Friday, October 03, 2008

Is it possible not to like a child?

So, M has this friend. We'll call her Z (I don't even feel comfortable naming her real first initial). We've known Z and her family since the kids were about six months old, but they were only passing acquaintances until last year. That's when Z's mom, who had been working full time, decided to give the SAHM thing a try and we started seeing her more often. Geographically speaking, she's M's closest friend.

Z is one of those kids who I really, really want to like. The idea of disliking a 2-year-old is a horrible one, since I really don't believe there are any "bad" kids at that age. But oh, man, Z tries my patience.

Let's start with the good stuff. Z has a beautiful smile, and is known to dole out spontaneous hugs and kisses. Physically, she's an impressive kid -- I don't think I know any children as daring and as confident as she is. She runs, jumps, climbs and moves better than many kids twice her age. She loves to dance and loves to be twirled around. She doesn't seem to be afraid of anything, and as best as I can tell, she's quite intelligent.

But then there's the bad. Along with all of that physical confidence comes aggression. She pushes. She hits. She pulls hair and clothes. She grabs kids around the neck and throws them to the ground. She chases the other kids around and pushes them down. She grabs toys. In short, she's a bully. She seems to thrive on chaos, and I'm pretty sure that, for whatever reason, she's a very angry child behind that charming smile.

I've tried in the past to cut Z some slack. She has a new(ish) baby sister, and I'm sure it hasn't been an easy adjustment. She's also had to adjust to a new home in a new neighborhood recently, and has made the transition from daycare to being at home full-time. Plus, she just started school. So I get it. Even one of these things can throw a toddler for a loop, and she's had to deal with all of them within the span of a year. But honestly, Z's antics are starting to make me dread playdates.

M isn't sure how to feel about Z. She often asks to play with her and seems really to enjoy the good times that they spend together (and when they're both behaving, they do have a good time). On the other hand, she knows that Z is aggressive, and it clearly worries her. We had a playdate with Z scheduled for this morning, and M spent a good 20 minutes asking me why Z hits people and what she should do if Z hit her today. And M's not the only one who's apprehensive about Z. There are at least two other kids in playgroup that flatly refuse to have anything to to with her.

As it happens, this morning's playdate was a doozy. Z tore through the playroom, pulling every single toy out and throwing it on the floor. She found a board game and dumped that out, too. She broke M's water table (this one, I must admit, really pisses me off. It's the only big-ticket toy I've bought new in the last two years, and the kid just broke it). Then, within a space of about 30 seconds, she pulled M's dress in an attempt to knock her down, tried pushing when the pulling didn't work, then hit M for good measure. The attack was totally unprovoked. One moment, Z was sliding down the slide towards a laughing M, the next moment, she was trying to hurt my kid. When her mom first tried to put her in time out then (that having failed) tried to take her home, Z threw the tantrum to end all tantrums -- kicking, hitting, hair-pulling, the whole 9 yards.

At this point, I just don't know what to do. Z's mom is trying, I know, but sometimes she's annoyingly clueless. The other day, she mentioned that Z had gotten in trouble at school for pushing another kid, "but, you know, we don't really know what happened. Z doesn't push other kids." I nearly swallowed my tongue when she said that. Has she ever even met her child? Z has a long history of largely unprovoked physical violence, and the problem only seems to be getting worse as she gets older and stronger.

If I were a better friend, I suspect I'd have a difficult conversation with Z's mom. Her kid is seriously out of control and her attempts at discipline are not working. But how do you tell a parent her child's a bully? It's not like I know what's causing Z's behavior or how her mom can stop it. I don't honestly think Z's a bad parent, but anything I say will smack of that accusation.

My current impulse is avoidance, but that, too, makes me feel bad. If I and the other moms we know all start avoiding Z, how is that going to help? It'll just isolate her and her mom, and isolation is the last thing I'd wish (or inflict) on any parent. Besides that, it's not like my own kid is a total angel. She exhibits her share of bratty behavior, so who am I to throw stones?

1 comment:

Dan & Hillary and little Russell said...

I TOTALLY sympathize with you. In our case it is my son vs. another boy his age, but I could have otherwise written your blog posting. The child obviously (and in our case) needs to be disciplined (i.e. not a 'time out' as those are ineffective). In our case, the parents do time-outs but the kid doesn't even care. I know how hard it is to confront the other parent. Good luck. Maybe try meeting up at a park instead? I try not to invite them to our house but neutral places (the mall, parks, etc.)