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Problem Child Playdates #aggressivechild #behavioralproblems

Problem Child Playdates

By Amalah

Hi Amalah,

I’m in a big predicament with a friend and I’m hoping that you can help. I’ve been good friends with “Laura” for the past three years and we have children that are relatively close in age. Over the years it’s become apparent that one of her children has some pretty serious behavioral issues. I’m not just talking about kids being wild, because we’ve all been there with our own kids. This goes well beyond wild behavior to actually being violent towards others. Her oldest son has been kicked out of many activities, attacked other children at parks, and been told to leave a youth sports league because he bit the coach. However, the straw that broke the camel’s back was when he tried to strangle (yep, you read that right, I said strangle) my son. My child was understandably terrified and had bruises around his neck for a couple of days. Laura seemed completely unaffected by the incident, but we left immediately and I’ve been dodging seeing her ever since.

We share mutual friends and all of us have gotten to the point of avoiding her. I feel terrible because it has to be horribly isolating having a child that everyone is fearful of. However, my priority is my kids and their safety and I just can’t bring myself to spend time with Laura anymore. I’ve tried to meet with her on a “Mom’s Night Out” without her kids, but she says she prefers playdates. I know some people have tried to discuss her son’s aggressive behavior with her and it has not gone well. She completely shuts down and refuses to discuss it. She mentioned to me that her pediatrician recommended she get her son help, but she has refused.

How do I tell Laura that we can’t meet with her anymore? I feel like if I’m blunt and tell her that my child is terrified of her son and we can no longer play together this is going to cause huge waves in our social circle and I’m going to lose a lot of friends. Help!

In a Pickle in Pennsylvania

At this point, you really only have two options.

Option A, continue as-is with the vagueness and the dodging, hoping that eventually she’ll get the hint without causing too much social blowback.

Option B, be blunt and tell her the real truth, hoping that for whatever miraculous reason, she’ll be reasonable and actually listen to you.

(Obviously Option C, which is letting your children anywhere in the vicinity of this child and allowing them to be re-assaulted/traumatized is ABSO-FRIGGING-LUTELY off the table and we shall not discuss it again.)

Considering that Laura seems heartbreakingly committed to Ignoring The Problem and has, so far, refused to listen to multiple friends, coaches, activity directors, and HER OWN PEDIATRICIAN, I’d say it’s highly unlikely that you’ll get a desirable result from Option B. At this point, any social isolation that happens is a pretty natural consequence of her own actions here. Or inaction, I suppose.

You already tried inviting her to a kid-free night out (which is my go-to suggestion for these “Help! I like my friend but hate their kid!” situations), and she’s made it clear she’s not interested in that. (Possibly because she’s afraid that’s where you’ll try to have some Real Talk about her son’s behavior and she’s preemptively shutting that down?) If she reaches out, you can go ahead and play at being woefully obtuse and continue to suggest non-playdate mom-only plans, or just keep digging into your bottomless bag of excuses. Your son has a cold, we’re busy that day, we’re visiting grandparents, I just signed them all up for deep-sea kayaking lessons, we’re moving to Thailand, etc. The fact that other parents have problems with her son should not come as a surprise anymore, and if her denial about it really runs so deep that she’d take your dodging as a personal slight against her, well. That’s on her, not you. Her son STRANGLED your CHILD. He left BRUISES for DAYS. Let’s connect some damn dots here, Laura.

I know (since I’ve gotten letters along similar veins before) that a lot of us really struggle with where our ethical/moral duty to help or say something when we see a child so obviously struggling and a parent so obviously…not doing anything about it ends and our duty to shield and protect our own children begins. I think you’re well in the clean zone, since “your son is violent towards other people” is not Brand New Information here. It’s more important for you to demonstrate to your son that you’re on his side and will protect him from bullies and abuse.

