I can't handle my friend's kid-- and increasingly, my friend
May 31, 2016 6:24 AM   Subscribe

My friend's 4 year old says rude things to me, and my friend very subtly blames it on me. He has screaming hysterical meltdowns, and my friend pretends everything is fine. Kid has had a number of developmental challenges, which must be very hard for my friend. But the weird interpersonal stuff is making me crazy.

"Lynette" and "Rich" have a four-year-old, "Henry." Henry was slow to walk and talk and always seemed a bit "different" from other kids. Lynette and Rich never talked about it with my partner or me, or any of our friends, as far as I can tell. We'd ask in a friendly way how Henry was doing, as we do with all our friends with kids, and were always told, "Great!" But it seemed clear things weren't "great"--Henry would frequently fly into rages, didn't seem to connect socially, etc. But my partner and I respected that Lynette and Rich likely wanted some privacy, or else were so upset that they were in denial-- either way, it wasn't our business.

Along the way, Henry has said increasingly rude things to myself and my partner. Things like, "I don't want to see Anon's face" or "I wish Anon weren't here" or "Don't make me look at Anon" or "I don't like looking at Anon's Partner." Lynette and Rich laugh. Lynette says things like, "Poor Henry! Anon was being awfully loud, wasn't Anon?" or "Anon is really a lot to deal with. That's hard!"

Then Lynette will turn to me and say "Henry really doesn't like being talked to" or something like that. Last time Lynette invited me over, Henry said "I don't want to look at Anon! I don't want to see Anon!" and then flew into a screaming hysterical rage.

I froze. I didn't know what to do. There was no apology, or acknowledgment of any problem. Lynette and Rich took Henry into another room for several minutes of hysterical screaming, at which point I got up and mentioned that I thought maybe it was best for me to leave. Lynette seemed surprised and we ended up going outside and talking a bit about Henry.

Lynette recently opened up to that Henry was recently diagnosed with some sensory issues and was receiving OT. This was the first time she acknowledge to me that something serious was happening. Then she said that Henry was just moving along at his own rate. She also revealed-- for the first time-- that she's very worried about Henry when she's not with him.

I'm struggling with feeling on one hand very sorry for my friend, whose life is obviously very very hard now, and also hurt and confusion that when these things happen, there's no acknowledgment, apology, or ANYTHING that makes it ok to talk about what's very obviously not ok. I can't understand why Lynette doesn't say, "Oh my god! This is godawful. This sucks."

My partner and I have talked about this: it's hard to be with them because it's like there's a giant elephant in the room that no one is talking about. And also there's no room for anyone's feelings except Henry's. Whatever Henry wants, at any time, at any place, Henry gets. I have never seen them tell Henry that ANY aspect of his behavior is not ok.

So: hivemind. Help. Lynette's son repeatedly says rude, insulting things to me and my partner. Her son is probably affected by one or more developmental problems. Do I just go with the flow and laugh it off? Pretend everything is ok? Maybe I'm being obnoxious or not understanding, but I just feel like everything would be so much easier if Lynette and Rich would just say, "Hey, we're really sorry Henry just insulted you. We're working on that. He's dealing with xyz and that's why he says xyz."

How should I respond when Henry says, "I don't want to see Anon's face!"
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (94 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I think that it's a bad idea to get worked up over being insulted by a four-year-old. Your friend will open up to you if and when she's ready, and in the meantime, I think you should try really hard not to take Henry's rudeness personally and not to judge your friends' parenting. They're doing the best they can in a tough situation, and your feelings aren't their number 1 priority right now.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:31 AM on May 31, 2016 [92 favorites]

I would be honest with your friends. "Look, your son is saying things that are generally considered very rude. They make me uncomforable, and I feel that he needs to be told that the things he is saying are not OK -- how else will he learn what is OK and what is not OK to say? Will you start telling him that he is being rude? Or can I start telling him? Otherwise I'm not sure if we can hang out together anymore." A parent's job is to teach their kids how to act in the world. And to respect other people. They are not conveying that respect, and I personally wouldn't sit by and let it go.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 6:34 AM on May 31, 2016 [37 favorites]

The things you describe are pretty classic autism spectrum characteristics. That's for your friends to take care of and deal with.

Respond by shrugging it off. Distance yourself from them if that's what you feel you should do.
posted by humboldt32 at 6:35 AM on May 31, 2016 [26 favorites]

I can't understand why Lynette doesn't say, "Oh my god! This is godawful. This sucks."

Well... because it's really, really, really hard to parent a child like this. Lynette and Rich are probably hurting a lot. They're probably stressed, and overwhelmed, and realizing that this is what the foreseeable future is going to look like for them. That's scary. Paralyzingly scary, for a lot of people, and they may feel ashamed to articulate just how upsetting the situation is for them. You can't expect people to be totally candid about something like this.

Do I just go with the flow and laugh it off?

Yes. He's four, for crying out loud. When you're feeling insulted(?) by his comments, try to remember that he's literally a tiny little kid, that he isn't trying to offend you, and that his life is probably going to be hard in a lot of ways because of his developmental issues.

If you can't muster sympathy for this family, then, respectfully, I'd suggest removing yourself from the situation.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 6:35 AM on May 31, 2016 [129 favorites]

I think it would be the parent's job to say, 'That's not a nice thing to say!' And then move on. Dramatizing the behavior makes it worse, in my experience.
I think (as a parent of a somewhat difficult 4 year old), it would be totally OK for you to say as much to the kid. I mean, don't go all crazy on him but responding in a gentle voice 'Wow, that's not a nice thing to say!' might actually be helpful.
Maybe the parents aren't saying anything because that would make him say even worse stuff? Some kids are weird that way and ignoring is often the thing that works best.
Btw my daughter is developmentally normal and has totally said stuff like that and much much worse. 4 year olds are like that.
posted by The Toad at 6:35 AM on May 31, 2016 [15 favorites]

I suspect you aren't getting an apology from your friends because they don't think an adult should or would take offense at something a small child says. This is just a worldview split, I don't think either side is right or wrong, but many people would argue that we teach children to be polite to adults not because they can actually hurt the adults with rudeness but because it's practice for being polite as an adult when their rudeness might actually affect people.

