Ask Amy: Playground exclusion has mom worried

May 9, 2012

DEAR AMY: My neighbor has two sons who are the same age as my son. They used to play together.

Recently, these neighbor boys and another pair of boys from the neighborhood decided that my son was hanging around too much.

Their moms have given them permission to gently tell my son to go away, even when they are playing away from their private property and on public land literally in front of our house.

The other two moms are nice women. I respect them, but they are unified in their belief that their sons are doing nothing wrong and that this is all just the ebb and flow of elementary school-age friendships.

I don’t want to cause tension, but the idea of private play dates on public or community-owned land is, to me, unreasonable, especially when it is close to my front door.

I don’t want my son to be friends with people who aren’t kind to him, but I don’t want my family to be at the bottom of our little suburban pecking order, either. How should I handle this? -- Mom from Maryland

DEAR MOM: I shared your letter with Gay Cioffi, director of the Little Folks School in Washington, D.C.

She responded, “Except in cases of bullying, which requires direct intervention, here are the lessons to pass along to your son: You cannot control others. You can only control your attitude about them. You should encourage your son to accept the fact that sometimes people will say and do unkind things.

“Most importantly, he has options: He can seek out other children to play with instead of the ones rejecting him, or he can play by himself.

“Do not treat your child as a victim. Asking daily if he was mistreated or excluded only reinforces the idea that he is a victim and is unable to cope with the ups and downs of life.”

You seem to feel that children on any public playground or park must include everyone in their recreation. This is not the message you should convey to your son.

I highly recommend the book “Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social Lives of Children” by Michael Thompson and Catherine O’Neill Grace with Lawrence J. Cohen (2002, Ballantine Books).

I once heard Thompson talk on this topic. He reminds us that it only takes one good friend to make a child feel confident and important. It sounds like your son might want to look elsewhere for that good, true and kind friend.

DEAR AMY: I was laid off last June. Between savings and severance, I’ve been able to take this opportunity to relax, travel, and consider how to make a career change. It’s been a great experience.

When people inevitably and kindly express sympathy, I answer, “That’s so kind of you to worry but I’m enjoying the time off.”

How should I respond to well-meaning friends who only seem to want to talk about when I’m going to start looking for a job, what steps I ought to take to find a job, or what job would be “perfect” for me?

It’s not that I don’t want to talk about it, it’s more that I feel put on the spot because I’m not proceeding in the way that they seem to feel is appropriate.

What’s a polite way to change the subject without rejecting their interest and concern? -- Kathleen

DEAR KATHLEEN: Don’t tune out those “perfect” ideas. You never know where the next great opportunity will come from.

The deftest way to change a subject is to simply hold up a virtual mirror: You say, “Ugh. But enough about me. Tell me what you’re doing these days?”

DEAR AMY: You’ve probably been inundated with letters about your response to the woman who was sensitive to her boyfriend’s odor, given that he only showered every two to three days and didn’t use deodorant.

My jaw dropped when I read your response. I shared it with my husband and co-workers. Everybody was equally appalled. In a country where there is easy access to showers, poor hygiene is just plain offensive. That young woman is absolutely not overreacting. -- Deborah

DEAR DEBORAH: I have been “showered” with responses; everyone agrees that I am all wet.

Write to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

2012 by the Chicago Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Media Services

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