What to Do When You Don't Like Your Child's Friend

If suspect your child's pal is a bad influence, try these strategies

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Trust your gut when you don't like your child's friend. KidStock/Getty Images

What should you do if you don't like one of your child's friends? What are signs you should step in and when should you leave things alone? Almost every parent has struggled with questions like these at one time or another as their kids grow and start spending time with a friend who might not exactly be on his or her list of favorite people. (After all, kids, like adults, can be nice or have toxic personalities that can be, well, challenging; they may lie, cheat, gossip, bully, or engage in other behaviors that create problems and hurt others.)

What makes the problem of an undesirable friend especially tricky for school-age kids is that children this age are learning how to form friendships on their own, and need some freedom to learn how to form healthy and positive bonds with peers. When your child was a toddler, you or your caregivers made the play dates. And while you may not have had as much control over who your child socialized with in daycare or preschool, friendships at that age didn't have the same significance that kids' relationships with peers start to take on as they get older. But with older kids, parents can't--and shouldn't--make decisions about every single friend their kids play with without asking their kids what want, and they shouldn't expect their kids to only like the people they like.

So what can you do about a friend whom your child adores but who rubs you the wrong way? Try these tips.

First, try to figure out what exactly is bothering you about the friend and why. Is it a matter of different personalities?

For example, is your child's friend loud and active or messy while your family is more quiet and orderly? Does this child's personality remind you of someone you had a conflict with?

Get to know the child and his parents. Try to arrange coffee or a meal with your child's friend and his parents. By hanging out with them, you may be able to get a better sense of what the family is like and learn more about your child's friend.

You may see some positive characteristics you didn't see before, or spot more bad traits that you don't want your child to be exposed to.

Sort out what really matters from trivial traits and actions. When it comes to character and behavior, some things are more significant than others. If your child's friend forgets to thank you when you give her a snack or constantly tracks dirt into the house, that's a far different thing from a child who constantly tries to convince your child to not listen to you, lies or manipulates, is overly clingy or controlling with your child, or enjoys bullying or hurting other people physically or verbally.

Ask yourself if it's something you can fix. If the problem is that your 7-year-old child's friend curses like a sailor or loves to tell your child how awesome the R-rated movie he just saw was and recounts it in detail, you may be able to talk to the child's parents about the fact that in your house, you don't allow cursing or that you don't want your kid to be exposed to R-rated movies yet (and don't want the temptation of hearing all about them).

Be sure to explain that every family is different, and that you respect their parenting style just as you hope they help you uphold yours. But if the parents aren't open to supporting you and your parenting choices, you should take steps to have your child spend less time with his friend.

Remember that kids grow and change. Your child's friend may be going through a phase, or experiencing stress in her life (such as a new sibling, parents fighting or separating, or the loss of a grandparent). If the bad behavior you're seeing is not typical of this child's normal behavior, talk to her parents about what you're seeing.

Watch for changes in your child. Are his grades going down? Is he more moody or depressed, or is he spending less time with other friends? Is he engaging in bad behavior such as lying or talking back to you? If you are seeing a negative influence change your child's normal behavior or personality, work on separating your child from this friend.

Trust your instinct. If something still doesn't feel right after you've tried to get to the bottom of why a child is bothering you, trust your gut. Take steps to get some distance between your child and his friend gradually, and don't dismiss the importance of your own instinct when it comes to your own child.

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