I have two kids, an 8-year-old son and a 6-year-old daughter--second grade and first grade, respectively. They are both tiny. My son is only 46 pounds.

A child entered my daughter's first-grade class. Let's call the boy Joe. He's big, maybe 60 pounds. He's had behavioral problems his whole life, and his mom chose to homeschool him for kindergarten after he was removed from preschool.

Joe gets overstimulated easily and hits impulsively. He doesn't understand what he's doing is wrong. Dozens of teachers, social workers, and parents have urged the boy's mother to seek professional help, but she refuses. A petition to have Joe removed from the school was quashed in favor of an IEP (Individualized Education Program), which sometimes works.

We are (were) his only friends. As a family, we are compassionate and forgiving. Joe hit my daughter twice, but that was months ago, and she is willing to be his friend (they are in the same class). However, she is extremely sensitive to aggression; we don't even watch Disney movies.

A few weeks ago, Joe hit my son in the park and hurt him pretty bad. My son doesn't want to be friends anymore which I agree with. Joe's mom wants my daughter to still be his friend; he has no others.

The boy's mom asks if Joe and my daughter can have a play date at her house without my son present.

I have not responded to this request. Also, my daughter's birthday is coming up, and my son requests Joe not be invited. Joe is aggressive towards my son in almost every social setting, but we do better in small play date situations.

My questions:

1) What can I tell the mom about Joe and my daughter having a play date (without me? of course not). My instinct is to say when he gets professional help, we can try again, but that seems too pushy.

2) What is your feeling about my daughter's birthday party? My instinct is to not invite him because it would definitely harm my son's experience.

Edit: 4/20/17

The situation was resolved--mostly. We simply cut off contact. Joe's parents didn't object in any way; they've been through it before. He wasn't invited to my daughters party, but his mom and he briefly crashed to give a card. Joe invited us to his birthday. I dropped by with a card and $10 at the beginning without my kids. Nobody else came.

My son wants to do Scouts. Joe's in Scouts. Perfect. At the introductory meeting, I saw Joe hit 4 kids including my son, and I wasn't even paying attention to him for the most part. I'm going to ask his parents to keep Joe away from my son, or I'm just going to start calling the police. (His dad is one of the scout leaders.)

Update 8/2019

Joe has slowly gotten better with his aggression. However, I had to take a knife away from him at a Cub Scout event (in now the Pack leader). I talked with a classmate of his. I mentioned Joe seems to be hitting kids less. The boy responded, "Yeah, but he wants to." Great. Joe and my son actually shared a tent at a Scout campout, and it went fine. It was out of desperation in frigid conditions. (May and October are not safe for consistent weather in the US's Upper Midwest.) We invited Joe to my daughter's 10-yo birthday, but we haven't had any play dates.

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    Can you also edit your various clarifications in all the comment threads into your question for accessibility?
    – mxyzplk
    Commented May 9, 2016 at 12:03
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has (once again) been moved to chat. Please be so kind as to make further comments not requesting clarification there. Thanks! Commented May 9, 2016 at 20:55
  • @StuW Can you add an edit explaining if and how the situation was resolved? Thanks.
    – user25657
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 13:56
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    I am surprised that the Scout leader did not get involved. I'd start by calling that person for clarification of expectations and rules. Then I'd ask for those rules to be explained to the bully's family and that this kid is only given one more opportunity to stop hitting -- no exceptions. I suggest the one more chance because if he likes Scouts, it might be incentive to improve. I would only call police once all other options are tried and he hits your child. The police won't likely listen unless your complaint is personal.
    – WRX
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 15:14
  • +1 to @StuW for a great question. Also +1 for the update of 4/20/17, which is also a valuable (and real-life tested) answer. Could you please post another update for any further developments, if any? Commented Aug 9, 2019 at 15:01

16 Answers 16


How you act in this situation depends a lot on how much you and your daughter want to see this friendship continue. Make sure to evaluate this from the perspective of how it affects your children, not Joe. I know this might come off as a bit heartless, but Joe isn't your responsibility. Your children are. As such you need to worry about what is best for them.

