Etiquette School is in session! > "I'm afraid that won't be possible."

Help! How can my son politely ask a friend to stop by less often?

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ArcticChick:
"How can I get *classmate* to not come here so often?" My 11 year old son asked me today.

This boy is here daily, and often several times a day - including in the morning, to go with DS to school.

I am blessed with one grown bonus-daughter and one bio-child, a very popular boy. He has a best friend, a couple of close friends, and a number of acquaintances who would like to spend more time with him than he wishes to spend with them.

DS likes this particular boy...but doesn't want to spend as much time with him as he wishes. According to DS he has lots of other friends. But he likes DS best. DS and his best friend (since they were 3) spend time together every day. But DS does not wish to spend that sort of time with any one other friend. He would like to have this boy over maybe once or twice a week.

Unless we have other plans or scheduled events, DS may have as many kids as he wishes visiting him at any time. At mealtimes, for example, we just feed whomever is here and hungry. On weekends several friends typically spend the night at our house. Both DH  and I mostly work from home, so the kids are seldom or never alone. But the neighborhood is safe and the boys are increasingly independent, so mostly they take care of themselves.

DS has tried to put limits on the boy in question, including saying "I don't want you to visit me today," and "don't come over until 2 pm, please." The friend has respected these, in part, but in part ignored them. And when this boy does show up after DS has requested he not do so, DS invariably has other friends over already, and does not feel able to dis-include him. So he gets to join the pack.

I find myself unable to help DS find ways to be more assertive with his friend, and better at setting limits and sticking to them. I suck at setting and enforcing boundaries. Frankly, DS already has a stronger, shinier spine than I. I cherish DS' ability to set limits, and want to nurture and support it. But I don't know how. So I am hoping you Ehellions can help me feed DS some good strategies/conversational lines.

Some background:

I am struggling with how to help DS set limits with his friends in part because DH and I place a very high value on inclusion. We have always made our open-door policy is contingent on no child being excluded from whatever him and his friends are doing.

That may seem odd to you Ehellions. But the backdrop for that absolute house rule is that where we live is extremely socially excluding: most groups of friends are made up of families that have known each other for generations. DH and I, for example, have known each other since I was 12, and our great-grandparents were neighbors. It is extremely hard for any outsider to decipher the social codes, and nearly impossible for any new arrival to gain access to an established social group.

Until very recently this region was extremely homogeneous: 95% of us natives are blue-eyed, nominally protestant blondes, with a smattering of discriminated-against indigenous peoples minority population. Immigration is a very recent phenomenon. Racism and religious bigotry are rampant and frighteningly socially acceptable among adults as well as children. DS is among the very few kids who has an ethnically and religiously diverse group of friends. To ensure that this remains so, we enforce an extremely strict no-bullying, no exclusion policy. We do not tolerate any "us against them" behavior, and have kicked DS' friends out on the few occasions where the group did not respect this rule.

Up here most kids his age have a lot of unstructured time to play. All his friends live close enough to each other to bike to each others' houses. We live in the far north, and now and for all of the summer the sun never sets. It literally is light as day, all day and all night. Most kids get to stay up later, and all the kids bike themselves home until bedtime. They leave between 8 and 9 pm, but on weekends and during the summer most of the neighborhood kids are up until midnight.

Most kids have mobile phones, and often DS friends will phone rather than show up at our doorstep unannounced. But not always. And our immediate neighborhood kids will invariably just show up. And if we don't answer the doorbell, they will walk right in our (mostly unlocked) front door. (Our dogs bark, so any entrant does get announced). For our part of the world, this is the norm.

So...suggestions? Comments? Questions? I will be grateful for any and all feedback you may provide.

Respect, love & thanks from this community newbie

Mergatroyd:
What happens if kid shows up and your DS is not home?

TootsNYC:
I think that maybe you need to set up some sort of rule that applies to everybody--everyone must text or phone first, no dropping by.

"Sorry, guys--it's my mom's rule, and she's fierce about it." Be the bad guy--that's your job.

And then, be fierce about it. Nobody may just come to your house without being invited.

And you can say to these kids, under the rule that you get to say how you want to be treated (and that this is not usurping someone else's parenting): "Sorry, boys, you can't just invite yourself to our house. You'll have to leave, and DS can't just go with you, because you didn't follow the rule. So he'll stay home, and tomorrow you can try again to get together."

