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On the Family Front

The Neighbor Is a Bully

Q. My daughter and a neighbor's daughter are frequent playmates. My daughter's friend is more aggressive and consequently my daughter is often hurt or bullied. She still wants to play with her friend, but I'm worried she'll learn the wrong message about friendship. Am I wrong for letting her play with this child, or should I separate them and risk hurt feelings by the other parents?

A.I remember having a very hard time standing up to a friend about her son's aggressive behavior toward my daughter. But one day, when he was about to hit her, I finally stepped in. I realized that God called me to protect my daughter?that's my job. It was a relief to work through the fear of "what people will think" and to realize that the only opinion that mattered was my daughter's. Still, it's a challenge; so get ready to grow! Here are a few ideas to help:

Have visits at your house for a while. You can supervise the play and correct your daughter's friend when she's out of line. Be sure to explain the house rules: "Belinda, at our house, we take turns deciding what game to play. You decided the last game, now it's Jenna's turn." As you see healthy interaction, allow play time to return to your neighbor's house. If the problems come back, you'll know that your house is the safer place to play.

Teach your daughter to be assertive. Give her verbal tools to use when she starts to feel bullied: "Belinda, I don't like it when you decide all the activities. I want us to take turns." If this isn't strong enough, ask your daughter to shorten the playtime when Belinda is a bully: "I want to go home now because we aren't taking turns." This limit will usually motivate the other child to cooperate.

Talk to your neighbor. If the problem continues, have your neighbor over for coffee to talk things through. You might say, "I really enjoy the fact that our daughters play together so often. Having a neighbor friend was important to me as a child as well.

I'm noticing that my daughter sometimes feels hurt when Belinda doesn't take turns (hits, or decides all the games). Can we encourage the kids to take turns so that the playtime works better for both of them?"

Find other friends. Early childhood friendships can set the pace and expectations for future friendships. If you feel that the friendship is just not a good fit for your daughter, get her involved with other playmates or peer activities.

Karen L. Maudlin, Psy.D., is the mother of two and a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in marriage and family therapy.

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