My daughter is 4 and an only child. The only other child in our neighborhood who is close to her age is the 4-year old next door, who is also an only child. But he hits her when he gets frustrated. Should I keep them apart? His mother is nice, but we are not friends and she seems clueless.
When your choices for playmates are limited, it's hard to resist the convenience of a little boy next door. Still, your daughter needs to feel safe, and if there isn't an adult on hand to ensure that she will not come home in tears, you will need to take action. Here are my thoughts:
• Start by talking with the other parent. You don't have to be good friends to work together toward a solution so that these two can play together. Your first step is to find out whether she thinks her son's behavior is acceptable, or whether she is willing to work with you to ensure that their playdates don't end in tears.
• If she acknowledges that there is a problem, talk about having more supervision when your daughter comes to visit. She may (understandably) take advantage of the time her son is occupied to get things done in other parts of the house; you may need to suggest that when your daughter is visiting, she should be in the same room so if her son's frustration starts to escalate, she can step in before he lashes out.
• If she doesn't seem able to be more attentive, consider having playdates at your house for a while. While this won't guarantee that they will play peacefully, you can do a few things to tip the scales in your favor:
- Keep playdates short. An hour might be all this little boy can handle. If so, build on success. It is far better to send him home with both kids happy and eager for their next time together than to angrily march him home with your daughter crying and your blood pressure boiling. End on a positive note.
- Have them play together when they are both rested and nourished. A tired, hungry or overstimulated child is more likely to have trouble managing big feelings like frustration, which can easily turn into aggression.
- Be nearby. If you can hear the kids playing, you'll be able to sense when problems are building. Arguments over a toy or which game to play can be handled earlier, before they escalate.
• If all else fails, take a break. Keeping the two children apart for a month may help this little boy make an extra effort to mind his P's and Q's when they do get to play together again. It may also convey to his parents that you don't see the problem as normal. Finally, it will help your daughter know that she deserves to be treated with kindness and care by others.
Ideally, your neighbor will recognize that her son has some issues handling life when it doesn't go his way, and will work with him to help him develop healthier ways of asking for help when he is frustrated or disappointed so that the two children can play happily for years to come.
Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected. She is a family therapist, parent coach and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.
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