My eight-year-old daughter is friendly with a girl who has done some rather destructive things while visiting our house, such as breaking a photo frame. While I accept it could be accidental, my daughter has insinuated that she has done these things on purpose. I recently caught her gouging great chunks out of a placemat with a knife but didn’t make a big deal of it. Now the girl is telling other children she won’t go to our house because I am the world’s meanest mother and my daughter is horrified. She thinks we should have her friend over again and I should be extra nice so that the child will stop saying these things about me, but if she misbehaves again I’m not going to ignore it. I know I am the adult here but should I ban her to stop the situation getting worse?
Harriet, by email
It is one of the difficulties of parenting that our children will at times choose friends whose behaviour and values are very different from our own. It’s bad enough that we have to be polite and hospitable, but it is really important to our children that we like their friends and that their friends like us. Conclusion? Don’t ban the child because of what that will do to your relationship with your daughter. Try really hard to be pleasant and interested. Protecting your property is a different matter.
Feel free to be extremely vigilant and to supervise as closely as you need to. If the girls go off to play privately, be a hospitable nuisance. Keep popping in with drinks, chips or forgotten laundry, so your guest comes to realise that there will always be supervision. If destructive behaviour happens in front of you, simply remove the instruments of destruction (for example the knife and placemat) without a word.
It is a very powerful way of making a point without being seen to be mean. If we can stay steady, polite, interested, courteous and vigilant, it leaves our children free to make their own decisions and conclusions about whether certain friends are good or bad for them. Our job is to support them while they learn life lessons.
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