Ah – the joy of other people’s kids. People who managed to make my son feel like he was punished because they are unable to give their son the tools he needs to deal with his anger productively.
These neighbors are relatively new – they’re in the house behind ours, and our backyards meet. They moved in about a year ago, but we only made contact a few months ago. They seemed nice enough, but like other experiences with mainstream families, the differences eventually come to light.
M is 6 months older than their son but is much more mature. He’s also had issues with anger and how to express himself and it took some work to teach him to be angry without calling people names. The other kid is treated like most mainstream boys – somehow his parents want him to express himself, except when he cries and they tend to ignore him. Or if he’s angry, which results in a timeout.
For every instance of conflict, the other parents react with punishment for their son. It could be a timeout, or it could be going home. If the kid gets angry, he’s punished by not being allowed to play with other kids. There’s no attempt to discuss things or come up with productive ways to resolve differences. This, we now realize, is what M has witnessed and learned from.
Early this spring the two kids would tend to get into arguments over toys and activities. Over the course of 2 months, M showed an amazing capacity to learn and went from selfish argumentation to honest attempts at talking through differences. The kid amazes me – at 5 I would’ve been happy to throw something at another kid and run away instead of speaking logically.
The other kid is less mature and more anger-filled, and M’s attempts at discussion and compromise rarely go anywhere. (I say rarely because I *hope* the attempts have been productive at least once, but I haven’t actually seen it.) We seemed to take it in stride – until we parents had a difference in opinion about something.
They got a trampoline a few weeks ago. After research & consideration, we decided not to allow our kids on it. At the kid’s birthday party, the horror of witnessing 8 kids jumping & shoving each other, barely supervised, was too much. Not to mention the kid yelling at M that he didn’t want M at the party and to go home. The last interaction between Trish & the mom was tense as it was very obvious that we were aghast, and upset at how the kid had treated M.
Since then, their kids have rarely been in our yard when they used to come every day. I was pretty happy about this since that kid required constant supervision and guidance, more than all the other kids combined. But in the past two weeks, the kid has come over a couple of times and they’ve actually been very good together, having fun with little conflict. Things seemed to be improving.
The kid does not come over on his own though – only when M heads down and invites him. We’ve gotten the feeling that the other parents were discouraging the kid from coming over, an inference confirmed by some of the surly looks that sneak onto the mother’s face the couple of times we’ve spoken. Or maybe from the last time the kid was over, when the first thing he said was Hey Trish! Your family’s craaaazy because the kids in your family call you ‘Trish’ instead of calling you Mom & Dad! I’m sure he came up with that on his own…
This past week the kid has declined to come over, and while M has been seemingly cool, that’s not really the case. Today he finally revealed that he felt that it was because of an unspecified fight and is blaming himself for it. I’ve done my best to make clear that he is not at fault, but it bothers him. It’s obvious that he’s feeling like he’s been punished for something he’s done. After all, he’s seen how the other parents deal with conflict.
Beyond talking and explaining things to M (he’s already aware that our tolerance for risk is much lower than the other family’s), there’s not much else to do. M’s been making the occasional choice to not be with the kid, who’s actually taunted him from the trampoline. It’s just a lesson that has to be learned, but even knowing how capable my son is, it’s hard when he needlessly feels bad about himself.