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My son is almost 5 years old. There are two other boys in the neighborhood: Z is 5 months younger than him, and S is 10 years old. Both are very nice and well-behaved kids.

We moved to this complex 5 months ago. It has a gate that is closed at all time, and there is a lady who is retired, and can monitor the gate all day. So the complex is very safe, and we let our son to play alone a lot as we are very busy with our smaller kid.

At the beginning my son had no friend to play with. After a couple of weeks, he made friends with S. Although there are 5 years difference in age, they still can play games such as "tag"or hide and seek. They had a lot of fun. However, this was not very often, only once per week or less.

After a couple of weeks more, Z's parents also let him go out to play. As they are at the same age, they became good friends very quickly. They play with each other for hours, everyday.

Problem:

Occasionally, S wants to join with my son and Z, and they (my son and Z) don't want to play with him. Their favorite game is racing the bikes, pretending to be the police chasing the bad guys. When S is there, they assume he is the bad guy, and saying something like "go away", "I will punch you in the face" etc.

When I knew this, I immediately tried to talk to my son. He explained that they don't want to play with S. He gave several reasons, but they are completely nonsense, and unrelated to each other, for example: S rides a scooter and not a bike like them etc, he said so because Z had said so, etc etc

I can forbid him to say such bad things to S, but I don't know how to teach my son to value the friendship he had with S before.

What I tried:

  • Remind him that when nobody played with him, S was there to play with him. He said now he could play with Z.
  • Remind him that he had fun playing with S. He said he no longer wanted to play with S.
  • Threaten him that Z may move away, and he will have nobody to play with. He simply said Z will not move.

I'm very frustrated, winning an argument anybody is hard, winning an argument with a kid is almost impossible. What should I do?

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In terms of actions to take- any action is going to involve a commitment of time. Children learn from, and replay, examples that they see, and behaviors that are demonstrated to them. An adult would need to bring all 3 boys together to play a shared game where each had an appropriate role, which could set the stage for a better group interaction when there isn't any supervision. A related approach would be to set up times where only the son and the 10 year old play together in a supervised manner.

For more context, I am curious about why exactly the 5 year old boy in the question doesn't want to play with the 10 year old. There perhaps may be more to learn about in terms of the specifics.

There are huge differences in maturity in boys between 5 and 10, and a dimension of that maturity is around power. Even well-behaved boys go through a constant process of figuring out power dynamics, leaders and followers, and sometimes/often this happens in physical contexts (pushing/hitting) as well as verbal. The easy pattern for older kids- even lovely, wonderful older boys- is to dominate younger ones.

From what I have seen it takes constant dedicated adult attention to build non-dominance dynamics in communities of boys. The "I don't want to play with..." may well be distilling domination-related experiences for the son that were less than pleasant- though of course not implying that anything "bad" happened. It could just be that the 10 year old just wants to direct the play of the 5 year olds, which is natural for a 10 year old, who is ready for much more sophisticated interactions than 5 year olds, and the 5 year olds just want to create their own play. But I would suggest probing- "Why don't you want to play with S? What kinds of games did you play with S? Was there something that happened that made you uncomfortable?" There may be some insight there.

Now, it could also be that the other 5 year old has more aggressiveness- if the son is reporting that the other young boy did something that you don't like, or says things like "punch in the face"- he could be exhibiting his own dominance dynamics that could stem from any number of factors. One would want to observe how S and Z interact when your son is not around.

The related thought is- in my experience I have met a few girls at 5 who were able to have mental models and self-awareness such that they could kind of understand what "valuing friendship" means. I have not met the 5 year old boy who could do that. Adult supervision has to be available to make sure that everyone has someone to play with and to prevent some kids from being excluded. That, and the 10 year old really needs friends closer to his own age.

Hope that's helpful, best wishes.

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I’d suggest that he is just old enough for you to talk to him about what I call “the rule of threes:” Whenever three children get together, two of the children will ALWAYS find they have more in common with each other than they do with the third child. Sometimes it will be only by a little bit, but sometimes it will be by a lot.

Tell him that it is perfectly okay to feel so close to one friend that you want to exclude the other friend, but if he ever wants to play with the third friend in another situation, he should never allow himself to ACT that way. I understand that he is saying that he will never want to play with S again, but I think this is because he is furiously hoping this will be so, trying to justify his behavior to you and to himself. Again, tell him his feelings of liking Z more than S are okay, but this unkind behavior is not.

After all, one third of the time that he is playing with exactly two other children it will happen that they will decide that he is the outsider. Tell him that it is absolutely a fact that this will happen to him some time. He should think of how he would like to be treated in this situation… and try to treat the ten-year old this way.

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If your son no longer wants to play with S, you may just need to accept this. You can give children the opportunity to form friendships, but ultimately it's up to the child to decide.

However, he should not be mean or rude to S. He and Z should treat S respectfully, irrespective of whether or not they want to be friends with him.

It sounds as though you're virtually using emotional blackmail to try to force your son to be friends with S. Please don't do that. He needs to learn to make his own choices in regard to making friends. You can gently guide him, but you need to know where to draw the line.

I think it's unlikely that a child at 5 years old, would form a lasting friendship with another child 5 years older than he is anyway. They're just too far apart developmentally. I think it may be better that S find other children closer to his own age to play with.

  • I didn't expect him to form a lasting friendship. What I'm worried is that he treats old friend badly when he has new friend. Although the sample space is too small for a conclusion. – qsp Aug 13 '18 at 15:01
  • I agree, treating people badly, friends or not, is not acceptable. That's the issue you need to concentrate on, rather than specifically on him not wanting to be friends with S. – user1751825 Aug 13 '18 at 21:33
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5 year olds are not very abstract, and each one is unique.

Ironically, I suggest TV. Specifically shonen anime. The Japanese children's cartoons are very often themed around the rivalries and friendships that are part of growing up.

The heroes will stop at nothing to help or save their friends, even when they are rivals. Just a caution, Japanese views on teamwork, violence, and age appropriateness differ from North American and European norms

Instead of trying to lecture the idea, have it modeled through entertainment. What would Naruto or Gon do for a friend like that?

  • I agree that cartoons/anime may be a good source for examples of dedication to friendship, but I also want to caution that Naruto and HunterXHunter are perhaps not appropriate for a 5 year old. That said, there are probably anime with similar themes targeted at the younger audiences however I am not aware of what they would be. – BunnyKnitter Aug 13 '18 at 23:44
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    Digimon and Pokemon are geared to younger audiences. Maybe the question should be "What would Ash do?" – pojo-guy Aug 14 '18 at 1:51

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