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Growing Concerns (12/14/2003)
By Dr. Martha Erickson
A question-and-answer column with Dr. Martha Erickson of the University of Minnesota

Question: My son often exchanges play dates with two boys from his preschool, brothers who are a year apart. On the rare occasion when only one of the boys comes over, everything goes well and the boys have a great time. But when both brothers come to play, there's always trouble. I feel that if I invite one, I have to invite both, but it's such a bother that I'm getting to the point where I don't want to have either. Is there a graceful way out of this unpleasant situation?

Answer: I suggest you start by having an honest conversation with the boys' parents, telling them what happens when both boys come over and enlisting their help to figure out a solution so that the friendship can continue. To balance the negative with the positive, be sure to tell the parents how well things go when only one boy comes over, and acknowledge that three children playing can be difficult. It also would be wise to ask the parents about how it goes when your son is at their house. Do they also find it's difficult with three? And do they have tips on how to help the boys play well together?

Then you have several options, short of cutting off the play dates altogether. One option is to have the brothers take turns coming over, assuming their parents would agree to that. But even before that, you might want to have them come together once more and try setting clearer limits and consequences for their behavior. Both you and their parents could tell them exactly what you expect, in language appropriate for their age. For example, in positive terms, you might say you expect them to share toys, talk nicely to each other and save running and loud voices for outside. Tell them if they break any of those rules, you will give them one warning. If they break a rule a second time, you will take them home right away. Then be prepared to follow through on your promise. Doing so once will show them you mean business.

If you do have both boys come again, you also might want to arrange for their parents to call and check in an hour after they arrive--and, of course, let the boys know that's going to happen. Then make sure to notice when the boys are playing well together and following your rules of the house. Kids of all ages do best when we pay attention to the positive. While you're at it, be sure to let their parents know when they're doing well. Preschool children are in the early stages of learning social rules and expectations, and they need all the help they can get from parents and other caring adults.

A question-and-answer column with Dr. Martha Erickson of the University of Minnesota

Question: My 13-year-old daughter and another girl were at a sleepover last night but got very upset when the hostess and her mother got into a huge and ugly shouting match. The other guest called her mom to pick her up, and my daughter went with them to finish the sleepover at their house. The problem is that no one bothered to call me and I found out when I called the first girl's house about 11 p.m. to check in and say good night to my daughter. When the girl told me my daughter had left without anyone notifying me, I was furious! When I finally reached my daughter, she said she didn't call me because she was afraid she'd wake me up. Should I ground my daughter? If so, for how long? And should I forbid her to continue the friendship with the girl who fought with her mom? Help!

Answer: At 13, your daughter needs to understand that she always must let you know where she is. You need to make it clear to her that she should call you at any time of day or night if her plans change. To drive home this point and let her know how serious it is that she didn't call to ask your permission to go to the other girl's house, grounding her for the rest of the week makes sense.

Beyond that, cutting off the friendship with the other girl may be too rash without knowing more about the situation. I suggest you start by having your daughter tell you more about what happened. What was the nature of the argument between the mother and daughter? How does your daughter feel about her friend's behavior? How does she feel about continuing the friendship? This must have been a stressful situation for everyone, so listen carefully and talk with your daughter about how she could have handled the situation.

It's also important to communicate directly with both of the other mothers. Let them know how upset you were that your daughter was not where she said she would be. In a supportive way, let them know you understand that this was an unusual and difficult situation. Perhaps they thought your daughter had called you. Regardless, let them know that if anything like this happens again, you want them to contact you right away. And assure them that you will do the same. As your daughter moves into her teen years, one of the best safeguards you can implement is ongoing communication with the parents of her friends. This is a good time to start. 


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