Question of the week: My 5-year-old son plays with two other 5-year-olds in the neighborhood on a regular basis.
When he plays with just one of them, all goes well. Every single time the three of them get together, however, he gangs up with one against the other, and it’s always the same one that they gang up on.
They seem to think it’s a funny game to run away from him and call him names.
Needless to say, the one left out doesn’t like it, and reacts by crying and yelling, which just seems to fuel the fire.
I have tried talking to my son about it, but he just doesn’t seem to get it that this is hurting his friend’s feelings.
What do you suggest is the best way to address this? I want him to be a nice person and this behavior is horrifying to me!Answer of the week: First of all, you are wrong to think your son doesn’t understand that (a) what he is doing is cruel, and (b) it’s hurting his friend’s feelings.
He understands quite well, which leads me to my second point: You are not going to be able to talk him into stopping this cruelty. You have to force him to stop.
To do so, you must send a powerful message, one that says, loudly (but without yelling or other emotional displays) and clearly, "I am no longer going to tolerate this!"
If I were the parent in this situation, I would keep my son inside for a month except for scheduled activities, and perhaps not all of those. I would do this without warning, as in today. I would say something like the following:
"I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and it is obvious to me that you are not old enough to play with your friends without being cruel to one of them. Furthermore, you think being cruel is fun. So, I’m not going to let you outside to play for one month, and nothing that you do during this month will get you a shortened sentence.
"After a month, I’m going to let you back out of doors to play. However, the first time you are cruel to either of your friends, in any way, I will bring you in for two months. I hope you now understand that I am very serious about this."
Let me assure you that some readers’ mouths are agape at this point. Let me also assure you that this is going to take care of the problem, probably forever, which is very much in the best interests of both your son and the victim.
From the Great Ideas department: A mother writes, "I read your article today about the 2-year-old who is constantly at his mother’s heels.
When my first child was this age he was constantly at my side, asking questions, touching me, wanting me to play with him, wanting my attention, and so on.
Finally, I bought a kitchen timer and to start with, set it for 20 minutes. I told him that he was not allowed to talk to me, touch me or bother me in any way until the timer went off. He understood.
The first time I did this he sat right beside me while I worked on my computer. As soon as the timer went off he said, "Can I talk now?" I said that he could, and I picked him up and played with him a bit. Later that day, I did it again, this time setting it for slightly longer.
I repeated this every day for about a week, setting the timer for longer and longer periods of time.
After a few days, when the timer went off, he didn’t even notice as he had become so engrossed in whatever he was doing, so I abandoned it and haven’t had to use it since.
He simply needed a bit of a push to begin entertaining himself quite nicely."
John Rosemond is a family psychologist. Questions of general interest may be sent to Affirmative Parenting, 1020 E. 86th St. Suite 26B, Indianapolis, IN 46240.