Should I tell my neighbors that their son needs to be disciplined?

I sympathize, says our elder. But ultimately, it’s their problem — not yours.

Dear EWC

I have some neighbors who I have become friends with. Their youngest is five. The parents don’t discipline him like I think they should. He defies what they say until they back down. He calls me names like ‘Stupid.’ I recently had a short visit and I thought things were going fine. Then suddenly the five-year-old came up to me and gave me a karate kick in the crease above my thigh. His mother told him, “That’s not very nice. Now you tell her you’re sorry.” He looked down; quietly mumbled “sorry”; smiled as he did a somersault and then smiled some more. After I talked with him, he ran to his room. His mother said he was just embarrassed. When he came out, his mother told him to give me a hug. He wouldn’t and I went home. I later talked with both parents separately. They’re sorry he kicked me, but beyond that, they basically seem unconcerned. Their responses were similar to each other. They don’t know what to do. They know but they are tired. The kid doesn’t know how to express his feelings with words. Hopefully, this is just a passing stage. In the long run, he’ll be fine. Lots of kids in his class hit so what can you expect. They are concerned about his self-esteem. I am concerned that he will become ruder and more violent as he gets older. What do you suggest I do? Generally, their parenting is their business and not mine. But when I get kicked, that seems a bit different. Any advice?

Linda replies

Unfortunately, this is your neighbors’ problem. Many couples feel overwhelmed with parenthood and apparently, this might be the situation with your neighbors. Clearly, the child needs some form of correction, eg a time out or a favorite object or activity taken away for a period of time. At five years old he is certainly old enough to know right from wrong and clearly calling adults inappropriate names, or worse yet delivering them a swift kick, is totally unacceptable. Once he’s attending school on a regular basis, I’m certain his teacher will bring his less than angelic behavior to his parents’ attention. As a teacher, his welfare and the welfare of the other students is her responsibility.

The problem with a neighbor confronting them about their lack of parenting skills is you risk alienating them altogether. Most people don’t appreciate being told they are missing the mark as parents. This is their child and ultimately their problem to fix. I’m not sure there is a gentle way to tell someone their child is being a brat and needs disciplining. Even though they may recognize this to be true, they won’t necessarily appreciate a neighbor calling them on it. I imagine they will continue to make excuses for his behavior rather than face what needs to be done.

If I were you, I would continue to be friends with these people until such time as their child calls you another inappropriate name or physically attacks you. At that point, I would politely get up and tell them it’s time for you to leave. They will subtly get the hint that you no longer wish to subject yourself to his ongoing antics. Unfortunately, this means the friendship may suffer as a result, but to me, I see only two options: Continue to visit at your own peril, or don’t go at all to avoid an unpleasant situation. Perhaps if they lose someone’s friendship they will get the hint that their son needs to be brought under control. Sadly, it is up to them to do so. Children need healthy boundaries in order to feel safe and properly cared for. Unfortunately not every parent gets that. Some parents would rather turn a blind eye than risk a confrontation. This leaves the child on shaky ground wondering who’s in control, if not his parents.

I appreciate your dilemma, but at the end of the day, this is their problem — not yours.

Letter #: 440636
Category: Friendship

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