Personally I would not approach this issue by suggesting that your friends change their parenting methods; that seems more likely to result in the dissolution of your friendship than an improvement in the situation. I'm sure your friends would love to be able to snap their fingers (or effect some other small effort change) and have their son be sweetness and light, but that doesn't seem to be on the table. Unless you can change your feelings so that you aren't offended by what Henry has to say, I think the best solution for all involved would be to be the adult, remove yourself from the situation, and find ways of interacting with Lynette and Rich where you won't have to interact with Henry.
posted by telegraph at 6:38 AM on May 31, 2016 [16 favorites]

It is quite clear that your problem is not the kid's behaviour, but his parents' (lack of) reaction.

As parents, we often hear that the best way to prevent a melt down is to aknowledge and mirror a child's feelings before they get out of control. (You hate peas! You really really HATE them! Oh dear. Etc.) My impression is that his parents are so completely occupied with doing that kind of damage control with his feelings that they don't have the brain space to remember that you, too, have feelings and deserve to have them aknowledged. That it is hurtful to you and feels disrespectful to hear "I don't want anon here."

They may also be so used to hearing him say that kind of thing that for them it doesn't sound as disrespectful as it does to you. For them, "I don't want anon!" is not spiteful and also not meant personally but translates loosely as "I can't process this anymore! I'm freaking out!". So they might not realize how you feel about it.

I don't have a solution for this. Even if you manage to approach your friend about it with kind words, she will probably feel defensive, will have little brainspace to devote to problem solving this issue and will probably end up feeling like this is about choosing her son over your company.
I do think that if it's at all possible you should see your friend without the kid, to reconnect emotionally, but given that he has special needs that may be even more difficult than otherwise.
posted by Omnomnom at 6:43 AM on May 31, 2016 [65 favorites]

Have you asked your friends how they'd like you to deal with the situation? I have a kid with some behavioral challenges and if a friend wants to talk through how to respond to him, I'd be all over it. You don't want to "dump in", but maybe it's worth saying, "when Henry does his insulting thing, how would you like me to react? I'm not sure how to help you."
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 6:43 AM on May 31, 2016 [88 favorites]

The parents are handling things the best way they can. You should either stay away or change your behavior. You could ask Lynette if there is anything that you can do. Some things that I would do would be to not wear perfume when I go over there, wear soothing colors, speak in a soft voice, and bring a treat for Henry that has been approved by his mother. Eventually and with a lot of help, she will be able to socialize him more but, you can't expect apologies for his behavior. It isn't his fault or anything she can control. By adjusting your behavior in a way that doesn't set him off, you could actually help them socialize him.

My middle child had a problem with her vision when she was born. She saw double and quadruple images of everyone. Whenever anyone came near her, she started to cry. Our bank manager was a dark skin black man with a soothing voice. She loved him. We eventually figured out that she could see dark skin people better than light skin people. He was the only person outside of me that she would visit with at first. He realized this and made a point of visiting with her as often as possible. If he saw us walking on the street, he would run after us to make sure we came in. He was my hero. Thanks to him, I was able to show her that people were okay. It started with one person and we slowly added in other people of other races. You could be the hero here.
posted by myselfasme at 6:46 AM on May 31, 2016 [36 favorites]

How should I respond when Henry says, "I don't want to see Anon's face!"

You should probably consider the source.
posted by fixedgear at 6:46 AM on May 31, 2016 [4 favorites]

I just wanted to say that my friends' small children have sometimes said things to me that I found hurtful and upsetting. Something can hurt and upset you even if it's said by a very small artisanal human who will entirely forget having said it. I totally get why you're not enjoying this.

I think it might be better to do the "support inward, feelings-dump outward" thing, though, because honestly, the kid is four and four year olds often say rude stuff, the kid has developmental issues and the parents are probably hurting a lot. Just...talk to your partner or a friend about how crummy it feels even though the insult-giver is four. It's kind of silly, I know, but you feel what you feel.

Also, think through why this stuff is bugging you so much. Is it because it's a particular kind of insult? (Like, you get anxious about people liking you or about your appearance, and so when Henry pops out with this stuff it makes things worse?) Is it because it chimes with unpleasant memories of yours? Does it bring up anxieties about your own kids and their behavior?

For me, insults from kids bring back bad memories of childhood and tap into some fears I have about being ugly and unlikable - even when the kids are four! For the record, the rude children have all grown up to be perfectly nice older children who don't remember anything about their insult-comic years, and there are a couple of developmental disabilities in the bunch.
posted by Frowner at 6:51 AM on May 31, 2016 [17 favorites]

I would wager quite a lot of money at this point that you don't have children.

Nthing the comments that you can't take the comments of a 4 year old with the same amount of gravitas as you would those of an adult. Even a 4 year old without development difficulties is going to say rude things. This isn't because they are trying to hurt your feelings. This is because they have no filter. The 4 year old son of some friends of mine was giving me a hug the other day. As he noted that he couldn't get his arms all the way around me, he commented, "You're so fat." The perfect comeback at that point would have been, "Well you have freakishly short arms," but I'm an adult and he's a 4 year old, so I refrained. My point is that something that would have been terribly insulting if an a adult had said it is just a 4 year old making an observation about the world. You can't hold them to the same standards that you would an adult.

For your friends, I think that they are probably having a really hard time dealing with this. Raising a kid is tough under any circumstance. I don't want to be a jerk because I think you're honestly and earnestly asking about this, but I would respectfully suggest that you need to make this less about you.