No matter what you decide, bring up your concerns with Joe's mother. Tell her you are worried about the physical and emotional well-being of both of your kids. As long as Joe is aggressive, you can't have him near your son (and possibly your daughter). Let her know that something needs to be done before you are willing to let Joe be with your kids. You don't need to specify what has to happen, but you can lay out a completely reasonable expectation that whatever happens needs to assure the safety of your children.

If she makes a reasonable effort to get Joe help, you can then decide if you are comfortable having him hang around your kids. If she doesn't, or what she does is insufficient, don't allow your kids to play with Joe (hopefully it doesn't come to this, but you can't control what others will do). Maybe this will help Joe and his mother to realize that something needs to be done and then Joe can get the help he really needs.

Good luck.

Addendum regarding the birthday party:

For the birthday specifically, that gets tricky in that your daughter may want Joe there but your son clearly does not. If Joe's mom or someone could keep an real close eye on him (or if he can get some help prior to the party) you could allow it if you are comfortable (you will have to work with your son to help him feel safe). But again it boils down to taking care of your kids first and then what you are comfortable with. Trying to weigh your children's opposing desires along with your responsibility to your kids is really only something you can do. Talk it out with your kids / partner.

  • I'll just add that you have to protect your kids from Joe's behaviour. Your daughter is trying to protect Joe from getting in trouble but you need to protect them both.
    – blurfus
    Commented May 7, 2016 at 6:06
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    Good answer. There are plenty of fish in the sea, you aren't responsible for fixing "Joe". Perhaps his mother will get him some proper counseling if she observes some consequences. Commented May 9, 2016 at 11:30

I'm not a professional, but my view is that you don't have any relationship whatsoever with a person who has harmed your children unless the wish for a relationship comes entirely from the child who was harmed, with no prompting or encouragement. Doing so delivers to your child a message that they're expected to accept abuse and allow abusive people to remain in their lives. This is not a good lesson for any child to hear.

To clarify: I'm not saying you should maintain a relationship even if the child wants to; that situation is more complicated and it's not the OP's situation anyway. In other words, "unless" above expresses a necessary, but not necessarily sufficient, condition.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Acire
    Commented May 5, 2016 at 19:52
  • Foe the record, I really liked this answer, too.
    – Stu W
    Commented May 9, 2016 at 18:03
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    The point about not normalizing abusive relationships is good but the scope of this answer is quite narrow and I think the lack of elaboration here is really to the detriment of the point being made. How can a first-grader, a neighbor and friend of your family, be reduced to "a person who has harmed your children" in the context of rough play? Compassion and community clearly motivate the OP to view Joe as what he is: a child with a behavior problem, with whom his family very much does have a relationship. This is just too simplistic and doesn't offer a solution or even an explicit approach.
    – Air
    Commented May 9, 2016 at 18:32
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    See "hurt him pretty bad" and "My son doesn't want to be friends anymore". Respecting OP's son's wishes on this is definitely relevant to the "bullet point 2" question at the end of the post. I see the whole question as a pretty simple one that OP is over-thinking and risking teaching their own kids a bad lesson, that their parent will prioritize trying to "help/fix" an abusive person over the physical safety and emotional well-being of their own children. If OP really wants to help Joe, the right way to do it is to pressure social services to intervene, not sacrifice one's own kids. Commented May 9, 2016 at 18:59

Your kids' need to feel safe is more important than this other kid's need to have friends, and you need to tell the other mother that.

  • Yes, we had this discussion months ago and thankfully Joe hasn't touched my daughter since. Why Joe continues to have problems with boys in general and my son in particular is cause for discussion and debate. I may ask such a question in the future.
    – Stu W
    Commented May 5, 2016 at 15:36

Don't invite Joe to the birthday. He won't have your daughter's full attention, and he'll get upset. This will be setting him up to fail, and that's not what Joe needs. (Nor is it what Joe's victim will need.)

If you want to do something special, invite Joe and his mom out to dinner for your daughter's birthday.

