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Ask Amy: Mom wonders why young son finds friends annoying

DEAR AMY: I find my 8-year-old son’s behavior rather peculiar. When we are in social situations with other children he always seems to find someone to hang out with. Later when I say to him, “Hey, I saw you and so-and-so hanging out, do you want to invite him over sometime?” his answer is almost always the same: “No – they’re annoying.”

Apparently children his own age are annoying to him. He seems to gravitate toward older kids but a 12-year-old (I’m sure) doesn’t want to hang out with an 8-year-old during the weekend.

When the weekend comes and I ask if he wants to get together with any of his friends from school, he again responds with, “I have no friends – everyone is annoying.”

He is invited to classmates’ houses for play dates but tells me to tell them no. He doesn’t like going to birthday parties (I make him go and he’s fine once he gets there).

I can’t figure out what’s going on with him. I feel his classmates are going to be there for the next several years, and not establishing some sort of relationship with ANYONE there isn’t healthy. Am I overreacting?

Very Concerned Mommy

DEAR CONCERNED: You are not overreacting. You are observing a pattern of behavior. You’re being a good parent.

I won’t “diagnose” your son from my amateur seat, but from what you describe, he might be on the autism spectrum. He might also be a quirky 8-year-old who struggles to read the (often confusing) social cues of kids his age. Sit down with his teacher and his school’s resource counselor. Ask them to describe how your son navigates through a typical day at school. Ask for their recommendations.

Look for activities where he can “parallel play” with others – perhaps his school has a Lego club or music program that would engage him. Don’t pressure him socially. Also read this important and insightful book: “Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys” by psychologists Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson (2000, Ballantine).

DEAR AMY: I’m an uncle. I was baby-sitting my two nephews the other day (who are 9 and 7) and when my sister-in-law came to pick them up she was having trouble getting the 9-year-old to share a toy with his brother.

She took him aside and told the boy, in front of me, that he knows she loves him more than she loves his younger brother and she’d really like him to give his brother the toy and then she’d buy him two toys later.

I was shocked. I’ve always thought telling a child that he was the favorite (let alone declaring to love him more that his brother) should never be done.

I’m considering talking to my brother, but my wife says it’s none of my business and it will create a rift. What do you think?

Disturbed

DEAR DISTURBED: What you have witnessed is garden-variety poor parenting – not only the favoritism, but also rewarding a child’s bad behavior by promising him two of something when he is being uncooperative.

But – guess what – parents do all sorts of things in the moment that they shouldn’t do. Taking this to your brother is not a great idea – he wasn’t there when this happened, and what would you expect him to say or do?

Instead, you should ask your sister-in-law about it. Don’t attack her, but say, “When you told the one brother that you loved him more than the other – is that a good idea? If my mom had said that to me when I was a kid, it would have been really confusing.” She might tell you that this is an inside joke she plays with both boys. But you will have prompted her to think about it.

DEAR AMY: “Heartbroken” detailed a disturbing situation with a relative who had the habit of adopting kittens and then surrendering them.

She should be placed on a “do not adopt list” at shelters.

Concerned

DEAR CONCERNED: I think it’s possible she is “shelter hopping.” I agree with your concern.

Write Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribpub.com.

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