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Originally published Sunday, March 25, 2012 at 4:01 PM

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Liking the parents, but not their kid

The Parent 'Hood: What to do when you don't like your friend's child

Chicago Tribune

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It is so distasteful to watch a bunch of adults pussy-footing around kids. Who is the... MORE

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Your friends' child is very badly behaved. Do you say anything to correct the kid when the parents are present?

Parent advice (from our panel of staff contributors):

Of course the parents already know their kid is a nightmare. Will raising the issue change anything? Nope. So keep quiet. To raise the issue will just be rubbing it in. If possible, get together with the pal at night when the little horror show is at home with a baby-sitter.

— Ellen Warren

I wait for the other kid's parent to take the lead when something goes wrong, and if they don't, I don't mind getting the little tyke's attention and saying, "Durwood, the hunting knives should stay at home, buddy." I think it's good to put the attention on certain behaviors and actions instead of criticizing the kid.

— Michael Zajakowski

I have been a wimp about this and not told a few people how unpleasant it was to be around their children. The consequence: I don't get together with those friends much anymore, which is a sad reality. Although in a couple of cases, the difference in parenting approaches pointed out major differences between these friends and me, so a distancing may have happened eventually anyway.

— Dodie Hofstetter

Expert advice:

"The first thing you need to do is figure out what you're reacting to," says clinical psychologist Roni Cohen-Sandler, author of "I'm Not Mad, I Just Hate You! A New Understanding of Mother-Daughter Conflict" (Penguin).

Is the problem child's behavior simply annoying (bosses your kid around) or downright dangerous (tries to light your kid's hair on fire)? Does he remind you of a kid (or possibly a sibling) who really got under your skin when you were younger? Are you worried his habits will rub off on your child?

"Parents have to realize that when you have a close relationship with your child and your child knows what your values are, based on what you say and what you do," Cohen-Sandler says, "there's very little chance your child will be led astray by some peer and do something completely antithetical to your values or their values. That's really rare."

Still, if the behavior repeatedly tests your patience and your boundaries — and it's happening in your house — you're well within your rights to rein in their child.

"I think it's best to just say something directly to the kid and make less of a big deal out of it," Cohen-Sandler says. " 'Hey, guys, no jumping on the couch,' in a nice, friendly voice. Parents tend to feel very defensive about their kids so I think it's better to just make less of an issue with a quick, 'We don't do that here.' Very casual. Very quick."

If that approach isn't making a dent in the behavior, it may be time to approach your pals, the parents. But frame your concern as a self-centered one, not a judgment on their parenting style.

"Put it on yourself," Cohen-Sandler says. " 'You know, your son might calm down very quickly after (jumping on the couch, chasing the cat around the house, etc.), but mine can't, and I wonder if we did such and such if that would work better.' So it's not that your friend has a bad kid, but that it's not working for your kid.

"Think how you would feel if your friend said something to you about your style as a parent or your kid's behavior," she says. "Try to avoid, in your mind and in your words, this sort of good versus bad. It either works for your kid or it doesn't work for your kid, and that's where your focus needs to be."

Have a solution? Your ex delivers all messages through your kids, rather than talking to you. Is this OK? Email us at parenthood@tribune.com.

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