DEAR AMY: My son and two friends spent the afternoon together recently. They are all 8 years old, and I was the supervising adult. I took them to a movie, the playground and then out for a snack. They had a great time, but in the last five minutes my son’s two friends got into a big fistfight about a pretend game they were playing.
All three of these boys have some social and emotional problems. All get therapy or are in special school (or both), so behavior like fighting takes on extra meaning.
Boy B struggles with the most behavior problems. He started the fight with Boy C by teasing him until Boy C grabbed him by the shirt, but then Boy B threw the first punch, Boy C retaliated, and I got there to break it up.
I don’t want to report his behavior to my friend, because although she is working hard to help her son improve, I do not agree with her methods. He is also a child who has struggled for a long time. I don’t want him to be punished for a breakdown at the end of a day that, on the whole, went really well.
Surely (unfortunately) there will be many other fights and consequences for him to face. I want to give him a pass on this one. What do you think? — Uncertain
DEAR UNCERTAIN: If you feel you dealt with this successfully by breaking up the fight and prompting Boy B to apologize for his actions, then I share your instinct to focus on the positive aspects of this long day. Certain and consistent consequences are vital for children, but just as important is the idea that if you take responsibility for your behavior and try your hardest to do better, you will be forgiven.
However, you are the mother of a challenging child, and isn’t this information that a parent should have?
You should tell your friend: “Everything went very well until the very end, when Boy B instigated a fight. I stopped it quickly. I hope you won’t be too hard on him for this. Overall, he did great.”
There is another boy in this story. He was teased and punched. His parents should know this so they can help him deal with his own reactions.
DEAR AMY: I have been friends with a co-worker for two years. When we first became friends, I heard all the horror stories about her ex-husband and how he treated her and the kids.
She is now back with the ex-husband, and my feelings about her have changed. I poured my heart into giving her advice about how to stand up and be strong and independent.
Now she is back with the guy who was so mean to her and her kids. Where do I go from here? — Flustered
DEAR FLUSTERED: One risk when taking a stand regarding others’ relationships is the impact on your own friendship if or when the person returns to the relationship. You have learned the hard way that it is best to do more listening than advising in this situation, and to hedge for the day when the person ignores all of your wisdom.
Your stance now should be: “Are you and the kids safe and happy? If so, I’m happy for you.” Stay open to her; if she is in a truly abusive relationship, she will need you again.
DEAR AMY: “Communication Challenged” tried to veil her bluntness, but I’ve noticed that people who describe themselves as blunt are only blunt about negative things; they’re almost never blunt with compliments.
I once had a friend who was just as blunt with positive things as she was with negative. I found the negative comments much easier to take from her because she never held back compliments. Perhaps Communication Challenged needs to take a good, hard look at how many of her blunt comments were negative and how many compliments she dishes out. — Just Sayin’
DEAR SAYIN’: Excellent advice.