I'm just going to quote schroedingersgirl here because she encapsulates my final thoughts perfectly:

If you can't muster sympathy for this family, then, respectfully, I'd suggest removing yourself from the situation.
posted by Betelgeuse at 6:52 AM on May 31, 2016 [25 favorites]

So, just for the sake of possibility, let's pretend that Henry has some kind of spectrum disorder type of condition. Doesn't want to be talked to directly, looked straight into his face, hates loud noise, unfamiliar people and their voices, or whatnot else he interprets as overload of some sort and can't handle. Seems, too, that the parents are just finding out about it all, full time trying to cope. Difficult, right, to also cater to your feeling wronged by Henry's rudeness? So maybe the apology isn't really what can be expected at this point. They're struggling, it seems.

So there are two options here for you: either you try to understand what it is that Henry needs from you, in type of interaction style, and try to cater to his needs (this could include staying away, but not necessarily), or you decide you don't need this in your life (which would be totally fine, btw.) and just perhaps cool off your friendship with these people. Or, come to think of it, three: if you arrange to meet them, make sure that Henry isn't there because, as you will explain, it seems to stress him to have you around and you would hate to stress him.
posted by Namlit at 6:54 AM on May 31, 2016 [8 favorites]

You don't have to step up as a parent, but, if you have the personal resources (time, ability to focus), you can step up as a friend. Find a time to talk to your friend (maybe over the phone when the child is asleep or occupied) about how you can _still be her friend_ and work around or with this child.

She needs you -- I can't imagine she has a lot of other friends now -- and I personally will be grateful to you if you can be an ear or a shoulder for her and thus a small part of the support structure that someone in this difficult situation needs.

Maybe you could ask her to ask the OT provider for strategies, or for your friend's own insights into what you could do to either work with the kid a little or maintain the friendship around the kid.

Of course you must make sure you are protected and that you get the time you need to take care of yourself. After that, though, maybe you can rise above this situation a little and do more than most people would do. Maybe not, and that's OK. Just consider whether you can.
posted by amtho at 6:56 AM on May 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

People keep saying not to take the comments of the kid personally, but my reading of the question is that it's the parents' comments that are most hurtful — Lynette and Rich laugh. Lynette says things like, "Poor Henry! Anon was being awfully loud, wasn't Anon?" or "Anon is really a lot to deal with. That's hard!"

I agree with the advice to ask the parents how you can help THEM manage Henry's reaction.
posted by Brittanie at 6:58 AM on May 31, 2016 [52 favorites]

I think the answers here are missing the boat. S/he's not insulted by the four-year-old. S/he's insulted that the adult friends, his parents, aren't taking any care with his/her feelings. S/he's hurt that they're going through this thing without in any way talking to her about it even though it directly impacts Anon and his/her partner.

This is hurtful. And even when the parents may well be going through a lot, as adults they are expected to be thoughtful of other people's feelings. Not 100% perfectly, not every time -- we do give them slack. But to never acknowledge anon's feelings, ever, and to say things that sound like they're blaming anon goes well beyond what's acceptable.

So, for advice: Anon, I'd recommend that you speak to them directly about your relationship with them. Explain that you can give them a lot of leeway in the ways that they deal with their son, but that you hope they can better manage your friendship with them. This is likely to put additional stress on them, so you can couple that with an offer to assist with their parenting of this child meaning asking, "When this happens in my presence, what can I do to help?"

If they ask what you mean, explain that after they take Henry aside to have a talk, it would be nice if they apologized to you for his behavior. It would be nice to be given some idea why their son behaves so badly towards an adult and that behavior is treated as acceptable. As you know, children generally aren't permitted to speak to adults or even to other children like that, so it seems appropriate that they explain to you — the target of his words — why he is being permitted to insult you and why they go along with it.

The alternative is, as you've started seeing, to avoid seeing them when Henry is around. And you have the choice to tell them why (Henry's insults and tantrums take away from my enjoyment of my time with you) or to just keep that to yourself.
posted by Capri at 6:58 AM on May 31, 2016 [45 favorites]

The other day my 2-year-old yelled "I don't like boys" at my neighbor, and then lowered her shoulder and charged at him to try to push him out of the elevator. I was embarrassed and somewhat amused, and apologetically said "She doesn't like boys right now. She thinks they're too wild and loud," and we exchanged rueful smiles and that was that.

It sounds like they don't have the awareness/energy to acknowledge your feelings right now. Henry sounds exhausting, and I'm sure they're worried and upset all the time. And I totally understand why you would find that hurtful. If you can, I'd try to extend to them a measure of grace; they've got a tough row to hoe and they're going to put their child above all else.

I agree that you should ask them how they want you to handle it; if they're dismissive or cavalier, I'd just distance myself for a little bit, by sticking to adult-only gatherings and being supportive via text/email.
posted by snickerdoodle at 7:05 AM on May 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

I don't get the impression that Anon is hurt because she's feeling insulted by the four-year-old. I think she's feeling insulted by the behavior of the adult parent, who not only doesn't correct the child, but actually reinforces and repeats the insult: "Anon really is a lot to deal with!" "Anon was being really loud!" I can absolutely understand why that would make someone feel incredibly uncomfortable and out of place as a guest in someone's home.

Especially if the adult didn't follow up afterwards, when the child was gone, I would start to wonder: does she really think my loud talking is setting the child off? Does she actually think I wrong to address the child directly? I wouldn't know how to behave around the child, and I would feel frustrated because the parent - while admittedly distracted and dealing with a lot! - was essentially treating me as an irritant that needed to be managed, instead of a friend who would be totally willing to adjust my behavior if given any sort of guidance on how to do so.