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    This is a very good answer. Actually, Joe listens better to his dad. Perhaps I'll do that. Part of my (and the community's) frustration is Joe's parents are kind of burnt out, so when Joe hits a kid they barely react.
    – Stu W
    Commented May 5, 2016 at 2:35
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    "Joe's parents are kind of burnt out" - what does that mean, can you elaborate?
    – Xen2050
    Commented May 5, 2016 at 7:35
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    They've heard the same thing a thousand times. They are trying to do the best within their belief system. It is in itself a form of colloquial insanity, but they are still my neighbors and otherwise good people.
    – Stu W
    Commented May 5, 2016 at 11:42
  • @StuW "They've heard the same thing a thousand times" So? That's no excuse, and never should be. Commented May 6, 2016 at 9:03
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    Stu is not an apologist for Joe's parents. He is trying to do the right thing by Joe, and for his own kids.
    – Dan Pritts
    Commented May 6, 2016 at 17:27

This is a tricky one indeed. Although I feel sorry for "Joe", I can feel the anxiety this is building up for you.

His mom is clearly in denial- and I'm not sure what transpires behind close doors in their house, but am a firm believer in nurture over nature.

From Joe's perspective, it may be as simple as a case of jealousy - your daughter is his only friend, but your son gets to spend more time with her. Siblings tend to be closer to each other at this age, so Joe may be jealous of the additional time your son and daughter spend together, of which he can't be part of. So it may be a simple primeval reaction - Worth mulling over....

IMHO, the fewer social misfits we have, the better chance we have surviving as a species more than two generations. If you agree with this sentiment, this may be your social cross to bear.

If I was in your place, I would consider asking Joe's mother to tell him that your daughter is definitely his friend, but she's really sad that Joe hits her brother, and its not nice to make your special friends sad. When she's had this conversation, ask to meet with them (your daughter and you) and bring up the same topic. Hopefully he will see the light....

and we all need a little hope... Cheers

Addendum: As far as the birthday party is concerned that would depend upon whether Joe's mum communicated my suggestions above, and you all meet at a neutral place to decipher whether Joe gets it (even a little). I would suggest taking your son along and see their interaction.

If that goes well I would consider inviting Joe, with a caveat - (which is clear to both his Mom and him), that if he hits your son, he will be asked to leave. However, before I would do that I would try and get a buy-in from your son - even if means a small bribe - an ice cream, him being able to invite one of his friends over, cooking his favourite meal.....

  • I really like your answer. Could you edit the third paragraph to make it coherent and add a small blurb on your opinion regarding the birthday party?
    – Stu W
    Commented May 5, 2016 at 1:25
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    omer is on the ball. Joe is probably a decent kid, but he needs help. You and your daughter want to provide a tiny bit of that help, which is wonderful. Doing it in a safe way is paramount.
    – Dan Pritts
    Commented May 5, 2016 at 2:17

This may seem late but I hope it adds help to what you have been told already. From what you are saying, Joe's mum is not putting enough effort to discipline her son. Your children need your maximum support and also you need to train them to do the following in the most responsible way;

  • They must learn to support each other. How? If one hurts your brother and emotionally ruins your party for your brother you are better of supporting your brother by not inviting that person. (You can use your own ways to pass this kind of lesson to both your children)

  • They need to both understand that Joe is having problems that they cannot fix by being friends with him or nit being friends with him however being friends with him is currently not the best.

  • They must stand up for themselves by not being afraid to escape because for someone to hit anyone pretty badly, the victim may have not had a chance to even run to the safest nearest place or adult. This one is hard to put across but its never coward to run for your life. Tell your kids to make themselves safe enough between the park and the nearest help they can get. If a child knows this he or she will do something. Maybe engage Joe if it is the only way to be safe. I am not saying teach them to take on the guy but maybe equip them with skills that ensure noone can be confident to attack them. There is self defence in a short sprint.

As for agression in movies a day will come when they can have enough to watch things and understand that its just a business like selling bread. You don't have to worry about that.

Finally I wish you the best in making sure your children understand that you are there to support them and protect them from harmful people.


As I see it, the heart of your dilemma is that:

  1. You want your children to be safe, and feel safe
  2. You want your children to understand the value of compassion, and want to model that behavior by showing compassion to Joe, as you believe Joe is not intentionally a bully or violent.

I applaud you for both of these goals. Most parents get #1 intuitively. #2 is a bit harder for some people to grok.

