Every parent frets about their kids having “weird” friends. At some point, children always seem to gravitate toward some unhealthy, unpleasant, or annoying kid that you don’t like.
Kids pick their own friends, and who they choose says a lot about their character. However, they also get drawn into situations where they feel compelled out of fear or threat of isolation to be friends with certain kids.
I remember my son having a bunch of his buddies over once. When they all left, he came to me and asked, “So, did you like them?” I told him I particularly liked the ones who could look me square in the eye. I didn’t say that I disliked anyone in particular. I just said that I thought the ones who could look me in the eye were more straight, confident, and comfortable kids. I told him it was just a preference on my end and that he may see other things in them. Perhaps one of them couldn’t look me in the eye, but they were always there for him when he had a problem.
If your son or daughter has weird friends, you have to give them little hints like that. By doing this, you’re not criticizing, condemning, or excommunicating any of their friends. You’re simply giving feedback. The minute you start singling out and condemning one kid, your child is going to become best friends with him or her.
Ask your child what they think constitutes a good friend. Have them to think about what happens at school:
- Who’s not nice? Who hurts other kids?
- Is anyone bossy? Does anyone tell your child what and what not to do, or use threats to get them to do things? Do any of your child’s friends try to make them feel guilty if they don’t get what they want?
- Does anyone get jealous or angry if your child spends time with other people?
- Do any of your child’s friends talk behind their back, laugh at them, or make fun of them? Do any of them spread rumors about your kid, tell lies, or share stuff they told them in secret?
- Do any of your child’s friends play rough by hitting, pushing, pinching, kicking, scratching, slapping, or punching?
- Do any of your child’s friends ignore them if they haven’t gotten their way? Do they only pay attention when they want something and ignore your child when he or she has something important to talk about?
Instead of attacking a particular kid, what you should be doing is constantly grooming your child to be thinking about these things and then have them make their own decisions. Kids choose their own friends, and at some point, parents become secondary to their kid’s friends. That’s just the way it is. When you attack your kid’s friends, it’s like pulling the rug out from under them when there’s no floor there. Instead, you should be more indirect about it and avoid the tug-of-war. Discuss with them what the qualities and behaviors of an unhealthy friend are. Keep your voice very low-key, and help them understand that friends do not embarrass each other, put each other down, pressure each other to do bad things, act nicely only when they want something, or reveal information they share in confidence. Put it back on your child to think about.
When you see your child in cahoots with a particularly snotty, nasty, or rotten little bugger of a kid, just tell them, “You know, I was a little surprised that when Johnny or Mary said ‘blahbity blah,’ you didn’t stand your ground. I think standing your ground is a good thing. Sometimes it may annoy our friends, but there are times when it’s important to stand our ground when we know certain things are right and wrong. You might think about that for next time.” So, instead of saying, “That kid’s rotten and I don’t want to see him in the house anymore,” you’re putting it on your child to have strength of conviction.
You can also set limits and boundaries, such as telling your child that he or she can only play with their friend when they are at your house. In addition, one of the best things you can do is to take the stinger away. I’ve been suggesting this for years and years and years – especially when kids call saying their friend is being mean. For example, tell your child that you are going to take them to the zoo and suggest they invite some of their friends, especially the ones you’re having a little trouble with. While you’re at the zoo, make an alliance with the kids you think are rotten. You don’t know what’s going on in their homes or what’s making them so difficult, but you can sometimes tame the beasts when you invite them to the beach or ask them to come over for a picnic or a barbecue in the backyard.
I remember once my parents were concerned about a friend of mine whose nickname was Penny. I don’t know why they were so concerned about Penny at the time, except that we got into some trouble. Remember those phony phone calls? As kids, we’d call up someone, ask them if their refrigerator was running, and then tell them they’d better go catch it. Or we’d dial a bread company and order a whole bunch of bread to be sent to somebody’s house. It was pretty terrible – we only thought about the people we were annoying, and we didn’t consider the poor bread company. I remember my dad sitting me down and saying, “OK let’s talk about what a friend is. Does a friend have you do things that are bad?” I responded, “Well, I guess not,” even though at age 9 I thought friends that did bad stuff were pretty fun. He then went through a list similar to the one I discussed earlier and said, “Now you make up your own mind.”
Given the power to make up your own mind, you tend to do the right thing. You don’t believe me? If you’ve got kids who always squabble over who has the biggest piece of cake, pie, or whatever, next time let one of them cut it and the other one pick the slice he or she wants. It’s amazing how the pieces all of a sudden come out even.