When children are very young, the best toy you can give them is another child – almost any other child. Little kids are trusting. They assume that the other child will be their friend. Their response to being introduced to the children of your friends is usually at least a shy attempt to connect and often an enthusiastic invitation to play. As long as neither kid is aggressive, they are happy.
Fast forward a few years. Your friends who have moved far away or who you knew when you lived in another state are swinging by on their way to a family vacation. You are eager to catch up, to share a meal, or to take them to see the new sights in your town. You are excited to see how their kids have grown and what they are interested in now. So you announce to your family that the X family is coming for the weekend. Your kids balk. “Why should I hang out with your friends’ kids just because they’ve come to visit you? I have other things I want to do. They don’t really like me. I don‘t like them much either.”
So now what do you do? Before getting mad or launching into your best lecture about being a good “host” regardless of the circumstances, do make sure that there isn’t a reasonable reason for their resistance. Calmly ask your kids what their objection is about.
If the only way you can see your old friends is if the kids are in tow, it’s important to respond to the kids’ objections. That doesn’t necessarily mean going along with what they want. It does mean that you take their information into account when involving them in your plans.
Below are five common scenarios:
- Your kids dislike the other kids for good reason.
Parents don’t always know how kids behave out of earshot. Did one of the visiting kids do or say something that hurt or concerned your kids? Is there something about them that makes your children uncomfortable?
It doesn’t make sense to ask them to entertain people who might hurt them. If it turns out your friends’ kid is a bully or has no boundaries, agree to plan activities where everyone, adults and kids, are together and keep the visit short. Reassure your children that you will be alert and that you will take steps if the other kids aren’t on good behavior. Yes, it will be awkward in terms of your friendship with the adults if you have to ask them to put the brakes on their kids’ words or actions, but your own kids’ sense of safety takes priority.
- Your kids have reason to be embarrassed.
Relationships do go both ways. Is it possible that your kids did or said something to your friends’ children that they now regret? If so, they may not want to deal with having to face them or make an apology.If your own children admit to having been less than stellar to the other kids, it’s not the time to scold. This is one of those painful teachable moments. It’s an opportunity to teach your kids how to make a genuine apology that helps everyone move on. Your child already made an important first step by admitting to you what he did that makes things awkward. Help take the next step by talking about and perhaps rehearsing what he can do to make things right. Think about whether the apology should be made in advance of the visit to make it easier to start over.
- It’s a matter of gender.
At different ages and stages, it matters to kids if visitors are the same or the other gender. Little ones generally don’t care. 10-year-olds do. Teens sometimes know how to be on a friendly basis with both genders but sometimes get tongue-tied and embarrassed when asked to just hang out with someone of the other gender. If a boy comes on too strong to a shy girl or a girl flirts too much with a shy guy, it becomes really awkward for them both.
If gender is the issue, it’s important to be sensitive to your kids’ feelings and social skills.. Chances are they won’t do well if thrown together to manage as best they can. Plan the day to minimize the issue. Sometimes it helps to invite yet another family with a gender mix to join the party. Then the girls can go off with the girls and the boys with the boys.
- The last visit didn’t go as well as you thought.
It isn’t always serious conflicts that make people want to avoid each other. Sometimes they just don’t have anything in common. Sometimes they don’t find humor in the same things. Sometimes what one person finds fascinating bores the other to tears. Although the last visit didn’t end with a blowup, is it possible that it was just plain awkward and uncomfortable for the younger people? Your kids might have decided not to tell you how difficult it was, especially if the visit made you happy.
It’s certainly okay to recognize that the visit with this group may not be on their top 10 things they like to do. But it’s equally okay to insist that they tolerate a few hours of less-than-wonderfulness for the sake of your friendship with the parents. No one ever died of boredom. Learning how to be gracious even when we don’t want to be is an important social skill. Take the time to teach your kids the importance of knowing how to be kind and how to make sure the other person has a good time even when we don’t. Do plan a visit to a local attraction or an activity that everyone might enjoy to break up the day for them.
- Your kids are in a self-centered stage.
Kids go through stages of being self-centered. 2- and 3-year-olds and early teens are particularly touchy. At such times, children don’t want to accommodate to others’ needs. They don’t want to share. They want to do what they want to do. Often teens view requests to participate in family outings, gatherings, and events as a major imposition on their precious time. This is a normal part of the separation process that goes with growing up and out of their role as children in the family. However, another equally essential part of growing up is learning when to put other people’s needs ahead of our own.
It’s important to confront kids in such a stage with the fact that they aren’t the center of the universe even though they may be the center of our world. Stretching to accommodate the needs of others (in this case the adults’ desire to get together) is an essential skill for being successful in the world. Exercising good manners and playing host by finding things for people to do for a little while is excellent practice for adult life.
Know When to Insist and When to Back Off
When everyone in several families just clicks, it’s a wonderful experience of friendship, community and mutual support. But often enough, not everyone is a match. Sometimes it’s important to teach our kids how to get along, regardless of their feelings. It’s part of the give and take of family life to accommodate each other’s needs. Learning skills for getting along, even with people who aren’t our favorites, is part of growing up.
On the other hand, sometimes the reasons kids object are serious enough to not force the issue. If your friends are good friends, they will understand. Forego the visit, see them on a child-free getaway, or send your own kids off for a sleepover and get the visitors’ kids something to entertain them while they visit. It’s not ideal but sometimes it just makes more sense.
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2013). Family-to-Family Visits When the Kids Don’t Get Along. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 21, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/family-to-family-visits-when-the-kids-dont-get-along/00018150
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Oct 2013
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.