There may also be a third factor here: that you genuinely want to help Joe. Unfortunately, since you are not Joe's parent, there are limits to how much of that can (or should) be your responsibility. You've already gone above and beyond, as far as trying to help Joe. Your willingness to forgive and understand is more than the vast majority of people would do. You've already witnessed this, as your daughter is his only remaining friend.

So, painful as it may be to feel like you're "giving up" on Joe, you need to put what's in his best interests out of the picture.

Instead, focus exclusively on your children.

Your son and your daughter will have very different needs for this situation.

Your son feels threatened by Joe, and unsafe in his presence. He needs to know that you support him. Do not, under any circumstances, put your son in a situation where he may feel like he has to choose between loyalty to your daughter, and his own sense of security.

If you wind up with Joe being invited to your daughter's party (more on that to follow), make certain that you've structured things so that you can ensure that your son is separated from Joe at all times. Preferably without it being obvious to Joe that this is what you're doing... having the party organized into group or team activities, and ensuring that Joe and your son are always in different groups is an easy way to accomplish this. Assigned seating at the table for cake, snacks, or whatever is also a good step.

For your daughter, whether she goes on a play date with Joe, or whether Joe gets invited to her party, should be up to her.

However... you've clearly done a great job of teaching your daughter to have empathy for those who have behavioral issues, but it is even more important that you help her learn where the limits of that empathy should lie.

At some point, being empathic can transition into being an enabler, or being a victim. It is a murky line that can be a moving target, and learning when to say "I've tried enough, and its just not working; now I have to step back before my attempts to help others becomes self-harm."

At 6, it is unlikely that she'll really firmly grasp this concept. But you can start the groundwork by talking openly with her. Praise her for being a good friend, and wanting to help, but also tell her that if she ever feels afraid of Joe, then not only is it okay for her to stop being his friend, it is the the right thing to do, and that you'll love her and support her if she decides she has to do this. Explain to her that even nice people sometimes wind up being bad people to be around, and while maybe they can't help it, it doesn't make it your daughter's responsibility.

Let her decide if she wants to go on a play date with Joe. Definitely chaperone if she does.

Explain to her about her brother's concerns, and that if she decides to invite Joe, that the party will have to be set up to keep the two of them separate, so your son doesn't feel uncomfortable.

I'd advise against saying anything to the mother. At this point, nothing you say will be received positively. If your daughter makes the decision to cut Joe out of her life, then you can simply tell Joe's mother that your daughter said she's not comfortable being Joe's friend anymore because of the way he treats her and her brother.

Worst case, your daughter learns that not everyone can be helped.

Best case, your daughter sticks it out, Joe learns how to control himself better, which is still entirely possible if he's only 6.

Best of luck to you and your family!

  • Thank you. That's a very insightful answer. However, as a widower, my kids and I are a team of 3. We cannot separate friends or activities of yet. I especially like the advice to say nothing. As for the party, it would hurt my son to not abide by his wishes. We have lots of friends; not to be harsh, but we really won't miss one. As far as helping Joe ... my motivation is about the equivalent of a community clean-up: It's a little bit of everybody's responsibility, but not a lot of anybody's except the parents. If one of my kids don't want him as a friend, then it goes for both.
    – Stu W
    Commented May 6, 2016 at 0:03

This boils down to how much your daughter is willing to endure to try to be this boy's friend. Is she afraid of being hurt herself? Is this stressful for her? How does she feel about the situation? The real determining factor is whether she is going to be better off doing this (feeling good about helping a friend) than she is going to be worse off (stress, fear, physical and emotional pain.)

To a lesser degree, you should to consider the effect this will have on the boy and his mother. To date, it seems like she is in constant denial that her son has a serious problem. If you did cut him and her off from extracurricular contact with your daughter, that might be a bit of a wake-up call. It also might fuel their aggression. There isn't near enough information in this to determine which it could be. Predicting this outcome will help you determine what the effect on your children will be as a result. This indirect consequence is your primary concern - the effect on the boy and his mother is secondary only because it has a direct impact on yours. I'm not saying be heartless to the boy or the mom, but you have a responsibility to your children. How she handles hers is up to her.

