Dealing with Your Child's Bad Friend: 4 Methods from the Mouths of Moms

As a parent, you get a few good years where you’re the main influences on your child. You get to control their values. You’re the authority on all that is good and bad. And you set the rules.

Then, school starts and suddenly, you’ve been overthrown. The influences pour in and colds aren’t the only things that are contagious. You’ve got peer influence to contend with.

Sadly, your child has picked the one rotten apple as their best ever friend and you’re wondering how to cope.

We spoke to four different moms with four very different approaches to dealing with a bad best friend to help you find the method that’s right for you:

Forbid the Friendship

“When my son was six years old, he was best friends with a boy who was a real terror,” says Annie, mother of two boys aged ten and eight. “I don’t even know where to begin with this kid. He was the type of kid who just thought bad behavior was cool, hero-worshipped villains, and did everything in his power to be his worst.

“He would announce, ‘I’m going to disrespect this,’ and then kick some child’s bicycle over at school or spit on a kid’s backpack or otherwise harm someone else’s property. He would talk a lot about violence: hurting himself, hurting fictional characters he found ‘lame,’ and hurting people in real life though it was always all talk, but still. It was always, ‘I want punch so-and-so in the face’… ‘I want to smash his face in the dirt’… ‘They don’t deserve to live’…

“He would write notes to my son that always started off with ‘Don’t show this to your parents’ and then went into some wildly imaginative story about aliens or zombies or some other creatures that were taking over our world and explained that he and my son needed to kill them off before they could succeed.

“Everything about this kid was creepy to me. He would even directly insult his parents in public who would just laugh it off. His parents always dismissed his bad behavior as an indication of his ‘creativity’ or his ‘genius’ and maybe they’re right. But I kept getting this awful image in my mind of these two kids growing up together and a teenage version of my son somehow ending up as an accomplice in some terribly violent event.

“I honestly couldn’t handle this relationship anymore so I downright forbid it. I explained to my son why his friend’s behavior was completely out of line. I let him know that there would be no more playdates and that I would like for him to spend his free time at school playing with his other friends.

“I also went to his teacher and explained to her that she needed to do her part in keeping these two children apart. I spoke with the school principal to make sure they would not be put in the same class in the future. Normally, neither of them would pay any attention to these types of requests but I went into those meetings armed with plenty of documented examples as well as a stack of notes the boy had written to my son to ‘recruit’ him on those many murderous missions to destroy evil invaders.

“There was no way I could allow this boy to have any influence over my child. Maybe it was extreme but I felt like it was an extreme situation. I had to separate them and I don’t regret it. I have to look out for my child’s best interest first.”

Dwindle and Distract

“My seven-year-old daughter used to spend all her time with a girl who was a total frenemy,” says Jasmine, mother to two girls. “This girl bossed my daughter around like it was nobody’s business. She would come over, look through my daughter’s possessions, and demand that she give her some toys. What she couldn’t have, she would ‘accidentally’ break.

“This girl was constantly belittling my daughter and telling her that her ideas were no good. The girl would NEVER play any of the games that my daughter suggested and she always wanted my daughter to be the witch or the crone, while she would be the queen or whatever. She would get jealous if my daughter was complimented at school, whether it was on her outfit or her performance, and she would take her aside and ‘put her in her place’ to keep her down and counter the positive effect of those compliments.

“My daughter really thought of this girl as her best friend even though we would always remind her how true friends treat each other. She was so worried about hurting their friendship that she would happily do whatever it took to keep the girl satisfied. So it became a manipulative relationship with an odd power balance.

“This girl meant so much to her that I knew I couldn’t forbid my daughter from playing with her. So I did the second best thing: phased her out. Over time, I made sure that their playdates occurred less often. At the same time, I didn’t know many of the other girls in her class so I spoke to her teacher for some good recommendations on potential new playmates. I reached out to their moms and had them over more often to show her what positive friendships actually look like and to make up for her loss.

“Now my daughter has a whole gaggle of good friends who treat her with respect and kindness.”

Only Under My Watch

“We’ve definitely dealt with our fair share of bad influences,” says Marta, mother to a 13-year-old son. “We’ve seen boys who cuss, boys who demean girls, boys who parade their masculinity like they’ve actually passed their fuzzy-upper-lip stage of life. We’ve seen friends who talk back to teachers, class clowns, vandals… All sorts of bad behavior.

“Even though many of my son’s friends have done or said things that I don’t approve of, I’m really reluctant to label them as ‘bad kids.’ I think we need to understand that they’re children and allow them these years to learn and mature.

“That said, I won’t let my son hang out with a boy that’s known to exhibit bad behavior on their own. Given that these boys aren’t violent or aggressive, and it’s really more about bad behavior that could be corrected, I will allow them to spend time together under my watch where I still have parental control.

“I won’t hesitate to pipe up and let a boy know if he crosses the line. I won’t let anyone make rude or demeaning comments about classmates. I let them know if they use inappropriate language and overall guide them about how to behave.

“I figure: Many of these boys have parents that have to work or take care of other matters and it’s not that they’re negligent but they’re trying to take care of their kids in other ways. Besides, kids at any age like to push buttons and test limits. I’m happy to be there for them and let them know what’s not ok. I would hope that someone else would treat my son the same – rather than write him off as a ‘bad kid’ that they would invest the time and effort to help him.

“Plus – and this is HUGE – I think it’s really good for my own son to see me behave that way towards his friends. He gets to see me role model tolerance and compassion while standing up for what’s right. It’s a really good opportunity for me to show him who I am as well.”

Look for the Good

“My little one has been friends with a kid many consider ‘a bad influence’ for ages,” reveals Stacie, mother to a 12-year-old girl and 7-year-old boy. “I even considered him a bad influence myself. This child went through every stage of bad behavior from biting and spitting when he was very little to talking back and disrespectful comments in Kindergarten and then graduating on to spreading rumors and getting into fights.

“I honestly couldn’t see what my son saw in this boy. I stayed up many nights, mulling it over. My son was always known as a ‘good boy’ so I couldn’t figure out why he was attracted to this other child.

“I finally came to the conclusion that there’s nothing I can do about their relationship other than to continue to raise my own son so that he knows about kindness, empathy, tolerance, and the right way to behave. I just had to have faith that I was raising him correctly… and judging by his own behavior, I was.

“I didn’t want to forbid the friendship because in the long run, my kids are going to come into contact with all kinds of people I can’t control. So I figured that I needed to continue instilling the right values in my kids so that they would know to reject bad influences when they appear (even if it takes longer for them to come to that decision than I would like.) I don’t think shielding kids is every helpful.

“At the same time, I thought that I should give my son the benefit of the doubt. I know I raised him well so I felt like I should trust him. If he continues to hold onto this friend, maybe there’s something there that’s good and interesting that I just hadn’t tapped into yet.

“Today the two boys are still best friends. What was once a ‘bad boy’ has matured a lot. There are still some bad behaviors lingering but I’ve also learned that this vibrant, smart, and creative little boy is also much more than that.”

What’s your method when it comes to dealing with your child’s less-than-ideal best friend? Share with us!

Tags : relationships   discipline   four methods from the mouths of moms   

Bridgit Sussman
We dealt with a very bad friend for a while. I tried to be easygoing and understating, correct behaviours and all that but after a while, I just had to forbid the friendship. It really was toxic and harmful to my girl who was losing self-confidence.