When you don't like your child's friends

By: Christa Connell

© Debenport Imagery Author: Canadian Living Credits: © Debenport Imagery


When you don't like your child's friends

By: Christa Connell
It's hard to control who your children become friends with. This can sometimes be a challenge for a parent -- especially if you're not particularly fond of one of your child's newfound playmates. Whether the kid in question is a holy terror who comes over for a toddler playdate or a rebellious teen who your child has started hanging around with, disapproving of a friend can be a sticky situation to navigate.

We spoke to Toronto-based psychotherapist and educational consultant Andriana Mantas for some expert insight into how to handle a friendship you're not fond of.

1. Separate the child's behaviour from the person
It can be very easy to develop an opinion of a child based solely on his bad behaviour. However, when discussing the child and his behaviour with your own child it's important to separate the two. You want to make sure your son or daughter understands that it is their friend's behaviour you disapprove of, not who he is as a person.

"You look at the behaviour, you don't attack the person," explains Mantas. "But you identify the actions or behaviours that you're not necessarily in agreement with or that are red flags for you."

Mantras suggests speaking with your child and asking what he or she thinks of that particular friend's behaviour. This can be a great way to gauge where your child's moral compass is currently pointing.

2. Do not cut your children off from their unruly friends
Although it may be tempting to cut your children off from any offending friends it would not be right to do so -- with the exception of a few situations, says Mantas. When your children are younger, there are more opportunities to control who they spend time with. As they get older and more independent, however, telling your kids who they can and can't see becomes a lot more difficult, she explains.

When it came to her own children, Mantas avoided a totally controlling approach. "There were many times that I didn't necessarily agree with their friends, but I went the route of limiting [contact], especially in the elementary school years."

Page 1 of 2 -- Find out why it's important to pick your battles when confronting parents of other kids on page 2.
3. Subtly manage the situation
While totally cutting your child off from a particular friend isn't the answer, you can limit your child's exposure to that friend. As children get older, they find more opportunities to spend time outside of the home and therefore can find more ways to get into trouble.

"I would limit that time away, but do it in a very subtle way. Whether you are giving them chores or whether you suggest after-school clubs, be in tune with what's going on," advises Mantas. "Create opportunities where you can limit them depending on what also meets your needs."

4. Pick your battles when confronting other parents
It may be tempting to bring up a child's offensive behaviour to his or her parents, but that can be tricky. Whether the child in question is a destructive toddler on a playdate or a potty-mouthed teenager, pointing out flaws in other people's kids is dangerous territory.

"When confronting another set of parents, I would only do it if there's a breach -- for example, if the kids were colluding to steal or teaming up to smoke, or if there was a repeated aggressive incident," says Mantas.

With the exception of these kinds of outright negative behaviours, she suggests that parents try to keep in mind that everyone has different ideas about parenting and that you should avoid getting into arguments over the "right" and "wrong" ways of raising children.

5. Keep open communication with your kids
When discussing with your kids why you don't agree with their friends' behaviours, the conversation should be a two-way street. "We need to provide children a forum in which to express themselves," says Mantas. "Even if they are angry, give them that opportunity to have that conversation."

The more you can openly communicate with your children, the better you'll understand why they enjoy spending time with particular friends and what they get out of those relationships.

Though you may not be crazy about all of your kids' friends, it is important for you to know when to step back. "It can be a very delicate situation and it's important not to be drastic one way or the other," says Mantas. Your child will learn from this friendship and you can take it as an opportunity to learn, too.

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When you don't like your child's friends