Whatever you do, put the safety of your children first, including their emotional safety. I'm not saying we have to shelter our children from emotionally difficult situations, because they have to grow into adults, but if this boy is physically aggressive and has developmental problems then it's certainly possible he could resort to an emotional form of bullying that your daughter's 6-year-old self is not prepared for, particularly if he or his mom try to turn your daughter against you or your son. You wouldn't send a white belt karate student to fight Bruce Lee. Be sure to gauge what her level of competency is (before, during and after) and be ready to support her in this.

Bottom line: You don't owe this boy or his mother anything. You owe your children and yourself everything. I don't envy your decision.

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    This didn't really answer my question, but I gave a +1 because you addressed the fact we're going to be in the same (small) school district for years. "Protecting my children" is more complicated than cancelling a play date. It's a "chain is only as strong as the weakest link" situation. Kids without friends are the ones turning to drugs in 7th grade, and he's my neighbor.
    – Stu W
    Commented May 4, 2016 at 19:41
  • I did answer it, just not in a way you'd like. I said "There isn't near enough information to determine [what you should tell the mom]" due to the fact that the questions in my first paragraph are too complicated to be answered fully in this venue, but without them we can't really help you make that decision. Instead, all I can offer is a framework that allows you to answer the questions based on experience and parental instinct and make the decision on your own from there.
    – corsiKa
    Commented May 4, 2016 at 21:07

"Joe hit my daughter twice" ... "A few weeks ago, Joe hit my son in the park and hurt him pretty bad."

1) What can I tell the mom about Joe and my daughter having a play date (without me? of course not)? My instinct is to say when he gets professional help, we can try again, but that seems too pushy.

I'd say follow your instinct. It's not pushy to protect your own children from a bully, even if "he didn't mean it". From what you said it sounds like Joe's parents have some problems in the way they are bringing him up. This is a concern, but there may be nothing you can do about it. Your duty is to your children, and if they aren't taking responsibility for their child's behaviour then that is their problem... If they continue to fail at educating Joe, it is likely the boy will end up as an abusive adult too.

2) What is your feeling about my daughter's birthday party? My instinct is to not invite him because it would definitely harm my son's experience.

Follow your instinct.

In my opinion, if Joe really doesn't know that hitting people is wrong, and if reasoning with him really fails, I'd suggest the parents shoud use an appropriate level of "old school" punishment until he learns it is not right. Pain is an excellent teacher, and not wrong when used appropriately. I've seen it work on the worst kids in school... the only thing that pulled them into line was fear getting the cane, and when did get the cane once or twice, their behaviour improved substantially.

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    Love it! Almost enough to upvote it! Except, for one very glaring thing: you don't mention how this will work. If you introduce a cane to Joe, you may face a terrible legal liability. You have no right to do this-- literally; where I'm from, modern laws would almost certainly forbid you to do this to someone else's child.
    – TOOGAM
    Commented May 5, 2016 at 16:07
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    So you advocate the use of violence to get the message through that violence is not a good way of getting the message through? Every time you use that "old school" of yours you will be reinforcing the idea that using violence is a good thing. Commented May 6, 2016 at 9:15
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    @DiegoSánchez I agree with your opinion. It is the recommendation of the American Psychological Society, among others, that corporeal punishment should not be used within the home. However, the rest of the analysis wasn't bad.
    – Stu W
    Commented May 6, 2016 at 17:09
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    Downvote. Even assuming corporeal punishment is healthy and effective, which studies has conclusively disproved, caning is much more serious than spanking and may be over the legal line of what constitutes assault. And that is by his parents, let alone by the OP.
    – kleineg
    Commented May 6, 2016 at 21:12
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    The only good news is that if you suggest that the boy's parents cane their child they may leave you alone, for good... because you are the abusive one then.
    – kleineg
    Commented May 6, 2016 at 21:13

I back the sensible answer of a having a chat with the mother and gently but firmly suggest that play dates are barred until she does something about Joe behaviour.

Yet, I would say you should invite him to the party if your daughter wants him. The party is a social experience much like school, where people you don't want to confront will be present. This is a common theme through life and mirrors the situation your son will soon be confronted with, meeting Joe in school. With the difference that you will be there.

Keep a close eye and have a chat with your boy about the fact that you have to be able to appropriately confront with people you don't like. Discuss possible scenarios, maybe, but reassure him you will be there to protect him.

