When your child and your friend’s child don’t get along

Once you’re a parent, it’s not always easy to keep an active social calendar – for yourself, that is. So when you have a good friend who also has a little one? It’s like hitting the jackpot. You can hang out with your friend, your children can hang out together – everyone wins!

But unfortunately, sometimes Baby and your friend’s child won’t get along. Whether it’s a small spat over a toy or continued patterns of conflict, no parent welcomes this kind of challenge. After all, this is the sort of situation where there’s a lot of potential for hurt feelings – both children’s and grownups’ – so you’ll want to tread lightly as you explore your options.

Keep the lines of communication open with your friend

Assuming this is someone who is truly a friend – not, for example, just the parent of someone Baby goes to school with who you occasionally have playdates with – then you probably already have a good relationship with them, which should include being able to talk about the tough stuff. If they’re a good friend, then your probably value their judgment – so there’s a good chance that if you notice that your little ones aren’t getting along, then your friend does too. Regardless, you’ll want to talk things through with your friend. Something as simple as, “Hey, have you noticed that Baby and your little one aren’t getting along well lately?” is a good way to get the conversation started. From there, you can discuss how you think you should handle the situation and make sure you’re both on the same page.

Let your little ones work through their problems, but step in as needed

When children are very little, it can be helpful to give them the chance to learn how to work through challenges with their playmates on their own. Children can’t, for example, learn how to share without first having some trouble when they really don’t want to take turns with a favorite toy. Occasionally, a very young child might hit a playmate in frustration when they are still learning how to deal with these feelings in a more constructive way. Even this unpleasant interaction can be a learning experience, as children learn how to socialize with other children, instead of with adults. Even children who usually play together nicely can occasionally have some trouble getting along, for any number of reasons, and these scuffles, as long as they don’t become patterns of behavior, can be valuable as children learn how to interact with friends.

Depending on how and why it seems like your little ones aren’t getting along, you and your friend may be able to give them space to work through conflict on their own, while, of course, keeping close enough to step in to provide a little guidance – say, to model good behavior and talk through challenges – or to take more serious steps to keep your kiddos on track. You and your friend might handle a situation when your toddlers are regularly struggling to share a favorite toy by stepping in to model how to take turns with the toy, and then letting them try turn-taking on their own. On the other hand, if an argument is getting a little more physical, you might have to physically separate little ones who are hitting or kicking, and take them aside to talk through what they are feeling and what behavior is okay and not okay.

If playdates are still on the rocky side, you may want to talk about taking larger steps to switch things up. Maybe this means a change of scenery for future playdates – do you always hang out at one of your homes, which might be leading to some home turf wars and hurt feelings? – letting your little ones play separately in the same place and not forcing them to play together, or even just giving your little playmates a break from each other for a while. Again, assuming that you and your friend can talk through things comfortably, you can discuss just how you think you should best handle the conflict and move forward.

Enjoy some child-free social time

If you and your friend’s little ones seem to reach a point where it seems like playdates might not be that much fun for anyone at the moment – or if the conflicts your little ones are having are causing you and your friend too much stress – it doesn’t hurt for the two of you to spend some time together child-free. Just because you and your friend both have kids, that doesn’t mean those kids will necessarily get along, or are at the same point in their social development at the moment. It also doesn’t necessarily mean that your little ones can never play together again – taking a break can be a great way to break the tension before introducing more fun playdates in the future.

More than that, spending some time together without your children can give you the chance to remember how you got to be friends to begin with, and to appreciate each other without letting disagreements not of your making get in the way. Hanging out with good friends outside the parameters of playdates – where often your little ones are the focus – is important for your own social and emotional life.

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