"http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd"> urbanMamas

..."If you don't, I won't be your friend"....

I am generally from the mama-standpoint that the kids will work it all out, no matter what the issue.  But, when I hear my oldest child, a second grader, come home to tell me that she had to share her lunch with some other children because they were saying "if you don't share some, I won't be you friend"....  I feel like I showing up at their lunchroom the next day to tell those kids: "bug off!  Don't eat her lunch!"

When we have playdates here at our house, and I hear through the baby monitor friends tell our girl(which still stationed in the kids room and - let me tell you - we hear the darndest bedtime chatter!): "you'd better let me be the mommy/borrow this shirt/use the sparkly pen/borrow this book or else I won't be your friend"..., and I have admit, I get a bit riled up and feel like I want to quickly jump to her defense.

I wonder to myself, "how many times does this happen?"  We know our girl is not the most assertive gal; she's really quite shy.

My husband and I, when we pick up snipets of these experiences, talk about using our words ("I'm not comfortable sharing my lunch"), about how our friends will always be our friends even if we choose to do not what they say, about how we can engage an adult if we have tried using our words.  She's run into the "I won't be your friend" threat many times already and has admitted to us that she's given in, even if she hasn't wanted to.

I would love your thoughts: what words of encouragement would you offer your child?  what tips or advice would you give?  when, if ever, would you get involved and have words with the other child?  when, if ever, may you bring it up with the other child's parent?


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I don't know about what to say to them, since every child will respond differently under pressure, but I would encourage getting involved if your child is ever being coerced into giving away her things while in your house. Once, when I was a preschooler, a friend of my parents came over with two older daughters, who pressured me into giving them my favorite necklace (it was a big plastic heart with water and glitter in it - I think I had even bought it myself). After they left, I told my parents what had happened, and they were mortified. I felt like it was stolen from me, and I felt sick when I thought about it for years afterwards. If my parents had intervened AND talked to me about it, I could have learned the lesson without the regret.

Another strategy is to make yourself the bad guy. Tell your daughter to tell her friends that, "Mommy won't let me share." That can be a great way to save face.

My son went through this over and over again the years he was in kindergarten and pre-K. Not all of his friends acted this way, but I can not count the number of times we heard the "won't be your friend/won't invite you to my birthday party/won't sit next to you" threat. My son isn't shy, but he is young for his school year (birthday in August) and most of these kids were older--maybe that imbalance gives the older ones the idea they're entitled to power? Don't know.

What worked--rehearsing comebacks over and over and over again. "If you treat me that way, I don't want to be your friend."

That was the most important point for him to learn--and for the other kids to learn, too. We talked about how he didn't really enjoy being around kids who treated him that way, so when he said that, he meant it. It helped that he had one or two buddies who did treat him well, so he wasn't having to face a friend-less future.

The good news--his friends learned they couldn't manipulate him that way and finally stopped. Or they just grew out of it!

The bad news--now my five-year-old niece treats my three-year-old daughter the same way.

Janice, that is indeed the perfect retort ("If you're going to treat me like that, I don't want to be your friend") because it's not only assertive and clever, it's 100 percent true.

I remember vividly a time when I was a child on a playdate and my "friend" told me I couldn't use her bathroom unless I gave her a urine sample. (A budding scientist, maybe, but come on!) I was able to say, honestly, well, then I'd rather go home than play with you. So I did -- in a big hurry.

Now that I a parent, I marvel (not with admiration) at the ability of children to manipulate each other through subtle and not so subtle demands and threats. They don't pick this up from us grown-ups, do they?

My DH was just asking yesterday about which of our sons' friends I really like. (I like them all, with some reservations about a few of their behaviors, whereas DH sees them all as morally and behaviorially inferior to our two angels....)

Many of our sons' friends have very pro-active parents in terms of initiating play dates, promoting child friendships, etc. We have tended to be much more passive, but it made me wonder what is the appropriate role for a parent in 2008 to help foster friendship with the "right" friends who wouldn't try to extort lunch, necklace, Nerf toys, what have you.

This is so timely! We are on the other end of it. My 5 year old uses this threat all the time with her little sister! I feel like I have tried everything to show her how unkind this is, but it has never occured to me to coach her sister on how to handle this behavior. I'm going to give this a try as soon as it comes up again. Thanks!

