Expert Answers: Friend who pushes the boundaries

My son, five, has a friend who is a delightful little boy in so many ways but he's not being brought up the way I bring up my own son. He seems to have no idea how to behave in public and encourages my son to behave atrociously too. I don't know what to do for the best.

When you take on the responsibility of caring for someone else's child, make sure you know the routine when it comes to behaviour issues and discipline.

Perhaps the child's parents prefer to use time out when he or she is whining, or maybe whining is a signal they are ready for a nap. Every parent employs their own techniques to enforce discipline – and theirs might be different to your own.

Ask specific questions: How does little Johnny act out when he doesn't get his way? Does he have trouble with sharing? Does he hit, bite or scratch? Do you prefer time out on the naughty step or mat? Does positive reinforcement work?

Write the answers down so you have a guide. Keep track of Johnny's behavior and report back to the parents the effectiveness of the types of discipline you used. The next time you take care of the child, you can pick up where you left off.

Know the rules:

Disciplining another parent's child has to be done by their rules. To avoid any confusion, make sure you know the dos and don'ts. If the child is intimidated by a harsh tone, perhaps a softer lecture might be more effective. Time out might be five minutes, or 10 minutes. Again, write it down.

Avoiding the triggers that lead to misbehavior is also key. Children's behavior can be closely related to the types of food they eat, their sleep schedule, or the types of games they play at the playground. Find out if the child is sensitive to sugary foods. Perhaps they normally nap in the morning, and release their energy playing in the afternoon.

Keeping a child on his or her normal schedule and eating routine can have a huge effect on their behaviour.

Be fair – it's easy to lay the blame on someone else's child when playtime turns sour. But that's just because your own children know when you mean business. Teaching the new kid your rules will help you keep order.

Make sure they understand what you allow and where you draw the line. This might include rules like no running in the house, sharing toys, or sitting quietly during story time. Repetition is the key to success, so reiterate the rules when necessary, and listen to them in kind. Hopefully it will sink in.

Even though you're disciplining someone else's child, try not to direct negative attention to them, and make sure they don't feel left out.

In the end, they will understand your standards, and you will have a better idea about how to keep the order.


Children may behave badly as a way of getting attention from parents, so try to praise a child for what he or she has done well. Try to concentrate on telling children what you want them to do, instead of telling them what not to do. Let your children know how you see things, and explain why you are holding onto a boundary. Children may push your limits but often they do this to see how firm and secure their world is – so saying no may really be what they want and need. For more information ring Parentline Plus on 0808 800 2222 for someone to talk to.

Paul Charlson

GP from Brough

I can see that this must be difficult for you, on the one hand your son's friend is as you say, a delightful little boy in many ways and they get on very well but on the other, you feel that his behaviour is a concern and he is encouraging your son to misbehave. Sometimes we just have to accept that people have different ways of parenting and that at this boy's age it is difficult to tell if it is just a stage that he is going through, or if there are some parenting issues, or if there is another problem.

However, if you really believe that his behaviour is a problem and potentially dangerous you should consider speaking to his parent/carer, explain gently that you are finding it difficult when you look after him but be prepared for it to affect your/their friendship. As they have been friends since playgroup it would be a shame to stop the friendship without trying sensitively and carefully to resolve this issue.

Elaine Douglas

A chartered psychologist who specialises in family and child relationships

THERE are a few tactics you could try. Before you take your son and his friend out you could lay down some ground rules. Try looking at one behaviour at a time eg pushing children off equipment. Tell them both that this isn't nice behaviour and that someone could get hurt and if either of them do this you will take them both home immediately. Be firm and carry this out if it does happen. If they behave well in this respect then praise them and tell them what good, kind boys they are. You may even want to buy some sweets as a reward (but remember you shouldn't do this on every occasion). If you can establish one change and it carries on for a while then you can tackle something else. If the behaviour doesn't improve then say to both of them that you are very upset and unhappy about the way they behave and you don't feel you can take them out if it continues. Focus on one/two things maximum. The other thing (which is quite delicate and could be a bit tricky) you might have to talk to his mum. Take it from the angle that you are worried about his safety and you are responsible for him. You never know, his mother may be glad of your advice.

Cary Cooper

Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at Lancaster University

IT seems to me that your son's friend is desperate for attention, that is why he indulges in these attention-seeking behaviours. This is a really difficult situation because if he is in need of attention and support, then breaking up their friendship might be very damaging to this boy, who obviously values your son's friendship. I am not a child psychologist but one possible way forward might be to reinforce his positive play behaviours more often, which might mean that he will diminish the negative attention seeking ones. You could also talk to both of the boys together about not pushing other children or behaving badly when in the park and elsewhere, so by talking to both you are not singling him out, but making the general point that "it is important for young men to behave politely in public" and not to be too pushy and aggressive (in their language of course!). Another strategy is dealing with the boy's parents, which you might find that difficult to do, and it might cause even more problems in their relationship.

Dr Carol Burniston

Consultant Clinical Child Psychologist

IF your son has recently started school, he will be tempted to stick with someone he knows initially but will soon get to know and play with other children. It is best to let friendships develop naturally and your son may soon find his old pal's behaviour too much to cope with. From experience, we cannot choose our children's friends, but we can make it clear what behaviour is acceptable and what isn't. Stick to what you feel is right and keep the boundaries firm. If the little friend becomes too much when out and about, curtail their association to in school and at home and forgo the trips out which include him. It is important not to criticise the friend in front of others as your comments may be repeated and cause problems. You are at liberty to say things such as "we try to be kind to other people, we don't hit them" and encourage you son to set a good example. However, there are lots of different styles of parenting and not everyone will take the same approach as you.