So yeah, on preview, I agree with the posters above. Say, gently, "Listen, I really want to help you out, but the way Henry reacts to me gives me the feeling I'm making everything worse. Is there anything you'd like me to do differently when I'm around him? Was I actually talking too loud?" And if she doesn't give you any guidance, the next time Henry says, "I don't want to see Anon's face," I would probably say, gently, "I'm sorry to hear that, Henry," and then - also gently, to his mom, "I think I'm going to go."
posted by pretentious illiterate at 7:05 AM on May 31, 2016 [128 favorites]

In similar situations I haven't been offended when my friends' 4 year old would say things like "I don't want TwoStride here!" because I figure they're 4 and they're realizing that they're not going to get their normal attention/playtime when I'm around and that's not fun for them.

But I did also think it was nice for the friends to be all, "I'm sorry my kid was a pill," at some point--I think it's ok for Anon to want some acknowledgement that the kid's behavior wasn't ideal, but Anon should recognize that these parents seem overwhelmed and it may come years later if at all.
posted by TwoStride at 7:11 AM on May 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

Parenting a child like this is exhausting. It sounds like he has sensory processing disorder and autism, and these are both scary things. His future will likely consist of many visits to occupational therapists and many other specialists. They have a disabled child, and the full gravity of that situation is likely weighing heavily on them. So, I think that they deserve a little compassion.

Still, a lot of children with autism end up taking social skills classes. They may not "get" the social stuff as intuitively as a neurotypical child, so they need a lot of coaching. Henry's parents should be coaching him to respond in a more appropriate manner. I'm confused, too, as to why they aren't correcting him, because this behavior will be a big problem in school. But it's possible that their mental bandwidth is just spent.

In that case, I'm not sure what you can do. Tell Henry that you're sorry that he feels that way, and say that you need to go.

It is possible that they'll untangle his triggers and that he'll be more bearable in the future. I'm sorry. You sound like a good friend, and I can understand why this is troubling.
posted by Ostara at 7:16 AM on May 31, 2016 [12 favorites]

Even the best behaved 4 year olds are going to be assholes from time to time. It's kind of their thing. The parents are going through some tough times and are probably in denial based on the child's problems. Cut them some slack and ignore the kid being an asshole. You're an adult. Rise above.
posted by inturnaround at 7:25 AM on May 31, 2016 [5 favorites]

Lynette says things like, "Poor Henry! Anon was being awfully loud, wasn't Anon?" or "Anon is really a lot to deal with. That's hard!"

Maybe someone has told her it's good to validate Henry's feelings at this stage-- or she just thinks it is, or has misunderstood advice or something-- and she assumes you're going to understand what she is doing is some kind of parenting technique. I agree with pretentious illiterate about asking how you are supposed to be acting and if you're doing anything wrong.
posted by BibiRose at 7:27 AM on May 31, 2016 [11 favorites]

I would just ask the mom, hey, how do you want me to react when Henry says inappropriate things or flys into a fit? I want to do whatever I can to support and make it easier on you. Maybe then your friends will be relieved that the elephant in the room is out, and you can feel less uncomfortable because you are doing the right thing.

If they say something bizarre, like "just sit there and let him scream at you" you can say "no, that makes me too uncomfortable. Can I just remove myself to the other room while you deal with it?"

This is hard. But it's harder on the parents, I'm betting.
posted by dpx.mfx at 7:28 AM on May 31, 2016 [8 favorites]

Things like, "I don't want to see Anon's face" or "I wish Anon weren't here" or "Don't make me look at Anon" or "I don't like looking at Anon's Partner." Lynette and Rich laugh. Lynette says things like, "Poor Henry! Anon was being awfully loud, wasn't Anon?" or "Anon is really a lot to deal with. That's hard!"

I agree with everyone that 4 year old can be rude and there isn't necessarily a lot the parents can do about it, especially if the kid has a disability. But this is the parent--her friend--being rude. I would try to have a conversation with your friend in which you acknowledge that they're having a tough time and ask if there's any particular way you could help. If she keeps saying insulting things like this after the conversation, I'd probably repeat back what the parent said and leave ("I'm a lot to deal with? I think it would be best if I left then."). It's hard for the parents, and they deserve your sympathy and patience, but you don't owe it to them to sit and be insulted by them.
posted by Mavri at 7:33 AM on May 31, 2016 [20 favorites]

4 year olds are a little like this. A developmentally struggling 4 year old much much more so. He's gonna say weird shit, you need to let that bounce off. However what your friends are saying is a little odd. Maybe their reaction is poor parental choices? Maybe it's exactly what an occupational therapist told her to say in front of him? who knows?

I'd ask her how she wants you to react because this seems to be a deliberate course of action. You could also make your time with them be time without the kid around, this will likely mean way less time with them due to the needing babysitting but it would be easier on you.
posted by French Fry at 7:33 AM on May 31, 2016

It seems like you may be feeling hurt because you want some acknowledgement in the moment that the things Henry is saying are not kind. A perspective from an Autistic person with sensory issues: it may just be too early for this kind of social correction/mild rebuke. In an overwhelming sensory situation, priority #1 for me is dealing with the overstimulation, because I can't magically turn off all my sensory input. Whether I'm being nice or even capable of being nice is way down the list -- and I'm a grown adult with reasonable emotional regulation, not a 4-year-old! So piling social correction on top of that would be functionally pointless and just add the stress of knowing you're supposed to be doing something you just can't do.

