Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Feedback for a Rule-Obsessed Kid

Our local friends have a 10-year-old son, S, and an 8-year-old daughter, I, who are these amazingly delightful young people. So naturally, we are always hitting our friends up for real life parenting advice. They are often reluctant to give it; and they insist they make a lot of mistakes - great parents and they're very humble, too.

They had us over for dinner last night and this anecdote came up about E, their 10-year-old son S's friend and classmate. (E's little sister happens to be in DS's preschool class at Montessori; small world this Podunkville.) Anyway, they mentioned that E has kind of slowly become this mini Persona Non Grata in S's little 5th grade boys friend clique, because whenever the boys play any sort of game with rules, E freaks out about everyone exactly following them and gets kind of yelly, and not so very fun to be around. Subsequently, S did not want to initially invite E to his recent birthday party, but then S later felt bad about leaving E out ( S = an emotionally intelligent kid with a conscience), thought better of it, and invited E all on his own with no prompting from any of the parents. (Gold star for you, S).

At the party, all of the boys played with Nerf guns around these huge dirt mounds where new homes were being built. It was a great time for all, until E started to loudly disagree about the vaunted rules being broken... blah blah blah bottom line: no one wants to play with E anymore, but no one has yet to actually say anything to E or E's parents about why E isn't quite meshing with the other boys, and why more invites probably won't be forthcoming. Which got me thinking about the giving and the getting of feedback in general.

I wonder if E's parents mistakenly think E's being left out is the result of some kind of quasi-bullying.

If E were my kid, I'd like to think I'd appreciate some honest, caring feedback about E's rule-obsessed behavior at play, and how it's making his friends feel and then respond. That being said, imagine being on the receiving end of that kind of a phone conversation. "Hi, your kid doesn't play well with the others." Ouch, but again, stuff I'd theoretically want to hear.

It sounds to (touchy feely, therapy-lovin') me like E could certainly benefit from a couple of sessions of play therapy that would give him a safe space to test out his ideas about rules. Of course, I'd never have the balls to recommend such a thing. Which is a shame, really. E might never get the constructive feedback that could bring him closer to his peers who actually do like him.

Your thoughts?


Lisa @ Trapped In North Jersey said...

Does E have ocd or some other medical/neuro issue that causes him to be so rule-obsessed? If yes, I'd say the parents are probably aware of his issues and how it affects his social interactions. Speaking as a parent of a kid with issues, I am excruciatingly aware of how my kid is perceived by others, and I work hard to help him fit in.

If the kid is just bossy, then they might think its bullying. But that is a difficult conversation to have with someone, and unless explicitly asked, like they said to me "why don't you ever invite E over anymore?", I'd probably avoid it. People aren't always ready to hear that their preshus isn't perfect.

Got It, Ma! said...

I wonder if there's a way to bring up the subject with the parents that might come across more like concern and less like criticism. Maybe the parent in the group who knows them best could call with something like, " I just wanted to make sure E. was okay. He seemed kind of upset about how the game was going at the party the other day. We were worried he might be feeling sad about it."

It may accomplish nothing, but on the other hand, they might get some useful information. I'd bet the parents are aware of the behavior, but may not know how it's effecting others. They may even be looking for an opportunity to talk about it that doesn't feel disloyal to their son.

I think the key is to keep it a low-key, "just wanted to check-in" sort of call and let E's parents decide where to take it. At least it'll plant a seed and maybe make them more aware if they're not already.

feMOMhist said...

It sounds to (touchy feely, therapy-lovin') me like E could certainly benefit from a couple of sessions of play therapy that would give him a safe space to test out his ideas about rules.

As a parent of a kid just like that (anxiety disorder makes him try to control everything too feel less anxious) my immediate response is that these parents are probably more than aware of their kid's issues and that it would probably take far more than a "few sessions" of play therapy to stop the kid from trying to control everything.

It is heart breaking to watch this happen to a kid, and it is a struggle for the parents, trust me. I try to limit the number of interactions my kid has without me there, because without me prompting he will sometimes turn into a total nightmare.

