Dear Captain Awkward,
I’ve been growing apart from a close friend of mine for several months, as some changes in my life made it clear to me how little we have in common. Although my friend and I are very different, we’d bonded when our sons were babies. For the past four or so years, our boys have been very good friends, and we’ve watched them grow and change together. They attended the same pre-school for two years and they love one another like brothers.
Recently, my friend’s son’s behavior has changed quite a bit. He used to be very shy and quiet; now he’s become aggressive, bossy and a braggart. He tends to disrupt any play date he attends. Other children, my son included, get riled up by his boisterous behavior and act out much more than usual — and when you’re talking about four year old boys, that’s saying something. Other, mutual friends have noticed this too, as my friend’s son has the same effect on their kids. There’s been a lot of gossip about both mother and son on the playground, and I (and maybe others?) have started to seek out play dates that they aren’t attending.
My question for you is: should I say something to my friend? Our friendship is already waning, and our sons will be going to different kindergartens in the fall. I’m tempted to just let this lie, because a) it’s easier and I’m lazy and b) I don’t think she’d handle criticism, however gentle, of her precious angel very well. But if I were the subject of the gossip, and my kid were the one that people were starting to avoid, I think I’d want to know. What are your thoughts?
I definitely want to throw this one out to the commenters, because I am not a parent, but my instincts are to get together with your friend for a playdate and bring it up with her directly in the form of a question.
Leave out the gossip and the judgment of other people and how he may or may not be affecting your kid’s behavior, and just say “Your kid has been really acting out lately, is there something going on with him? Is everything okay?” There is always this temptation in dealing with an uncomfortable conversation to rely on the consensus of the crowd, like, “We’ve all talked and we agree that there is something wrong with you,” but that is NEVER well-received because it becomes about who said what and when and people automatically get really defensive (with reason). It’s a lot harder to ignore someone who says “I’m concerned about you, I’ve noticed x, y, and z, are you ok?” based on their own observations and experiences.
Because really, the behavior of your kid is not *really* the fault of this woman or her kid. This other kid just unlocked the little monster inside of himself and also the little monster that is inside your kid (despite all of your awesome efforts as a parent, that monster lives in there and wants to come out and plaaaaaaaaaay). And because in uncomfortable situations, it’s always better to just ask a question and see what the other person thinks than to serve up your theories and judgment. The other mom might be really sad and frustrated by what’s going on and not know how to deal. The kid might be taking some medication for a medical condition that affects his mood and aggression (For example, a former boss’s kid was on a lot of steroids for a respiratory condition, and it made her super-aggressive and hard to deal with).
If she’s a snippy person who takes concern for her and her child as criticism, she might get snippy and leave in a huff, and then she’ll be out of your life sooner rather than later. But I don’t think you’ll hurt anything by asking the question, and you can also put that question to the gossipers – “Yeah, I’ve noticed that, too – have you asked her directly what’s going on? Is everything okay with him?”
I’d be grateful for any parents reading this to chime in with how they would like to be approached if their kid is acting out.