If you just want Lynette to acknowledge your feelings adult-to-adult, that's a different matter whose reasonableness I can't evaluate, but if you want something to be different in the moment, you may just need to adjust your own situational empathy.
posted by dorque at 7:37 AM on May 31, 2016 [14 favorites]

Also, if they are affirming the kid's feelings/reactions because of his disability, and this is a recommended course of action, surely there is another way to go about it that isn't so personally insulting, like "new people can be a lot to deal with" or "we're all talking a little loud aren't we?"
posted by Mavri at 7:38 AM on May 31, 2016 [16 favorites]

It sounds to me like the friends are trying to validate Henry's feelings and empathize with him. I do this a lot with my three year old ("yeah, your little brother's crying is really loud, isn't it? It hurts my ears too!") and it definitely has turned situations that would have been meltdowns into nonevents. This is really common parenting advice right now - don't scold your young kids for their reactions, instead show that you get what's upsetting them and move on. Henry's parents aren't applying this technique quite as I would under what seem like unavoidably socially challenging circumstances but it seems likely to me that they are at least attempting to make Henry feel heard and validated. They probably assume you get that this is a parenting hack and nothing personal. I bet they will be totally horrified and apologetic if you bring this up with them.
posted by town of cats at 7:42 AM on May 31, 2016 [17 favorites]

When I was a kid, people would bully me and say very, very hurtful things. When I tried to report it to adults, I was told "they're only picking on you because they are hurting inside/have some behavioral issues/have a lousy home life/like you." Fuck that noise. I didn't like it then, I don't like it now. You feel hurt, you speak up in an appropriate way, and/or remove yourself from the situation. Stick up for yourself.
posted by sockerpup at 7:43 AM on May 31, 2016 [19 favorites]

Think of this 4 year old as a 2 year old -- or even a 1 year old. Would you get offended if a much younger toddler screamed and wanted to push you away? A 1 year old can't be "unkind" because they don't have a developed theory of mind, a strong enough sense of the other as having a separate experience.
All 4 year olds have no filter or concept of rudeness. They point out people's fatness, skin color, wrong hair color, whatever. At that age with neurotypical kids, parents gently teach kids to learn the filter. But this child is delayed and you need to adjust your expectations about what's really inappropriate and what's just loud and annoying.
His parents might very well be trying to teach him to put his feelings into words. I don't think that's bad parenting. Their responsibility is to help their child recognize why he is upset and connect it to words. He feels your voice is loud. It's better for him to know this in words and thought than just through screaming. Manners come after that step.
If you were my friend I'd expect you to be on my side, even if I didn't explicitly say what was wrong with my child because I was trying to see my child as an individual with distinct needs, not as a label. And I"d expect you as the grown up to pick up on my need to teach my kid to label his feelings and I would be surprised that you were insulted. It would not occur to me.
Please get on their side and try to see it from their point of view.
posted by flourpot at 7:43 AM on May 31, 2016 [5 favorites]

I get why the parent's behavior is exasperating to you. Given the way it's being framed, I think if you choose to address it, you should do so within a few minutes of one of those statements (in any case, after she's dealt with whatever kid-bomb is going off but not too long after, don't wait a week or whatever) and just say, "Hey, can you help me understand what's going on when you talk to Henry like that in front of me? If there's something you need me/us to do differently, I think it'd be better for him if we made those arrangements like adults, right?"

It's possible she's entirely focused on the child in that moment, and probably de-escalating by whatever means necessary. She may also be getting so much of it herself that it'd be refreshing just to hear he doesn't like her face and not really thinking about what it's like for someone who's not used to it. I certainly think you should try to come at this with sympathy - even if you don't know what, exactly, you're being sympathetic to.

They don't actually owe you a detailed explanation, though, which appears to be what you want to happen. They don't have to tell you why they do or don't do anything. If their boundaries are they say as little as possible to outsiders for whatever reason, that's their right. If your boundaries are that you don't like being in that situation, ultimately all you can do is not be in it, but you can at least make one attempt to communicate with them about it before you do that.

It may be that the best resolution you'll get here is "you're right, we could be phrasing that differently, I'm sorry," and a real effort to do so going forward, without giving you any explanation. You may need to decide if that's enough for you or if it's being shut out that is also hurting your feelings.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:48 AM on May 31, 2016 [5 favorites]

"Henry often seems to be upset or scared by me; I know it's silly, but when he says that he doesn't want to see my face it can actually be a bit hurtful! Is there something I can do or say to help him feel more comfortable around me? Or is there a good way to respond when he's upset and angry like that?"
posted by AFII at 7:49 AM on May 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

Maybe not a full explanation of her child's disability, but when Henry had a meltdown because he didn't want to see your face, and you offered to leave, your friend seemed SURPRISED. Like, leaving is what I would do to help a sensory overloaded kid. But your friend doesn't seem to think that is the right response, and won't tell you what WILL help Henry, so . . . I'd be a little offended too.
posted by chainsofreedom at 7:56 AM on May 31, 2016 [22 favorites]

So if you, like me, don't have or want kids, then i would just consider this friendship effectively over. Being around kids stresses me out, even without insults and screaming. I know the parents are struggling more but that's not what the question was about. This sounds super unpleasant and stressful and like a situation you no longer need to put yourself in.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 8:00 AM on May 31, 2016 [24 favorites]

[One comment deleted. AskMe is never a place for venting your annoyance at other people in the thread; please stick to constructive answers directed to OP.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:04 AM on May 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

Lynette's son repeatedly says rude, insulting things to me and my partner. Her son is probably affected by one or more developmental problems.

Kids do this. Kids with non-neurotypical development problems can do this more. Four year olds have terrible filters to begin with. He has no filters because of a loosly defined disorder. You are an adult with adult coping skills. You need to be the grownup and not get butthurt over what a 4 year old says to/about you. If you are unable to do this, you should extricate yourself from social situations with them.

You are an adult. He is 4. Even if he was neurotypical, you cannot expect him to act like an adult. Now that you know he has SPD, you need to lower your expectations of how he is actually able to act. When a child says those things, acts fearful or with anxiety, or melts down, they're actually feeling those things. They're not just fucking around. Imagine as an adult throwing a huge temper-tantrum. How awful would that feel? That is exactly what that child is feeling. Normal children don't even have the coping mechanisms that adults do, and children who literally see and feel the world differently than we do, have far, far less coping skills than their neurotypical counterparts.