  • Although I currently disagree with inviting Joe to the party, you presented a very thoughtful response. Thank you. I am a widower and thus cannot keep track of my son at my daughter's party. This kid has a serious hard-on for my son, and I don't trust his parents to prevent badness.
    – Stu W
    Commented May 5, 2016 at 13:38
  • Well yes if you can't be there to supervise or trust somebody to check out joe doesn't go crazy during the party it might be safer not to invite him
    – Three Diag
    Commented May 5, 2016 at 15:35
  • "I" ... "thus cannot keep track of my son at my daughter's party." This sounds like a serious problem. You should be able to keep an eye on him, especially with the opportunity of preparation that permits you to specify what your son is to be doing at various times.
    – TOOGAM
    Commented May 5, 2016 at 16:03
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    Do not invite him to the party. Your family should stick together. By inviting him you are beginning to alienate your son. If Joe hurts your son at this party when you allowed him to attend and you and your son are aware of the risk, how can your son trust you? Your children's safety should be your first priority. How can you possibly put Joe's needs above your children's or your daughters desires (assuming she wants Joe to come to her party) above your son's safety? Family comes first.
    – Dean
    Commented May 5, 2016 at 23:05

A few weeks ago, Joe hit my son in the park and hurt him pretty bad

Does that mean hospitalization? Was he sore for a few days after? This statement is really difficult to analyze because it is vague to the point of me not understanding just what happened. I'm not necessarily seeking to extend things by having you provide more answers, but I'm saying why I can't take this one particular factor into much account.

Do not insist on professional help. The abusive kid could have a religious experience and be completely transformed without any professional help whatsoever. Or, improvement may come due to changes from another source which is external to his body, but still internal to his family: The mother may become more involved, based on her own recognition that she needs to do something different.

On the other hand, professional help could lead to him understanding his social responsibilities, yet ignoring what he was taught, and result in virtually no tangible improvement whatsoever.

The basic point is that you have no right to dictate how the kid improves, which is exactly what you're doing if you demand that professional help be used. What you need to demand are the tangible changes that you expect. You can suggest a course of action, particularly if such information is solicited. What you need to not demand, because making such a demand is crossing a line that you should not cross, is how they reach those results.

Let their family decide how they will achieve the desired results. The part that you absolutely insist on is that the results are obtained.

The boy's mom asks if Joe and my daughter can have a play date at her house without my son present.

My questions: 1) What can I tell the mom about Joe and my daughter having a play date (without me? of course not)?

This may be a bit of a cultural thing; I don't really understand this activity's concept too well. You are well within your rights to deny your child of any activity that you are not comfortable with. This remains true even when your kiddo is a teenager.

I have not responded to this request.

It is best that you do so, soon. The longer that you wait, the more anxiety that builds up, further tense-ifying a situation for the other family, and thereby escalating this incident.

Also, my daughter's birthday is coming up, and my son requests Joe not be invited.

2) What is your feeling about my daughter's birthday party? My instinct is to not invite him because it would definitely harm my son's experience.

Your son's experience? How about your daughter's experience? It is her birthday. Let things primarily focus on what's good for her.

Does she want to be friends with Joe? Great. It sounds like Joe could use a friend. Your daughter should not be deprived of a good thing just because of detrimental but avoidable impacts upon your son.

Get something else for your son to do, so conflict is avoided. I don't mean grounding your son to his room for two hours. That might work in some scenarios, but a party is a fun thing. Don't make him miss out entirely; let him feel like he got to be exposed to the party, but get him extra involved. Place him in some starring roles, like placing candles in a cake and carrying presents. Explain that handing out drinks isn't necessarily work; it can be fun to host a party because you're the hero that is making other people's lives better, and the recipients will be appreciative (even if they don't immediately show it, and may not even immediately feel that way, particularly among children).

Have some plans on how to effectively move your son anytime things get threatening. Tell your son that anytime Joe says more than 3 words to your son, or gets within four feet, then your son should activate the backup plan by saying he has an activity to go to. (Extend those guidelines, e.g. to more than 3 words, based on your own comfort level.) And watch for accidentally-allowed violations, and be prepared to intervene. Don't just plan to get in the way; know what good and positive thing your son will start doing instead. Both your son, or you, ought to have full ability to start initiating the safety net at any time.