I would definitely step-in in this situation, and I do think (like Elizabeth alluded to, above) that children learn this from adults -the way they are parented - most parents use bribes and threats as their primary form of interacting with their children, to make them do whatever WE want them to do - so I think a good place to start would be to notice how much we parents bribe or threaten, and then just stop doing it. We also place WAY too much emphasis on sharing, rather than letting a child use an item until they are done with it (and helping the other child wait, by giving them empathy). I set limits, with my own children, and other people's children, when they are being coercive. I would say something like "I heard you say that you won't be Liza's friend if she doesn't give you her dog" in a very neutral tone, and then "that doesn't work for me" and maybe (if it's true) "in our house, we don't use threats to get people to do what we want" and then you could tell the children that you will be close by so if one of them has a problem, they can come to you (not in a tattling kind of way, but in a "we need help to work out this problem" kind of way). I also think that children have too many playdates (especially if they already go to school) and it is stressful for them to have SO MUCH peer interaction, and that we let kids play unsupervised too much of the time - not that we need to be hovering, but simply in the same general area so that we can intervene if there are problems. I have found that approaching conflicts (or setting my own limits or limits for my child's protection) is best done in a calm, kind, but firm way - and I make sure to acknowledge both of the kids feelings along the way "you are having a hard time waiting to use the dog" and to the other child "you're not feeling done yet" and "are you feeling scared that Mary won't be your friend if you don't do what she wants?". It's important not to peg one kid and the victim and the other as the perpetrator, they are both just little kids figuring out how to be social and get their needs met, and they are modeling after the adults in their life.

I have a 3rd grade girl, and one of her friends put it nicely: real friends are your friends all the time, and not just when they feel like it. Maybe remind your daughter that is someone is really her friend, that person won't, or shouldn't, treat her this way. If she is shy, I agree that role playing is a great idea and will help build confidence. If she consistently has issues with the same friends, I think I would talk to the parents or see if you can limit her exposure to those kids. My daughter was having issues with some girls at school, and there was so much drama every day, but once she got involved in a youth group at our synagogue and she started making other friends, I think she was less needy for friendship and started to really not care if the mean girls at school were her friends or not.

To a minor degree, this kind of behavior is bullying. I didn't let my kids act this way and I didn't have playdates with kids who did. A good teacher should be keeping the classroom stuff in check. Lots and lots of talking to your kids about how to treat folks, roleplaying and some talk about respecting yourself is how we dealt with these issues.

I agree that the type of behavior complained of is bullying and I agree w/ the methods suggested to check it. But I'm surprised to see some of the other things here, which makes me feel out-of-step w/ some of my peers in parenting. For instance, while I agree that kids have too much social interaction these days, I wonder about whether it's too *un*supervised. My feeling, based on my own experience and observations, is that grown-ups in fact do a LOT of supervising. The other related thing that frankly took me by surprise was the original poster's statement that she listens in on her [I'm guessing 7-yo?] daughter's playdates w/ a monitor. My friends and I will let our kids & their friends be in other rooms sometimes without us keeping that sort of bead on the situation... I keep thinking of the adult-free time I had as a smaller child, time that kids don't really seem to get these days because kids aren't out running around like they used to be able to. Dunno, maybe I should rethink...

Anon.2, I think you make a valid point about how we tend to over-supervise our kids sometimes. I let my kids have their space with their friends, and unless there is an issue that is glaring to me (like friends taking things from a child's room without permission) or my kids come to me with a problem, I encourage them to work things out on their own. I guide and teach about behavior, but I don't think it's my job to solve their problems. How else are they going to learn to problem solve?

I work with kids that are a bit younger (1-4 year olds) so it's really a different dynamic but I do want to chime in on the "we supervise our children too much" discussion. I've been really struggling with some power issues with some of the children & I've found that intervening too much makes things worse. Some young children seem to use tears to get parents to intervene on their behalf so they don't have to develop verbal skills & self-control (for getting toys that they want to play with or fending off unwanted attention from another child). Most of the time I let them tell each other if it's rude to take a toy out of someone's hand or to knock over someone's blocks. Sooner or later children have to learn a little self-reliance--they need to be able to look a bigger child in the eye & say "NO" or to be patient while they wait for a turn even if it takes a really long time. I'm working on that with my 4 year old & she gets plenty of time to practice between an older "best friend" & an older cousin. In most cases she has the added pressure that if she goes along with them in doing something she knows she shouldn't then she's in trouble with me! I don't always like the things she comes home with (calling people a silly jerk for example) but on the other hand she really enjoyed herself & life is all about learning to (eventually) be independent.

Thank you! UrbanMamas.com and all of you who posted on this thread. My husband and I are struggling with the "over-react response" or the "role-play then wait and see response." Our daughter who just turned 6 has a "best" friend who says to her, "I won't be your friend if you don't let me pinch you." This did not happen this week, but in my daughter's not so detailed recollection, it was probably last week. On the playdate today, I witnessed the "best" friend (7 months older) withholding approval/attention from my daughter while I observed from the rear view mirror. The friend was saying, "Close your eyes..." And, her intention was to pinch my daughter on the leg. In addition to finding out all of this today, my daughter says the "friend" pinches her in the behind all the time. This seems so much closer to bullying and boundary crossing to me. I am thinking role play and go strong on addressing this with teacher, other parent ann guidance couselor???

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