Do I just go with the flow and laugh it off? Pretend everything is ok?

Yes, go with the flow. You don't have to laugh it off. You don't have to pretend everything is okay. But you should probably roll with it a little bit better.

The parents in this situation have it much harder than you do, and he's probably saying much more worse, hurtful things to them on a daily basis. I'm going to repeat this, because it's very important: The parents in this situation have it much harder than you do. You should work on your empathy and compassion towards them. They have bigger fish to fry than how you feel right now.

Maybe I'm being obnoxious or not understanding, but I just feel like everything would be so much easier if Lynette and Rich would just say, "Hey, we're really sorry Henry just insulted you. We're working on that. He's dealing with xyz and that's why he says xyz."

You are being obnoxious. You are not understanding what they are going through. Them saying that would be easier for you. I have a son that has a sensory processing disorder, and quite frankly, it's mostly awful punctuated by times of less awful. You don't know what their daily lives are like dealing with this, but to give you some insight, they might be doing any of the following. Here are some things we've had to deal with with our son's sensory processing problems, that your friends might be going through:

-Medical providers not being educated on Sensory Processing Disorders and discounting us wholesale
-Medical providers referring us to medical appointments for diagnostics that are dead ends
-Compressing our workweeks to overlapping 4/10 hour days, just to take our kid to medical appointments and OT sessions, while trying very hard not to let this affect our careers
-Going to meetings with early intervention school services to make plans on how our kid is going to function in school
-Attending multi-day appointments with psychologists and therapists trying to diagnose specific problems under the giant, huge umbrella of 'Sensory Processing Disorder'
-Convincing providers that our son doesn't actually have autism, he just has SPD
-Combating friends and family who judge us super harshly on our kid's behavior, which isn't under his control
-Dealing with 6-10 month waitlists for services, all the while our kid's behavior is deteriorating
-Adult friends not wanting to hang out with us because our kid has terrible meltdowns, and we don't have the energy to explain what is going on
-Adult friends with children who can't hang out with our son because of differing parenting and personality styles leading to insane meltdowns and violence between the children
-Attempting to keep our marriage together under the stress of the above
-Attempting to maintain adult friendships under the stress of the above

Depending on the actual flavor of services they have access to, the part of the country their in, the kid's actual diagnosis, they could be adding in other stressful, terrifying variables to all this. It really makes sense that they don't want to talk about it. Sometimes, some people don't want to talk about the shitty things in their lives, because it makes them feel worse.

The parents in this situation don't owe you anything. They need some empathy, and some friends who can roll with their kid.
posted by furnace.heart at 8:19 AM on May 31, 2016 [38 favorites]

What is your goal here? Do you want an apology because you think the child's behavior is your friend's fault? Do you think that anything you can do or say is going to help your friend better manage the child's behavior? Do you want your friend to feel sorrier than you think she does?

People tend to want to extract apologies from parents of kids, as if those apologies will do something to remedy the kid's issues. But realize that the apology is relevant to you only. Trust me, if a mother's feeling sorry and ashamed EVER helped a kid's behavioral issue, then there would be no child behavioral issues.
posted by yarly at 8:48 AM on May 31, 2016 [12 favorites]

It sounds like they don't have the awareness/energy to acknowledge your feelings right now. Henry sounds exhausting, and I'm sure they're worried and upset all the time. And I totally understand why you would find that hurtful. If you can, I'd try to extend to them a measure of grace; they've got a tough row to hoe and they're going to put their child above all else.

I've got a partner with a grown son with a thought disorder (long and complicated explanation but basically I can see myself in your shoes) and it can be challenging.

In this case, the kid has been that way for a long time and my advice to you is to wait it out if you can. Having a kid with a mental illness or other related concern can be incredibly overwhelming and a lot of people spend quite a while in triage mode, just trying to make it through the day. And even then, some people are just family-first folks where everyone else is supposed to sort of manage their own feelings. I will say this: as the adult you are supposed to manage your feelings about the things Henry says to you which it looks like you are doing. You can then have a conversation with your friends at a later time "Hey that was a little hard for me, I can imagine it's nothing compared to what you guys are dealing with. How can I help?"

At that point you may get some "Yeah we're just in triage mode thanks for your patience" response or you may get some non-response about your own feelings because either 1) they are a little too overwhelmed or 2) they just don't see these interactions the way you do and don't see their responses to his actions as problematic (and I think it's an open question how to view these exchanges but you feel what you feel and that's valid too). If the response is 2, you sort of have a choice to make. You may not be in their inner circle of friends they discuss their issues with (or they may not have that) or they may not care about your feelings or whatever. I usually give these things one or two chances at some sort of acknowledgement and, if it's not forthcoming just be a little more boundary-setting about what I want to deal with.

I think you can both be understanding and empathetic about what they are dealing with without needing to be in the thick of it in a way that makes you personally uncomfortable. While I think it's definitely true that there's an extent to which being in a society means making adjustments for people who for whatever reason can't interact in a normative way, I think the open question is whether your friends (and not their son) fall into that category and what you'd like to do about that.
posted by jessamyn at 8:55 AM on May 31, 2016 [7 favorites]

This is a kid you fully acknowledge doesn't seem to get social norms and you expect him to apologize under the rules of those same social norms you don't think he gets? You need to adjust your thinking about this some.

The kid might just be stating facts. "I don't like looking at --- " is rude to you because it's not something you would ever say out loud. But to this kid it might be something more like, "ICAN'TDEALWITHTHISRIGHTNOW!ICAN'TDEALWITHTHIS!THISISTOOMUCH!!"

And as the parent to a child with special needs, I wouldn't apologize for such behaviors. I may choose to explain them, but the fact is, my kid is the way he is, and to some extent, the world has to bend a tiny little bit to him at times. Not often. Not always, and he's older and better functioning now. But apologizing for behaviors that a kid with special needs can't yet control at particular times feels more like apologizing that the kid exists at all.

