Kid with a history of behavior issues - OK to befriend?

My daughter Chloe has an acquaintance “Mary” who in the early years of elementary school got kind of obsessed with another girl, “Jane.” It escalated beyond not wanting Jane to play with others to being pretty vicious - spreading rumors about how Jane was misbehaving and that she was a “mean girl,” and by the end repeatedly “accidentally” bumping into Jane and knocking her into the wall and other passive-aggressive physical stuff.

It was really distressing Jane and her family, and it occurred on and off for several years between kindergarten and fourth grade. In second grade, Mary also got mad when she lost a game to another child and said, “I’m going to bring in a knife from home and stab you!” The school has been involved but treating it mostly as an interpersonal skills problem on both sides. The parents asked for Jane to be in a separate class this year for fifth grade, and I haven’t heard any reports since then.

Chloe is in an activity with Mary, and they’re asking to do playdates and now sleepovers. I’m leery. But I keep going back and forth from “Stay away from Single White Female Junior!” to “this was when she was younger and some kids need to learn how to relate to others.” So far I’ve reminded my kid that there have been issues with Mary bothering Jane, and she might want to be a little guarded. And then let them play together a couple times.

What do you guys think? Forget about any worries and let them play as much as they like, allow some play but remain cautious, or steer away from a friendship with this girl?

A lot depends on how mature your daughter is. Did the play dates go OK?


This is a tough choice. Some kids just love to bring the drama. Sometimes they grow out of it, sometimes they don’t.

I would say to consider allowing playdates if you are closely supervising. Either be in the same room or within listening distance and pop in often. No to sleepovers until you feel really comfortable that Mary is okay. Mary may just need some structure and a safe environment. If you are there to set the boundaries, she may be okay.

I’d still be cautious. My armchair psychology degree says it sounds like she may have a bipolar or narcissistic personality. The intense connection followed by a nasty teardown is consistent with those.

Hmm. Well, if it doesn’t work out, maybe it’ll be a good lesson for your daughter on how to not put up with bullshit. I have boys though and their meanness is a lot different. Girls are more… insidious. They’re crafty and subtle and relentless and depending on how much clout this girl has with her peers, any fallout between the two could mean potentially devastating consequences for your daughter.

Somebody will probably be along shortly to call you a helicopter parent and make you feel bad for expressing concern about your kid. Sorry, it happens.

Tough call. I don’t envy you. :confused:

I’m glad to see that I’m not totally helicoptering! At the same time, we do want her to learn to deal with her own interpersonal relationships as she gets older. To answer your question, Shodan, I think she’s fairly mature. She’s never had much trouble over typical teasing, and she seems to do a good job of bringing in trustworthy, truly nice kids as close friends, while being able to plug in and disengage the “popular girl” hierarchy at will.

The playdates so far have gone well, but I hate to send her over to Mary’s house for a sleepover when this is hovering in the background and we don’t know the family well in general. It’s one thing to disengage and protect yourself at school or a brief visit, and another to do it when you’re more at the mercy of people you don’t know well.

Silver Fire, you’re not kidding about the girls! I have no idea if it’s more inherent or if it’s just socialization, but I’ve been shocked at the level of sophisticated social warfare girls can coordinate, even by age 7. The idea of telling other kids that your target was mean to you or others, rather than just being straight-up mean to your target, is diabolically crafty! While I certainly felt like a bit of an outcast at times, I don’t remember my school resembling House of Cards this much!

I would not send her to Mary’s for a sleepover. Her behavioral problems may be less mental health and more shitty home life and you said yourself you don’t know them well.

Can they sleepover at your house?

In fifth grade, the popular girl hierarchy is only just getting started. Middle school is much, much worse. Mary’s got issues, not the least of which is that she’s learned some serious manipulation. I agree that it’s not a good idea to allow your daughter to spend the night over at Mary’s, though having Mary over may work, if you lay down clear, firm rules and stick to them. Just please remember, it’s not your or your daughter’s job to rehabilitate Mary.

Oh God. It’s all ahead of me. Twice.

Personally, I’d go slowly, and explain to my daughter why: ‘Remember how Mary treated Jane a few years back? After someone does something like that, they have to re-earn trust, and that takes time. So for now you can play together. If that goes well for a while, and she doesn’t pull any more of that crap, then she can sleep over.’

Basically, I’d be taking the chance to teach her something about the process of developing trust, and how that goes differently depending on someone’s record. Specially if your daughter tends to be a trusting kid.

And yeah, it would be a good while before I’d allow sleepovers at Mary’s house.

ETA: The ‘I’m going to bring in a knife and stab you!’ would worry me way less than the manipulation. Seven-year-olds blow off steam by saying wild stuff they don’t really connect up to reality; I don’t consider that to be particularly unusual. The ongoing vicious manipulation, on the other hand, is bad stuff.

I talked to Chloe about it some more. She understands our concerns, but still lobbied hard to be allowed to go over to Mary’s. I think I’m at least going to let her play over there, with the explicit understanding that she keeps her phone with her and she can call me to pick her up at any time.

We had a long discussion about what the problems were, what she should look out for, and I expanded it to talk about watching out for this behavior when she gets older and starts dating - anyone who demands you to be all theirs is trouble. She understands, but she also said she hasn’t seen anything like that from Mary, and that Mary and Jane are now able to be casually friendly, which makes me feel better.

I truly appreciate the input from you guys. We’re just starting to enter that incredibly tough realm where you need to start letting them handle things on their own so they build skills and confidence in themselves, but it’s hard to know exactly how much to let them take on!