So perhaps the answer it to invite the kid and speak to the parents, in the kindest, most nonjudgmental way "we would love to have Jr. attend the birthday party. We thought he might feel more comfortable with you there"

mom2boy said...

10 seems old to not know the impact of trying to boss other kids around re rules. I see it with Tate at 4 but 10? So, given that, I'd say he's just a. socially awkward and trying unsuccessfully to find a way to be included or b. has more than just a lack of socialization going on but if he's "on the spectrum" 10 also seems late to just now be noticing?

And (judging warning) it sounds awfully small town gossipy-ish that this poor boy is being talked about but no one wants to talk to his parents. He's only ten. Yay for S that he invited him but boo on the parents who just sat around and remarked about how odd/unpleasant E has become, especially since I'm assuming people have known E for quite some time?

Anandi said...

Hmmm, to me 10 sounds awfully old to have parents intervening in play situations. Then again, I was 10 in 7th grade, so maybe my meter is calibrated wrong.

I'm guessing his parents are well aware of this - it must manifest in all sorts of ways at home, esp if he has a sibling.

Since they're 10, why wouldn't S's parents encourage him to talk to E directly about it? I don't know that parental involvement is necessary at all here.

Cloud said...

Ah, for the days when schools still had counselors on staff... this would be a perfect problem to take to a school counselor! If it is a known problem, the counselor would just smile and nod. If it is not a known problem, he or she would smile, nod, and file it away to talk to the kid or the kid's parents about.

But anyway, back in reality... I don't know what I'd do. It is hard to know from the outside if this is a kid who is just fated to grow up and do compliance for a pharma company or something like that- i.e., a kid who is into rules and will eventually figure out how to channel that usefully- a kid who needs some help and is already getting it, or a kid who needs some help and isn't getting it.

If it were my kid, I'd definitely want to know what was going on. But, if it were my kid, I'd probably have already asked his teacher about it, because I'd have noticed the behavior at home and wondered about it at school. So I've got nothing, really. I've done this a few times already with behaviors we see in Pumpkin.

I like @Anandi's idea of coaching a kid to say something directly to the other kid- something simple like "hey, E, we know you want to follow these rules, but we'd like to play this other way, so let's play our way first, then your way." But again, I have no idea how that would go, since 10 is a long time ago (for me) and a long way off (for my kids).

Or the grown up witnessing this game spiral down the tubes could step in and gently coach E. Not discipline, just point out what's happening and suggest a different response.

hush said...

Thoughtful comments, all! Thank you for your perspectives.

Not sure, but I'm almost positive E has not been diagnosed with anything neuro per se (but then again, this being Podunkville, land of under-testing and under-diagnosis, that doesn't mean much.)

Small town gossip sucks, true. Though I feel like S's parents weren't (bad) gossiping about E - they were feeling like they wished they had handled the birthday party situation differently, and wished they knew how to model kindness to S.

I love the suggestions for nonjudgmental reaching out, esp. via the school guidance counselor @Cloud - fantastic idea.

Personally, I don't think there's an age the kids have to reach - age 10 or even 17 - when it suddenly becomes too late for parental interventions, particularly where parents witness a dynamic that is hurtful to someone. Rosalind Wiseman is one of my favorite authors (of the "Queen Bees" books on bullying, on the topic of creating cultures of dignity, and she is a big advocate of parents talking with other parents to help tweens and teens problem solve. She notes that parents of teens sometimes do get push back when they try to speak to other parents, who feel like "Why can't we just let the kids handle it themselves?" I think there are some topics that are too big to just leave to the kids to sort out with zero guidance and modeling from adults (homophobia, racism, bullying immediately come to mind).

Anandi said...

@hush - I agree with your examples, but this is none of those things (homophobia et al). This seems like a "safe" problem to get them to try and solve themselves. Sure, maybe coach them through it, but I don't see it as a parent to parent thing.