It's a shame the parents don't confide in you, but it can be really difficult to do that if you don't know how people will act or react. If you're concerned and have useful information that could help the family, then offer it up. If you just want some kind of apology --- well --- I don't know what to say.....it might just not be the time for that.....
posted by zizzle at 9:01 AM on May 31, 2016 [12 favorites]

There are a lot of "shoulds" here, but everybody is stretched too thin to do everything they "should". Please, everybody, parents, friends, people having emotional meltdowns for whatever reason, feel what you feel, but forgive others when you have the ability to do so.
posted by amtho at 9:08 AM on May 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

In my experience this sort of behavior isn't outside the realm of normal for a kid this age. One of my brothers had a bizarre aversion to one of my aunts, for example. I used to babysit a little girl who was weirded out by Hasidic Jewish men for some reason and I was always afraid she'd say something terrible if we ran into Hasidim while out and about (predominantly Jewish neighborhood, so this was an actual thing). As far as I know this wasn't under the influence of her parents or anything, she just was uncomfortable about it and didn't have an appropriate way to process that without saying things like "I DON'T LIKE THOSE MEN IN THE FUNNY HATS" very loudly in the presence of said men.

I think your friends could be doing a little better than supporting Henry's outbursts by suggesting that you were doing something wrong. When it's pretty obvious that kids freak out about random things all the time and it usually isn't the fault of whoever they flipped out on. It also seems weird to me that they would continue to drag their kid into situations where he's obviously not comfortable. But there might be other reasons for them reacting that way that none of us know.

I also think you're fully within your rights to see less of these people or request that they not bring Henry with them. You don't have to hang out with people you don't like, and that extends to their kids. Even if it is within the realm of normal childhood development for a four year old to act like a turd.
posted by Sara C. at 9:11 AM on May 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think there are two issues here. The son and the parents. I would ignore what you think is hurtful from the child. I think you agree that what a 4 year old says, even under the best of circumstances, should not be taken personally.

The real issue here is the parent's reaction to their child's behavior. I cannot tell you how to react or how you should feel about their actions. I can tell you that this is well within a normal or reasonable range of actions for parents in this situation which is learning themselves how to parent a child with some sort of condition. They have never done this before and do not have all the answers. They are probably trying new things based on whatever advice some professional has offered. I would bet that when you talk to them 10 or 15 years from now they will look back and acknowledge some mistakes, have some regrets, and marvel at how nice everyone was to help them through a trying time.

I vowed at one point while raising my three that I would not tell anyone how to parent unless solicited and even then, I hesitated before I responded if I did. I did once give an early teen advice on how to handle his parents as a teen, but that is a story for another day.

As for how to react to the parents, I suggest you consider all the long list of issues outlined above, consider what it is like to be sleep deprived, what it is like to spend 24 hours a day worrying about an issue and what you think you might be like as a parent. There is nothing wrong with ending the relationship either via slow fade or hard cut. You could come to the conclussion that you are at a different point in your lives and time to move on.

If these were my friends, I would have some concerns about their interaction style. I would not apologize for my child's behavior, but I would apologize or address how it makes you feel. They either don't recognize that or are not capable of addressing it at this time.

Good luck coming to a conclusion.
posted by AugustWest at 9:12 AM on May 31, 2016 [4 favorites]

IMHO, the same approach is called for vis-a-vis Lynette, Rich and Henry. In the moment, react with a light statement about how it affects you before moving on. When the kid says, "I don't want to see Anon's face," or "I wish Anon weren't here," or "Don't make me look at Anon," or "I don't like looking at Anon's Partner," a response like "That hurts my feelings," or "Please don't say mean things to Partner because s/he's a good friend to you and your family," is utterly appropriate. It's truthful, demonstrates that words have meaning/consequences and fosters empathy. And, frankly, all three of the members of this family could benefit, albeit for different reasons.
posted by carmicha at 9:15 AM on May 31, 2016 [16 favorites]

Btw, I add that there is nothing wrong with you or wrong in general about not liking a friend's or neighbor's kid. Not all kids are lovable and cute and likable.
posted by AugustWest at 9:21 AM on May 31, 2016 [12 favorites]

Yep, talk to the parents and the kid. You can say something mild and not at all scolding, like carmicha suggests. A small child can certainly understand "that's not nice" or "that hurt my feelings." I completely understand you wanting to hang out with your friends without a crying kid yelling and having tantrums. If you continue hanging out with your friends with Henry, definitely ask if there's anything you can do to help. People above mentioned wearing certain colors or not wearing perfumes. This might help, but it's possible your friends don't know many coping strategies. Validating feelings makes sense, but validating insults isn't doing their kid or their relationships any favors in the long run. Maybe you can offer to help them do research. It's weird that they haven't offered any solutions for the kid crying, screaming, and pushing you away. Maybe he does it with everyone, and they don't think there's anything to be done for it. But if you get the "official" diagnosis, maybe you can find resources online or in your town.
posted by serenity_now at 9:31 AM on May 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

A small child can certainly understand "that's not nice" or "that hurt my feelings."

Not all small children can. It takes a lot more work and a lot more growing up and a lot of therapists for some small children to even get that others have feelings that need to be acknowledged.
posted by zizzle at 9:36 AM on May 31, 2016 [12 favorites]

My bestfriend has a 5 year old son who is autistic, which is likely what I think is going on with Henry. Her son is hard to control, has rages, doesn't follow directions very well, doesn't respond socially and rarely speaks to me.

Being a parent to a "regular" 4 year old boy (I say this loosely because all kids are SO different), I would respond in the way you're expecting. However, when dealing with autistic kids, the approach the parent has to take is different. I don't know this approach or even pretend to know, but what I do know is that it's really, really difficult and really, really confusing for parents.

