothes – daily, if not hourly. She may not want to play with a friend this week, or longer, but who’s to say next month, or even next year, she won’t change her mind and decide they want to be best friends? If you’ve already burned the bridge with the parent, it’s going to make it awkward if not impossible to schedule… Read more »

Maggie
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Maggie

Yeah, I’m going to have to agree with others who have said that it’s probably better not to tell the other parent outright that your kid doesn’t want to play with their kid. That would just be SO painful to hear as a mom, and why cause that pain if you could figure out some other way? Better to use the “we’re just really busy” excuse. Or tell Henry that you’re going to visit your friend, and he’s coming with you and should be polite to her son. Okay, so this sounds really assvicey and critical, and I LOVE YOU… Read more »

kim
Guest

I have been trying to figure this one out myself, and I’m glad that avoidance seems to be the accepted best method, because that’s been my way of not dealing with it so far. With my older daughter, now almost 9, it was a girl in her kindergarten class. On the last day of school, she gave all the kids little RSVP slips with our phone number so we could invite them to her birthday party during the summer. I got the first call at like 3pm that same day from a mother wanting to schedule a play date. I… Read more »

Tammy
Guest
Tammy

Can somebody please give me some answers I do not know how to handle the situation my son is ADHD and my brother is in a relationship living at my parents house she just had a baby and her eight-year-old son always told my son that my mom said I cannot play with you and my son gets his feelings hurt last night his cousin was over there and my sister-in-law’s 8 year old son they both tag team him and said that we are not going to play with you 8 year old son said to my son my… Read more »