That said, I’m curious about the disconnect in your letter — on the one hand you say that all of your mutual friends are already ignoring her and are aware of her son’s behavior. But you also cite the potential for “huge waves” in your social circle and lose a  “lot of friends” if you were to just straight-up tell Laura that you can’t have playdates because of her son’s behavior. So I’m not sure who you’re worried about here — Laura badmouthing you to people you aren’t all that close to? People taking the side of a known problem child (who BIT a COACH) over yours? I don’t know what kind of social circle we’re talking about here, but my reaction would probably be a big old byeeeeeeeee to anyone who would try to pull such petty drama and to focus on friends whose company you truly enjoy without the side-worry of child-on-child assault.

But again, if you really think you have something to “lose” by just laying it all out there for Laura, you don’t have to. I think it’s highly, HIGHLY unlikely that you — random playdate mother whom she isn’t even interested in a non-playdate friendship with — will be the one who finally talks some sense into her and breaks the dam of her denial. It’s a really, really sad situation all around and I really, really hope Laura DOES snap to attention and get her poor son some help before things get any worse for him, or for her.

Photo source: Depositphotos/grublee

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Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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IrishCream
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IrishCream

What about an in-between approach, in which you don’t get into the broader implications of her son’s behavior and what she should be doing about it, but state the most relevant facts, as neutrally as possible? “My son was really scared when X strangled him, and he doesn’t want to do playdates with X right now. I’d love to grab a drink with you, though!” You’re not putting anything out there that she could argue with, just saying what happened without imposing any judgment. (I mean, implied judgment, because strangling…yikes.) I’ve been in the position of having to make constant… Read more »

SarahB
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SarahB

I agree with IrishCream, except on one point. I’d own that you, the mom, don’t think playdates are a good idea. “My son was really scared when x strangled him, so *I* don’t think playdates are a good idea right now.” That adult agency matters here and says more about the weight of what happened. If she pushes back, I’d consider being a bit more blunt, like, “The bruises on my son’s neck are still healing. I really hope you consider what your pediatrician said and get X some help.” Or, “I frankly couldn’t handle seeing how violent X was… Read more »

Lauren
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Lauren

Exactly this one! That’s the way I’d go with it

K
Guest
K

Yep. This. Own it. Stating facts, and being honest is a great way to make it clear that it’s not a personal attack, but is about how her child behaved. I might take it one step further – if you do care about her and worry about her feeling isolated (and know her well enough to actually know that it’s happening), I would be honest about that too. “I care about you and enjoy seeing you and your kiddos, but kiddo X has behavior that concerns me. Has anyone else mentioned this before/have you noticed a pattern with kiddo X… Read more »

Chip
Guest
Chip

The OP mentions that this is just one of Laura’s kids. Are the others in danger from this child? If so, it might be worth calling Social Services anonymously. That happened to a family I know; the oldest boy has a number of severe behavioral issues, and he was routinely harming his younger, much smaller, sister. Social Services got involved, fortunately before she was badly injured.

OP
Guest
OP

OP here. First of all, thanks for posting and for all of the positive feedback. I probably should have clarified in my post that we live in a small town and Laura’s family is pretty well connected. Thus, the awkwardness and potential backlash if I say something. I’d definitely continue to run into Laura and her family in the future.

K
Guest
K

In that case, I would say stick with the more straightforward approaches already mentioned. Making excuses in a small town eventually catches up with you, and if you have luck like mine, you’ll be the first of all the “avoiders” to get caught in an excuse to skip a play date lol. I do think that bringing up that specific situation might be worth avoiding. If you didn’t have a conversation right then (or right after, when you noticed bruising on your kiddo’s neck) then I think it would come across as sort of…personal. If my kid did that and… Read more »

Leslie
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Leslie

What can you control in this scenario? Keeping your kids safe. I finally got the guts to tell an across-the-street stealthily toxic/seemingly caring and outgoing neighbor with kids in the same class that our kids could not play together because her kids were emotionally abusive and violent. It was the hardest and THE BEST thing I’ve ever done. I cannot tell you how unbelievably freeing it is to not have to worry about how to dodge play dates, etc, etc. Of course it’s momentarily awkward. We stand two feet from each other while the kindergarteners line up. But it is… Read more »