Is your party from 3-4:30? Divide it into phases. Let Joe's mom know that Joe is invited for the 3-3:40 events. If Joe and/or his mom find out and questions arise, just honestly answer that you're not currently comfortable with Joe's participation with the other events, and so it will be important that he be picked up on time so that he doesn't need to be awkwardly excluded. Say that the source of discomfort is the concerns caused by recent behaviors, and you look forward to the day when you trust situations enough that these types of concerns feel less necessary. Let Joe and his mom determine how much impact this has on them, and them decide how to respond. (Let them decide whether that ends up being a teaching moment for Joe, or not. That opportunity is theirs, to focus on to the extend that they decide, and to handle in the method that they determine.)


Everyone has different opinions on what should or should not be done, but your primary focus needs to be on your kids. With all things "relationship", I try to remember that "I can not control others, only my self, " and that "We perceive only what we can perceive."

Essentially, you can't demand that the other party (kid or parent) do anything, all you can do, is adjust your (and your children's) behavior and reactions.

So now you have to decide rather you want your children to deal with Joe, there are good things that could come from the interaction. So you have to decide rather it's a good move for your kids.

If it is, then go forward, and just make sure you can supervise the situation personally (it seems Joe's mom is not the best to supervise in your opinion). Think about what you want your kids to learn from the experience.

If you decide no to go forward, then be direct. "I do not want my kids to play with Joe, I find him to aggressive for my kids." It's perfectly fine to say. Don't try to demand a course of action, or that Joe's mom is doing something wrong, she (and Joe) need to figure this one out on their own. Remember you can't control their situation only your reaction. Be firm and direct, but not rude, or judgmental. Remember you can only make judgments for your family not theirs.

Now, I said some good could come from the interaction, and it's true, you should measure that. Weigh it when making your decision. You kids will have to learn how to deal with bullies, is this a good way to teach them "bully management techniques?" Your son has made a decision, "I don't want to play with Joe, he sucks." Your daughter has not, can you use the interaction to show that it's not ok to be on the receiving end of the bullying? Can you use the situation to show your daughter the value of being selective with party invites.

We live in a world with bullies, and violence. We can't ignore that fact, and just pretend we don't. Our kids will get hurt emotionally and physically, can't change that either. But we can use those experiences to demonstrate why we "should do better". You need to decide it this is one of those times, or if the risk is too high. Either way, keep your decisions and actions based on your family. Things that you can do, or control. Don't try to "adjust" Joe's situation, they have to figure out that one.

  • I like your answer, but I hesitate to call it bullying because of the lack of conscious/impulse control. I like your analysis of my response. Sooner or later, Joe's parents will ask me what the story is, and I'll give them a more thorough explanation of my expectation, but for now "I can't trust your son to be safe around my children" seems the most logical course.
    – Stu W
    Commented May 5, 2016 at 17:41
  • Yes, there is definitely a difference between a bully and a kid who's out of control.
    – Dan Pritts
    Commented May 6, 2016 at 17:30
  • IDK, unless your saying this kid (Joe) has some kind of learning disability, then bully is the right word (to me at least). It doesn't matter if it's emotional, discipline, or other problems that let this kid think that the proper response is hitting. But then again "bully" has changed a lot from when we were kids.
    – coteyr
    Commented May 6, 2016 at 18:29

Does Joe want to come to your daughter's birthday? (I guess so). Then, not being able to attend because he attacked your son should teach him a valuable lesson.

Depending on you, your son and your daughter wishes, you may be willing to finally allow him if he apologises, promises he's going to be nice to the other children (specially during the party), etc. And with the clear agreement from both Joe and his parents, that he will be expelled from the party if there's any unsocial behaviour from his part.

  • Sadly, even a promise would be insufficient because of his impulsivity. I think I should exclude unless both my kids are fully comfortable. And even then, Joe has been at other parties and had to be directed off other boys with mom no more than 30 feet away.
    – Stu W
    Commented May 5, 2016 at 21:55

Seriously. It's important not to be wishy-washy about this. For me, the situation is clear: this boy is dangerous to both physical and emotional health of your kids. Stay away from this family altogether until they get their act together.

We are (were) his only friends. As a family, we are compassionate and forgiving.