And then once that is established, DS and you can work on saying things like, "No, now's not a good time, I'm getting together with other people."  (edited to cross that out--no need to say that, it's hurtful.)


Explain this "they may not invite themselves, and I'll be the bad guy" strategy to your son--it sounds like he's savvy enough to get it, and to be willing to go along with a few disappointments (where someone he'd like to see dropped by without calling).

Also get DS to be proactive in planning with the people he *does* want to spend time with.
 
I think it's time to relax this:


--- Quote ---I am struggling with how to help DS set limits with his friends in part because DH and I place a very high value on inclusion. We have always made our open-door policy is contingent on no child being excluded from whatever him and his friends are doing.

--- End quote ---

Because your son has a *right* to exclude people from whatever he is doing. He gets to pick his friends. Now that your son is older, he has every right to say, "I don't want to spend time with this person, and I -do- want to spend time with this person."

You've done the work of making sure your son has friends who are not of his narrow race/culture/family background. Great work!

Now let him pick his friends based on their actions and their personalities. That's his right.

If you stick with the rule of yours that I've quoted, you rob your son of the right to choose his friends. And you force him into the situation where he can't refuse to be friends with someone just because -they- want to be friends with him. That's really unfair to him.

Of course it's hard to set limits--you won't let him!

So, by setting up this basic etiquette rule--it is rude, rude, rude to invite oneself to someone else's home--and enforcing it at *your* house, you give your son the tool to determine whether he'll be friends with someone.

He chooses whether to include them at his home. They can choose to invite him to theirs. And that way, no one is being excluded, because nobody's sending them home. The only thing that happens is selective inclusion. Which is how it is supposed to work.

   And you'll be setting an example for those kids too--because it's a universal etiquette rule that inviting yourself to someone else's home (which is what "dropping by" is) isn't polite. So now start enforcing it, so that your house is not one of the exceptions to this standard rule.

ArcticChick:
Thanks for asking, Mergatroyd. We say, "DS isn't here." We often but not always tell him where DS is (usually visiting another friend). And the classmate says "OK" and leaves. Sometimes he asks when DS will be back, or asks him to call. But usually he just goes home or visits someone else.

TootsNYC -

lots of food for thought in your excellent response. I need to digest it a bit, but my immediate reaction is that you are right that I need to lighten up on the "everyone or no-one" rule. Your point - now that you have pointed it out to me - seems exactly right: DS does have a right to choose his friends.

But having taken that in I struggle with the possible consequence that DS joins/forms an in-crowd, and excludes the interesting but less conventional kids. I have seen those tendencies...and if I let him pick and choose and close the door to kids at will, I do fear that he (and I) will contribute to further marginalizing the kids that by nature, nurture, circumstance or personality already struggle to find their place among their peers. I am not talking about foisting on DS time with kids he can't stand or with whom he has nothing in common. Rather, I am thinking about the kid with ADHD, or parents with substance abuse issues, or the awkwardly large boy who sucks at sports...kids whose company DS does enjoy, but whom his peer group see as borderline reject-losers. Peer-pressure and the pressure to conform is vicious up here, and I do think these more awkward kids may be included in the neighborhood gang of kids in part because we insist upon it as a condition of any kids spending time in our house and garden.

Thank any and all deities, I do not think DS would exclude kids based on ethnicity, country of origin or religion. Some of his friends have floated bigot trial balloons, and he has clearly and unequivocally shot them down. So my anxiety is more about contributing to sorting the kids into A and B teams, socially, based on their having some trait or circumstance that makes being their friend a bit more work.

I am immediately in love the idea of enforcing a "call first" rule. That is very not the norm up here, though. So it may not be practical. And if I tried, I think both parents and kids would find it a very prickly, overly demanding move.  What typically happens is that a pack of kids drift around the neighborhood and go from house to other garden to next house...and kids come and go, so the group is constantly forming, changing, breaking up into smaller groups and getting back together again, from early afternoon until bedtime. It is kind of the opposite of scheduled playdates or visits.  But I will mull...hard. Because you are absolutely right: having such a rule, and having me be the bad guy who insists upon it, would solve a host of problems. And during the winter, when it is dark and kids do need rides to visit friends and are mostly indoors, it may be perfect.

PastryGoddess:
It's also not rude to tell this boy that you are not having visitors and he needs to go home.  If he asks why, just repeat that you're not having visitors and he needs to go home. 

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