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Dealing with the loss of a friend, and exclusion- LONG

499 Views 5 Replies 4 Participants Last post by  Kirsten
How do you help your child deal with the loss of a friend? What do you say? What strategies do you use to help them cope with their feelings?

What things would you say or do to encourage/help your child find new friends?

How do you convey the changing nature of relationships- that sometimes friends drift apart, sometimes they reunite, and sometimes they don't?

How do you help children understand the levels of intimacy in friendships, and how they differ (acquaintances, vs. fair weather friends, vs. confidants, vs soul mates, etc.)?

How do you help your child recognize a healthy friendship, versus and unhealthy friendship?

How do you handle seeing the lost friend, potentially with their new friend?

What do you do when your child's sibling is the "new" friend?

How do you deal help your child deal with subtle and direct exclusion- be it age based, gender based, etc.?

My child, Mary is 7 3/4. She has been friends with John, who is days shy of 6, since they were babies. John does not live in the same state as us, but he is the immediate neighbor of my mom, Grandma Sally, whom we visit frequently. Sally is also John's babysitter.

Forever, John and Mary insisted they were "best friends", and boyfriend/girlfriend. They bought gifts for each other on holidays and birthdays. We'd take them places together. John has been/is invited to all of our family gatherings, special occasions, etc., and we are frequently invited to his family's gatherings, & special occasions. Mary was always given a place of honor, and the bulk of his time and attention at these gatherings. Whenever we visit, Mary and John would play for hours. They call each other on the telephone, and John was always asking Sally when Mary was coming to visit. On the days we were expected, John would watch for us to arrive, and the minute we got out of the car, begin asking to play with Mary.

My other child, Michael, is 5 1/3. John and Michael have known each other since Michael was born.

Starting at the end of last summer, 2005, John (then 5) began wanting to spend more time with Michael (then 4), and has excluded my DD, Mary, more and more. John will ask if only Michael can come play, or will bring out snacks and treats, but only for Michael. John and Michael will say things to hurt Mary, and try to drive her away.

We've tried only allowing Michael to go to John's but that leaves me dealing with a sobbing Mary, and a crying 3 yo Jane, my other DD, who just loves John, and who John has played with in the past, though not as much as he has played with Mary or Michael. Michael will come home with tales of the fun he had with John, and the problem is exacerbated. I admit, Michael has also teased Mary about the fact that John doesn't like her anymore, she isn't allowed over, etc. We have been dealing with that as well.

We've tried not allowing any of the kids to play together for a while, which results in a crying John, a crying Mary, a crying Michael, a crying Jane, and an aggravated Sally, who doesn't want to hear all of these crying kids in her house.

We allowed them to speak to each other & play through the fence, and not be physically in the same yard, which results in the same exclusion of Mary and Jane (snacks for Michael only, hurtful words, etc.)

Now, when we attempt to have the 3 of them (John, Mary and Michael) play together, it starts out ok, but then John and Michael begin to play games that they will not let Mary play at all. John will tell Mary that she can't play with certain toys, or be certain places, and then will allow Michael to use the toys or be in the places. Sometimes, they will lock Mary out of a room they are playing in. There has been more an more squabbling, The last time we saw John, hurtful words were exchanged, and John and Mary actually came to blows (I am still not clear on how this happened, as they were at John's house, and John's mom, and my DH were supposed to be supervising.). The kids are NOT allowed to play with each other again, in any combination, or talk to each other through the fence (don't know HOW we are going to accomplish that) until we can come up with a solution.

I do not like how John, and Michael are acting, but the gender exclusion, as much as a I hate it, is age appropriate behavior. Some of the other behaviors stemming from the playmate gender preference are TOTALLY unacceptable, age appropriate or not. And the adults involved do NOT agree on how to unravel the mess or deal with the various behaviors in part, or as a whole.

This is causing massive tension and discord between Sally, myself, my DH, and John's parents.

Next weekend is Easter. We traditionally dye eggs at Grandma Sally's on Saturday, and then have our Easter egg hunt on Sunday morning. Sally always invites John. This year, she invited John, and the other immediate neighbor children, James (3) and Tom (1), as well.

I need a short term, and a long term, solution for dealing with this problem.

Do just I abstain from going to my mother's (Grandma Sally) home? I feel like I am depriving my children of their family, their tradition, and Michael of his friend, if I do, but it seems like the best solution right now.

Thanks for reading this far.
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Disclaimer: My kids are still little (3.5 and 1.5). I agree that the gender exclusion is age appropriate, but that some of the behaviors are not at all appropriate. If the kids are playing at your/your mom's house and Michael and John start saying hateful things to Mary, the playtime needs to end right then and there (with maybe one warning - e.g., John and Michael, in this house we always treat each other with respect. Namecalling, etc., is not acceptable. If this continues, John is going to have to go home.). When John comes over, the house rules need to be reiterated to him (we treat people with respect, we don't call names, we don't rub in the fact that someone is excluded by giving one person treats, etc.).

Also, talk to Mary and Michael before they even see John about how it's ok for one sibling to be friends with someone without the other sibling being involved, but that they all need to be nice and respectful to each other. Come up with ideas with them about how to handle the situation and let each of them talk about how it feels when he/she is called a name, excluded, etc., to try to build empathy. Maybe a compromise that they can all agree with would be to play a couple of games together and then Michael and John can go off together to play for a period of time. Could you maybe bring one of Mary's other friends with her when you go to your mom's to visit so she has someone, too?