By being these people's friends (which practically means having your kids around theirs) you are not being compassionate to your own kids, and you are not giving the mom consequences for not properly addressing her son's behavior. That's not helping anyone. How is the answer to stay away from these people not obvious? Stay away from him at school. Stay away from him outside of school.

EDIT ADDED to respond to comment: You say "daughter would be upset by the confusion of boundaries"?? To me, the boundary is clear. I don't go near people who have shown a propensity to be violent towards me, and I don't allow them near me either!! In any way, at ANY time. I teach my children the same.

That they should AVOID and not go near people IN ANY CONTEXT when those people have shown violent behavior and they should (a) get away or (b) protect and defend their personal space using all means reasonably available to them if threatened. If someone like that comes near me. I speak up loudly, GET AWAY FROM ME. And if I have to fight to defend my ground, then I am prepared for that. Take her to self-defense classes.

Makes no difference whether it's the street, a classroom, or anywhere else. Another person has no right to enter your kids personal space unless they are comfortable with it. I teach my kids to honor their own space in just the same way as I honor mine. And I try to teach dealing with these situations in the same way that a sensible adult would deal with it - stay WELL CLEAR to begin with, AVOID at all costs, keep those known offenders AWAY FROM YOU, and be ready, well-prepared and able to fight (only if absolutely necessary)... is the most responsible course of action.

  • Impossible on both counts but I understand your sentiments. Believe me, I feel like that regularly, but my daughter would be more upset by the confusion of boundaries within her own classroom. Plus, Joe has hit most everybody; it's become a community issue. It's really the fault of Joe's parents burying their head in the sand if we are to lay blame. I have no real choice but to proceed with the questions I specifically asked. Could you edit your answer to address these?
    – Stu W
    Commented May 5, 2016 at 13:33
  • I've added further detail to my answer. I do not feel able to directly address your questions as asked because I feel that they take you down the wrong path. The best path is not to try to "fix" the other family, because you feel it's a social problem/social imperative. That is a world of pain when you try to do that. That's how wars start. The answer is to protect yourself. Commented May 5, 2016 at 14:10
  • 1
    Maybe I'm more sympathetic to Joe's plight than some; as a 4th grader, it never really dawned on me that other people's emotions were really worthy of my consideration, except to avoid punishment. When I realized that during the summer before 5th grade, my life flipped around. So I haven't yet given up on Joe. But why should Stu's family invest in the financial cost, and time cost, for professional self defense lessons, just because one kid is out of line? Multiply that logic by 25 for the 25 other kids in Joe's class. I postulate that self-defense classes aren't the only okay approach.
    – TOOGAM
    Commented May 5, 2016 at 16:14
  • 1
    I agree with Brad Thomas all the way. I wish I had the opportunity to gain skills in self defense from an early age. I went through a couple of years of hell at school before I learnt to defend myself, and when I did my life improved dramatically. I would keep my smaller children away from Joe for their own safety and so that his bad behaviour doesn't rub off on them. Joe needs help, but my children would not be the means.
    – Dean
    Commented May 5, 2016 at 22:33
  • 1
    @BradThomas Martial arts has nothing to do with the questions I asked. I completely disagree with your conclusion.
    – Stu W
    Commented May 5, 2016 at 23:41

What will you do if "Joe" will seriously hurt your kids, like poke with something in an eye?

Don't make your kids meet him, there is no reason for that.

If "Joe" will be unhappy, it is good for him - because unhappiness makes you think about your own behavior.

  • 2
    These are good points. His violence doesn't appear to be volitional or malicious. But you never really know. I would probably call the police if it was intentional because talking with the family doesn't really get anywhere. And I would prefer not going to jail for tearing his head off. We can't really avoid him. I'm not at all concerned of Joe's happiness, but I'm concerned social isolation and estrangement will lead to far worse behaviors in years to come
    – Stu W
    Commented May 6, 2016 at 13:57

Never knowingly expose your child to a person who is abusive, no matter how 'good-hearted' or 'unknowing.' Because my parents believed in 'forgiveness,' this happened to me repeatedly with a certain family friend as a child, who (all good-hearted, friendless, and unknowing) later sexually assaulted me, and this continues to affect me negatively as an adult.

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