Dear Bitter Butch,
My eight-year-old child is on-again, off-again friends with a kid, L., in his/her school. They have a lot in common and sometimes they are very close, but sometimes L. hurts my child’s feelings intentionally. I feel like L. is a bad friend and I want to tell my child to just DTMFA, (Dump The Motherfucker Already) but am I just being a busybody? Should I get involved? What advice should I give?
Uuuuuugh. When other kids intentionally hurt mine, my first instinct is to wade in there, roaring, swinging verbal fists. Okay fist-fists, to be honest. And what I want to tell you is to sit your daughter down and gently explain that she can never be friends with L. ever again and that you are all moving to Patagonia.
But then I remember that the other kid is an eight-year-old, not a mini-teenager in disguise, and she is trying to figure out relationships, too, and that the next friend in Patagonia may very well be worse.
I think, in all seriousness, that it is our job as parents of kids that age to help them learn some life lessons. To explain some nuances in human relationships, even if we think they are beyond them. They need to learn for themselves how it feels when a friend does that, but can we help them to know how to react, and how to deconstruct what happened?
So much of the power of emotional pain is when a child feels at sea and doesn’t understand what just happened. She feels stupid, maybe, or just plain unprepared. I don’t see any reason why we can’t explain what being manipulative is to a kid without demonizing their friends — why we can’t arm them with knowledge and then let them decide what to do with that knowledge.
As most children do not fold their hands eagerly under their chins to sit down and listen to lectures, I always start with questions, such as: what just happened there? Or: how did you feel when L. told you that you wouldn’t be invited to her party?
First, your daughter might say: she’s trying to manipulate me, except in kid language, and you can sigh with relief at her emotional intelligence and reflect back what she said. Second, she might be really confused and you two can talk about how sometimes urges to be cruel come up out of the blue and some kids learn how to repress those urges earlier than others.
I’d also ask her to tell me what a friend is and what a friend does, and listen. That might be a good way to start finding out exactly what this kid means to her, and why she is putting up with this shit. She might be interested in knowing your opinion as to how to deal with it, or she might just want to talk about how she feels and then go climb something.
When all else fails, I sit down and start re-enacting troublesome exchanges with stuffed animals and see if the kid joins in. They might see what you’re doing and think it’s funny but do it anyway. They might just dive in. This is probably insane and maybe I’m not recommending it.
BITTER BUTCH aka Haddayr Copley-Woods is a queer, a cripple, a nerd, a mom to two kids with neurological differences, and has a truckload of opinions on everything including sex and relationships, parenting, disability issues, family relationships, work dynamics, gender/sexuality issues, and etiquette. You can reach her with all your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org