No matter how poorly one of your kid's friends acts, it's pretty hard to admit when you don't like a child. Although having a problem with your little one's peers is never ideal, chances are you'll run into this issue at least once while your kids are growing up.
Not sure how to handle your negative feelings toward their friends? Dr. Kirsten Cullen Sharma, a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist based in New York, gave POPSUGAR four helpful tips for navigating this complicated scenario.
1 Ask yourself why you don't like their friend
Uncovering the underlying reason for why you've started to dislike one of your child's peers is key to dealing with your feelings. And once you've chalked it up to a playdate gone wrong or word of mouth from other parents, take a step back and keep in mind that the person in question is still just a kid.
"Everyone has natural feelings about what types of behaviours bother them," explains Sharma. "Remember, children are in the midst of learning behaviour and thinking patterns that will shape their lives. Separating a behaviour from the whole child is important, as all kids have strengths."
And while every parent has their pet peeves when it comes to behaviour, keep in mind there's a fine line between kids who have frequent tantrums or repeat the occasional bad word and bullying.
2 Be a good role model for your child
Identifying your specific grievance with your kid's friend is important, and being a good role model for them is even more so, despite your feelings.
"Parents [should] stay consistent and be a good model for others, and not let a small child know that you don't like them," says Sharma.
If you see your kid starting to emulate some of the bad behaviour that their friend is engaging in, have a direct, face-to-face conversation about the behaviour without bringing up their peer.
"It's always important to set your child up with your expectations and then to provide feedback to them in the moment about what you like about their behaviour," advises Sharma. "Keeping messages focused on your child is a good long-term solution and teaches them the behaviours you want to see."
Although these conversations can certainly be awkward, including some discussion about how said behaviour can hurt other people's feelings makes kids consider the bigger picture.
"Talking about how behaviours make others feel and teaching how to take perspective are more conceptual ways of talking about 'issues' and widen the scope," says Sharma. "This reduces tension on the specific child-child relationship and potential power struggle that can happen between parents and children."
3 Stop bad behaviour without directly disciplining someone else's child
It can be hard to prevent another child from acting out, but when you see that negative behaviour with your own eyes in real time, it can be hard to ignore.
Although disciplining other people's children can be especially tricky, there are a few ways to get your message across without confronting the child directly.
"Making firm comments like 'please keep the toys on the ground' or 'that could really hurt someone' is informative and sends meaningful messages without disciplining other people's children," says Sharma. "They're also statements, not questions, which allow for children to have a choice and give more power to them in the unwanted situation."
If that's not doing the trick, try speaking directly to your kid within earshot of the other children.
"Tell your child how proud you are that they're 'not throwing back' or 'staying safe,'" explains Sharma. "It sends important messages to the group of children while letting your child know what you like about their behaviour and taking the focus off inappropriate behaviour."
4 Talk to parents about their kid's behaviour
No one ever wants to hear that their kid is a bad influence, but if the child in question has been continually acting out, it might be time to broach the subject with their parents, even if it's an uncomfortable conversation.
"If you're concerned about safety, bullying, or inappropriate behaviour like lying or stealing, you should let their parents know," Sharma tells POPSUGAR.
And when it comes to picking up the phone or chatting in person, there are a few ways to make the conversation go smoother.
"Focus on behaviour, not on the whole child," says Sharma. "Focus on 'feeling' statements, yours as a parent or what you've heard from your child. And don't throw any blame around. Reactions from other adults are very different depending on if they experience blame versus if they hear 'feeling' statements."
At the end of the day, who your kid associates with is 100 percent up to you as a parent. So if a child's actions are seriously that off-putting, make the executive decision to stop playing with them altogether.
"If a parent isn't fond of a certain child or doesn't want their child to model concerning behaviour, then parents are responsible to play or not play with those children," says Sharma.