03/21/2011 02:19 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Love my friend---not her problem child


Hi, Irene.

My husband and I are good friends with a couple and enjoy their company. However, they have a 5-year-old child who is completely unmanageable. He is mean to my daughter, violent toward other kids, loud, and demanding. The children of the other parents in our group of friends hate to be around this boy (he is the youngest of the group) and the parents hate to be around him as well.

We have started excluding this couple from group events due to his horrible behavior. There is very little discipline from the parents. In fact, they seem to ignore his antics most of the

What, if anything, can I do to politely address the issue of his behavior without offending or alienating the parents? The child has terrible problems in school so it's not just when he's with our group. We don't want to lose their friendship but being around this obnoxious, violent, mean child is no longer an option for us and our child.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.



Dear Tricia,

My heart goes out to this parent and to their son. It sounds like the boy is out of control and his parents are unable to manage his behavior. If he acts out like that in school and in public, it can only be worse at home.

Sometimes, outsiders have the impression that serious emotional or behavioral problems in a child stem from permissive parenting but this usually isn't the case. Perhaps if they set stricter limits, their son might even be more antagonistic and hard to handle. His parents may be baffled by what is happening and be at a total loss for figuring out how to modify his difficult behavior. There also may be some denial involved.

In terms of your role as a friend, since you enjoy this couple's company, you may want to make plans for adult-only evenings without kids. It certainly would be more relaxed, especially since you want to keep this kid away from your daughter.

Perhaps, you can broach a conversation with the mom when you're alone and tell her you realize that her son's behavior is very challenging. Listen to what she says and make it comfortable for her to be candid with you. Hopefully, you'll find an opportune time to suggest she have the child assessed by a mental health professional to find out why he is behaving like this and what steps she and her husband can take to help him.

Hope this helps.


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Irene S. Levine, PhD is a freelance journalist and author. She holds an appointment as a professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine and her book about female friendships, Best Friends Forever: Surviving A Breakup With Your Best Friend, is published by Overlook Press. She also co-authored Schizophrenia for Dummies (Wiley, 2008). She blogs about female friendships at The Friendship Blog and on