Child's Friends: Two's Company, Three's a Crowd?

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Taken From: Growing Concerns- A childrearing question-and-answer column with Dr. Marth Erickson

Question: My son often exchanges play dates with two boys from his preschool, brothers who are a year apart. On the rare occasion when only one of the boys comes over, everything goes well and the boys have a great time. But when both brothers come to play, there's always trouble. I feel that if I invite one, I have to invite both, but it's such a bother that I'm getting to the point where I don't want to have either. Is there a graceful way out of this unpleasant situation?

Answer: I suggest you start by having an honest conversation with the boys' parents, telling them what happens when both boys come over and enlisting their help to figure out a solution so that the friendship can continue. To balance the negative with the positive, be sure to tell the parents how well things go when only one boy comes over, and acknowledge that three children playing can be difficult. It also would be wise to ask the parents about how it goes when your son is at their house. Do they also find it's difficult with three? And do they have tips on how to help the boys play well together?

Then you have several options, short of cutting off the play dates altogether. One option is to have the brothers take turns coming over, assuming their parents would agree to that. But even before that, you might want to have them come together once more and try setting clearer limits and consequences for their behavior. Both you and their parents could tell them exactly what you expect, in language appropriate for their age. For example, in positive terms, you might say you expect them to share toys, talk nicely to each other and save running and loud voices for outside. Tell them if they break any of those rules, you will give them one warning. If they break a rule a second time, you will take them home right away. Then be prepared to follow through on your promise. Doing so once will show them you mean business.

If you do have both boys come again, you also might want to arrange for their parents to call and check in an hour after they arrive--and, of course, let the boys know that's going to happen. Then make sure to notice when the boys are playing well together and following your rules of the house. Kids of all ages do best when we pay attention to the positive. While you're at it, be sure to let their parents know when they're doing well. Preschool children are in the early stages of learning social rules and expectations, and they need all the help they can get from parents and other caring adults.

Please note that Marti Erickson will be on vacation and her next Growing Concerns columns will continue the week of Jan. 5, 2004. Thank you and Happy Holidays.

--Patty Mattern, University of Minnesota News Service
The Children, Youth and Family Consortium invites your questions on child rearing for possible inclusion in this column. E-mail to or write to Growing Concerns, University of Minnesota News Service, 3 Morrill Hall, 100 Church St. S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55455.
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