If you can't get John's parents to agree to the same rules, then, unfortunately, I don't see how you can let Michael and Mary go to their house together. You might let Michael go over there alone for some period of time, but the minute they go into the yard and taunt Mary through the fence, Michael needs to come home. The boys AND Mary (and your youngest daughter) need to learn that it's ok to have a special friend, but they don't need to be hurtful to do it.

edited to fix a typo

edited again to reiterate that I think that you should definitely bring a friend for Mary for the Easter Egg dying get together as a short term solution.
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Hannah's Mom:
Thank you so VERY much for the response. It was really helpful!

I totally agree with the first paragraph of your response.

Come up with ideas with them about how to handle the situation
Thank you for reminding me to get the children's input. I have done so informally, and a bit sporadically, but perhaps it is time to do so more formally, a la the strategy outlined for problem solving in "How To Talk So Kids Will Listen, and Listen So Kids Will Talk".

Maybe a compromise that they can all agree with would be to play a couple of games together and then Michael and John can go off together to play for a period of time.
I'll be sure to add this to the list of possible solutions. Why didn't I think of it?

Could you maybe bring one of Mary's other friends with her when you go to your mom's to visit so she has someone, too?
Not really workable, because the drive is over 2 hours, and we usually stay the weekend, at my in- laws, but perhaps, since we are there so frequently, I can be on the lookout for another playmate for Mary.

If you can't get John's parents to agree to the same rules, then, unfortunately, I don't see how you can let Michael and Mary go to their house together.
Agreed. I think maybe, the kids and I brain storm a solution, and then I talk to John's parents about it, and see if they feel any of the solutions are workable. Since it is Sally's house, I can not really invite John over without her permission. Most of the time the kids are on opposite sides of the fence, or over at John's house. Sometimes my mother, my DH, or I go to John's house with the kids, but usually John's mother or father are on John's side of the fence with the kids, and we (myself, my DH, my mother, my grandmother, or some combination thereof) are watching for trouble over the fence. AS it is, my children may NOT go into the house, or where I can not see them from the fence because of the issues. John's mother is fairly hands off. She really thinks kids need to work things out for themselves, and adults need to (generally) stay out of it. Obviously, that strategy is not working. I am having trouble sorting this all out, so it is fair to assume the kids don't have the skills to deal with it on their own.

The boys AND Mary (and your youngest daughter) need to learn that it's ok to have a special friend, but they don't need to be hurtful to do it.
Absolutely. Not allowing Michael to play with John just seems unfair to Michael and John.

The adults in this situation should be able to find a solution that is fair to everyone.

Here's hoping.
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Wow. That is a tough one.

My neice and nephew are 19 months apart. My neice's friends would try and act "scared" of my nephew, he got a big kick out of it chasing them around the house and them running and screaming. But, then, when the chasing was over they still wouldn't let him play.

My SIL was heartbroken and from that day forward wouldn't allow the chasing. She reminded her daughter (and her son) that they couldn't do the frightened thing. It was her daughter's responsibility to remind her friends that they couldn't taunt her little brother like that.

My SIL was really keen on helping her kids work together as brother and sister.

I'm not sure about specific advice but maybe you can draw something from the story? I like the idea of asking the kids for solutions. And, I would stop the games in a heartbeat if the brother was treating the sister disrespectfully. Sounds like John may be encouraging the exclusion.

Oh, being a kid can be so hard. I remember having a couple of friends close friends growing up and we could be so ugly to each other just because we were trying to figure out how to grow up.

Hugs to you all!
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I'm glad you got something out of my post. I was posting what I wish someone had done with my brother and me when we were little and I was the one teaming up with the other kid to exclude (in a mean way) my brother. My parents might not even have known it was happening (it was me, my cousin, and my brother - we always went off on our own), but they certainly didn't sit down and talk with us about this kind of stuff. Both my cousin and I still feel guilty about how we treated my brother back then (we're all in our 30's now!) and we've apologized like crazy, but we were just a little kids and didn't have anyone help us behave differently.

Oh, and I agree with John's mom about letting kids work things out on their own to *some* degree, but I always want to instill basic manners and kindness in my kids. For instance, I would never allow my kids to offer snacks/treats to one kid to the exclusion of others in my presence and I'd explain why it was wrong to them.
That really IS a hard one! I feel for you - and your dd.

Your mom's house is over two hours away and you stay the weekend when you go. How often do you do this? Is there a way for you and dd to go visit your mom one month, and dh and ds1 to visit her another month - so the kids each get some one-on-one time with the neighbor boy without the other being hurt? Maybe just a couple times so this triangle thing can maybe find a new habit?

I would stand firm on the no cruelty thing though. Cookies for everyone or no one. No name calling or teasing at all. It is just mean. I'd tell my kids and I'd tell the neighbor boy. Those are the rules and everyone will follow them or the play date is over. My dd1 is good friends with a neighbor girl. They usually want to play without their younger sisters butting in. This of course makes the younger ones (at whichever house they are) sad. The younger ones are almost old enough to have their own playdates so that will help. But there were times when they (dd1 of mine and dd1 next door) would have treats that the younger ones would see. The other day, dd1 and ngdd1 were on the phone, planning a playdate here. I hear my dd1 say "bring enough for everyone".
Ngdd1 shows up with six chocolate chip cookies (dh and I got counted in the number - lucky us!) They can figure it out when we help them think about how it makes the left out person feel.

And I would DEFINITELY find a little girl in your mom's neighborhood that your dd could play with. The co-ed play is cool, and it will happen again (when they are teens you probably won't like it much!) but this is pretty much expected. It just hurts that it is her brother as the new friend and she has to see it.
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