“Our children are very different in both temperament and age,” writes piper002, “and I don’t want to force my kids into a situation they don’t want to participate in.”
Don’t worry, piper002, you can’t force kids to become friends if they don’t like each other. But ideally, you should let them make the choice for themselves.
It sounds as if you don’t particularly care for this “persistent” neighbor whose kids you think are “unruly.” If they’re setting the neighborhood cats on fire, then by all means keep your kids away. But if you mean they’re noisier than you like, or less polite to adults than you’d like, that’s a different story. You’re “not interested” in play dates. If your children feel the same way, fine. But if not?
Children should have the opportunity to be friends with the kids they like, even if they’re not necessarily the kids you like.
When I was four, I played with a little girl who was a year older. Both her parents worked full-time (which was unusual in my 1960s suburban neighborhood), and some of the other mothers — mine included — thought my friend was unruly. Left in the care of teenage sisters, she had the run of the block. Unlike me, she never had to wear starched pinafore dresses or eat a green vegetable or go to bed at 7 p.m.
One day my mother discovered the two of us on the front stoop, sprinkling a trail of sugar up the steps to construct an “ant farm.” Result: I wasn’t allowed to play with her anymore. For the next week, I moped in the yard until my mother reluctantly lifted the ban. And thank God. Every idea that little girl had was an adventure, and I loved her precisely because she was fearless in the face of the other mothers’ disapproval. When the two of us sneaked into the kitchen to “borrow” the sugar bowl was the first time I understood the exhilaration of rebelling against authority.
But that’s just one story from a long time ago. Your situation might be very different, piper002. The thing to do is determine how your children feel about your neighbor’s kids and then support the choice. Depending on the children’s age, there are two ways to go:
1. If a child is still little — a preschooler, say — ask him or her, “Do you want to play with Johnny today?” If the answer is no, tell Johnny’s mother that at this developmental stage your child is most comfortable playing with kids who are the same age. Don’t make it sound like it’s the other kid’s fault. Simply say, “Children change so much as they grow up. Maybe one day they’ll discover they want to be friends.”
2. If a child is in elementary school, he or she already gets practice in the schoolyard. So take a step back. Tell the other mother, “I like to stay out of it and let kids work things out on their own.” Remind her that learning to gracefully navigate tricky social situations is one of the most important skills children need to acquire to become happy grownups.
And if the kids sprinkle sugar on the front stoop? Be glad it’s not a stripe of red paint. (Our backup plan was to see if the ants would follow a “road,” and sometimes I still wonder.)
What do you think? Do you let your kids play with anybody they want? Or do you monitor their playdates?
(image courtesy of Realsimple.com)