Dear Dr. Renee,
My son often comes home from playing at a friend’s house and inevitably tells me stories that seem to involve the two of them fighting. I know they have some fun, too, but I don’t hear a lot about that. Should I have him play with other friends?
It’s hard when you know how your son should be treated and yet he comes home with stories where is not treated that way.
I will remind you that often children only remember, or talk about, the ‘bad things’ even if there was only one bad thing within eight to ten good things. This is human nature. It takes practice to focus on the positives and let the negative go.
If we were talking in person, I would ask you a few more questions in order for me to have a better understanding of the whole situation. I am going to throw these questions to you to think about. You can use them to help determine whether or not your son should continue to play with that friend.
Play detective …
Start by asking your son what he thinks happened. You get to play detective and get the facts. Even though we know these facts might not be 100% accurate, they are his facts and how he perceived the event.
In a situation where he did not do anything wrong, you could ask questions to help him develop empathy. Maybe his friend is tired which causes her to be a bit grumpy and not share as well. Did his friend just become a big sister? She might be feeling like she is not getting enough attention at home and is just taking it out on him. Or, maybe she forgot to put away her special toy. Even though he didn’t do anything wrong by reaching for it, she did not want anyone else playing with it.
You could also ask your son what he thinks he could do next time if that situation comes up again. Give him time to come up with ideas before you jump in with solutions. Sometimes kids come up with creative, off-the-wall ideas we would never think of. If he is struggling to come up with solutions, you could use the line “Some kids [when they are in this situation] have tried X or Y” and offer suggestions.
Help him think through each possible option and the potential outcomes. Punching her in the face so she stops yelling is an option. The outcome might not be pleasant (she could punch back or tell on him so he gets in trouble, etc.). Asking if she is OK, if she is feeling angry, or if she needs a hug are also options. Maybe if he notices her yelling, he could ask her if she’s feeling hot and wants a drink of water.
The ultimate goal is to teach your child to problem-solve while being kind.
The ultimate goal when friends are fighting is to teach your child to problem-solve while being kind. He needs to learn to figure out if he should stand up for himself, figure out how to compromise, or leave the situation.
This will not happen overnight. At this stage, you are planting the seeds of compassion and problem solving.
- what happened, from your son’s point of view
- how often they fight, as opposed to playing nicely, and
- if there are things your son can do to help the situation
will help you determine whether he should continue to play with that friend or think about finding some new friends to play with.