Thursday, June 4, 2009

APing Older Kids: Playdates with Non-AP Kids

One thing that attachment-parenting moms tend to stress over as their kids get closer to school age is the interactions between their kids and friends from school or the neighborhood. After all, it's highly likely that the children you'll meet in these environments will be from mainstream (that is, non-AP) families. How will their kids cope when their friends get time-outs and spankings? How will their child manage when confronted with a patronizing remark by a friend's parent?

Kids, even young kids, know more than we think, and they see and "own" the benefits of APing at an early age. I have a funny story about how even kids see the difference between attached and traditional families. When G was about 5, my kids and I were all at a playgroup with a group of moms that had formed out of a class that I'd taken when I was pregnant. 

Unbeknownst to her, one of the moms had given herself a nasty reputation among the group for talking down to her son, who was a little younger than G. That's a harsh thing to say, but it was unfortunately deserved. She consistently said things like, "Get your hand off that!" or "Stop it right now!" or "Just leave it alone! If I have to tell you again, you'll get a spanking from Daddy when he gets home tonight!" or one of my favorites, "Can't you just be quiet?" I always wanted to hang my head in shame, even though she wasn't scolding me. But the saddest thing was that her kids didn't even hear it, they were so used to it.

So one day at the park, the mom had been berating her son as usual, and G walked over to her and matter-of-factly and innocently asked, "Why are you always so mean to your son?" My mouth just about dropped open, when the mom said, "G!!!" (in a horrified way) "I'm not mean to him!!!" 

I'd never mentioned a word to G about the way this mom treated her son. It was highly apparent to even a 5-year-old, simply because he was used to being treated with respect, that what she was doing wasn't "right."

The significance of this coming from G is lost on those of you who don't know him personally. He lived in G-Land as a young child, and though other people visited, he seldom left his little world. When he was younger he was totally unaware of other people's emotions (other than mine, that is). He was never a person who intuitively picked up on nonverbal cues and facial expressions, so he rarely noticed if someone was hurt, or upset, or frustrated, etc. We spent a
lot of time saying things like, "See how Billy's mouth is frowning and his face is red? See how he's crying? Do you see that his feet are stomping the ground? That means he's really upset." So for him to notice, this was huge.

As far as AP kids playing with non-AP kids, they all seem to adapt easily. When my kids were young and their friends were at my house, if it was necessary we'd just tell them we had some "house rules." We don't have many rules ... and those that we have come from just three common rules of respect: Respect ourselves. Respect each other. Respect our things. 

I usually didn't find it necessary to go through a long list of things, since rarely did anything disturbing happen. I'd only bring up a "rule" if it was needed. And for any problems I had with the friends, I'd just talk to them like I'd talk to my own kids, with descriptive words, in a gentle voice and matter-of-fact manner. ("Johnny, I heard you call Billy a stinky little baby. Billy is 4 now, so he's not a baby, and he hasn't worn diapers in quite a while, so he's not stinky. In our house we have a rule that if everybody's not enjoying a game, then we play a different game. We need to make everybody feel valued and included.")

Usually that did the trick. If the hurtful behavior continued, I could always pull out the big guns eventually, which almost never happened. "Johnny, it seems like you're having a hard time including Billy in your games in a respectful way. If you can't follow our house rules, then you won't be able to come back and play, and we really want you to be able to come back. And since it seems like you're having lots of fun here, I'd sure hate for you not to be able to join us. The choice is completely up to you."

One thing I
can say. If you're dealing with a kid who really has never been treated respectfully, they may look at you with a blank stare when you talk to them with respectful words. It's like they can't comprehend taking responsibility for their actions. They're basically waiting to punished or yelled at. Often you get immediate compliance because the child doesn't really know what to do with you. Sometimes, however, you get confusion because they simply don't have the resources to know how to treat others with respect and to be treated with respect.

If you're worried about your child picking someone as a friend who plays with knives and guns and watches CSI and plays Mature games on PlayStation 3 all day long, it probably won't happen. If you're teaching your child to respect himself and expect to be respected, he
probably won't choose someone so different from him. And for quite a long time, you still have a lot of say about who his friends are.

If you give your children the strength and foundation of a family who is bonded together, they are secure in who they are. The most important thing they know is that they are loved and accepted. Having that security and self-knowledge goes a long way in maintaining friendships, and it will serve them well all throughout life.

The previous is adapted from a discussion several years ago on an attachment-parenting board in relation to kids who were of early elementary age. Things are a bit more complicated as children get older, but the basics are the same: respect, security, and love.


  1. Excellent strategy as always. You're right about children choosing friends who are similar to themselves. It makes it a lot easier on parents.

  2. Your G story makes me laugh remembering an incident in our neighborhood a couple of months ago. A new family moved into the house by our mailbox. Their kids were playing in the driveway, so we stopped to chat and Caroline was playing a bit with the kids. The other family´s toddler daughter began wandering into the street. Dad retrieved her. She did it again. He threatened a time out. Caroline, remembering the term from her Olivia book, told the dad, ¨Olivia does time outs, too. We don´t do time out. We do time in.¨ The dad had not clue what she was saying. I just smiled and got my mail.

  3. I remember you telling this funny story, Amanda. I always love it when a kid confuses (outsmarts?) a parent. :)

  4. Camille -- I've been reading your posts on the AAF list and am now discovering your blog. WONDERFUL! I love the way you write. I'm totally inspired to start a blog this summer. I've been saying it for weeks now....but I think I will make it happen very soon. After reading Unconditional Parenting, I was totally guilt-stricken that I had done a few 30 second time-outs with my 2 year-old. Never again. Occasionally I will take a minute to myself to breathe, or we have a "time in" together that turns into a game of 3 super deep breaths together and then a big, loud, hearty "OM". Clears whatever was previously not working between us fabulously.

    Thanks for your blog posts. They're great.


  5. Hey Monica! Great to see you here!