Short: Don't be offended by them OR their kid. They're probably just as frustrated as you but them being frustrated and apologetic about it isn't going to help them OR the kid.
posted by Sara_NOT_Sarah at 9:47 AM on May 31, 2016 [5 favorites]

I have some family members who have children who seem similar to Henry. Your friends are in a very tough situation where there is no clear way for them to cope with Henry's issues, plus they live in a world where people are going to blame them for aspects of Henry's behavior that they cannot control. You do not have a better system for dealing with Henry. You do not know how to get him to be more polite, even if you think you do. You have only a vague sense that they should be doing something different. They are doing the best they can. If you care about these people, stick around and be supportive. Ignore Henry's outbursts. If Henry couldn't walk, you wouldn't be criticizing them for letting him use a wheelchair. He is in the same situation as a child who can't walk, but in a world where wheelchairs don't exist and people think the parents could get him to walk if they only tried hard enough. If you don't care enough about them to be supportive, then absent yourself from the situation. Henry and his parents are in for years of judgment and condemnation from strangers, friends, family, and teachers. They do not need more of that from someone who is supposed to be close to them.
posted by FencingGal at 9:51 AM on May 31, 2016 [9 favorites]

I would try having a conversation with your friend about how you may be able to adjust your behavior around her son. From some of her reactions (such as "Poor Henry! Anon was being awfully loud, wasn't Anon?" and "Henry really doesn't like being talked to") I'm guessing that she may feel like she has tried to explain Henry's needs but it hasn't gotten through. I don't think this is necessarily anyone's fault -- it sounds like it could just be some bad communication. But like, if the parent of a disabled child told me the kid did not like being talked to, I would...follow directions and stop talking to the child!

That said, if you feel like you really can't handle this and need to take a step back, that's your right. But I hope you can acknowledge that you're doing this because YOU can't handle the situation, not by blaming a "rude" child who is receiving therapy for known medical issues or his parents who are no doubt really, really struggling. While you might not agree with their parenting style, it is very hard to know how much of it is explicit instructions from the child's therapist/doctor and/or coping mechanisms because they are simply overwhelmed. This is really different from the case of a neurotypical kid whose parents just love to spoil him. And honestly, I am not particularly shocked that the parents don't want to open up and share all the details with you, since based on this post you don't sound like a particularly sympathetic ear (and regardless of what you might say out loud, I'm sure they can read your body language).

So, bottom line, if you want to maintain this relationship, talk to the parents about what they need and what you can do to help with Henry (whether that's talking in a soft voice or not addressing him directly or whatever). Try and get some emotional perspective -- this is a CHILD who is not intentionally trying to hurt you! If you don't want to maintain the relationship, try to be kind in ending things and don't place blame on this family for what is a really tough situation.
posted by rainbowbrite at 10:01 AM on May 31, 2016 [11 favorites]

Non parent here. I love most kids but some kids and some parents have been very hard for me to deal with. I take nothing personal that any kid under 7 says to me.
When I dislike someone's children, which has only happened once in my life, I have limited contact with them. I am still friends with the Mother of these kids. We talk occasionally, play words with friends. I would help them out and they would me if needed. Our relationship has boundaries we both respect.

The disliking how someone parents is much harder to deal with. It requires lots of letting go of ones own opinion and judgements. I have a very successful female cousin who's go to comment to controlling her children's behavior is - do you want a spanking? Holy fuck she says it everyday. I am not as close to them because I cannot be. I love her children but I can't deal with the constant threat of violence.

If I were in your place I would be engaging that kid directly. You don't want see my face? Why not? How about this face? How about this other one? Try some humor. Ask the mom if you could bring him a treat of some kind. Pay attention directly to him. Make one of your visits all about him. Kids can see resting bitch face just like adults. Is that pretty much his experience of you? A disapproving facial expression? Don't underestimate the ability of a 4 yr old to read the room and try to control the action. If he thinks you don't like him and his parents why would he want to look at you?
Just things to consider as you figure out what to do.

Friendships change, especially with the arrival of children. Please don't burden them with a judgemental friendship. They have plenty to deal with. If you can't find a way to be supportive then the slow fade is the way to go.
posted by cairnoflore at 10:02 AM on May 31, 2016

I think you should not respond to him at all when he's being like that. In your head, you could try translating his words to 'I'm REALLY overwhelmed right now and I have no idea to handle that', because that seems to be what they most likely mean. He's not being deliberately rude or mean; he's overwhelmed and doesn't know how to deal. Talking to him may very well make it worse. These are not good moments to teach him manners, and it's not your job to do that anyway.

However, his parents need to find ways to deal with that that do not involve crapping on their friends. If they say things about you that are not kind and not true at all, I think it's fine to respond to that, and say, in a gentle way: 'That's not very nice to hear' or 'Do you really think so?'
If that doesn't work, or if you simply don't want to deal with the whole thing, it's probably best to remove yourself from the situation. You'd be doing the kid a kindness since he doesn't respond well to you and it probably makes him feel like crap, too.

Your friend is not blaming things on you in any way; she is most likely trying to make him feel better by validating his feelings. That is not a wild or outlandish idea and it may in fact work. But there are probably ways to do that without agreeing that everything he says is literally true. It's likely that she'll find those ways, but it may take a while.

Don't take it personally: none of this is in any way about you. If you can, hang out with your friend when Henry isn't around.
posted by Too-Ticky at 10:02 AM on May 31, 2016 [12 favorites]

Henry was "recently diagnosed" and I suspect your friends are sad, overwhelmed, and terrified. They need to focus on themselves, Henry, and immediate family first; friends and outsiders later. It's fine if this isn't something you can support and ultimately decide you need to put some space between you and them, but don't expect them to prioritize your feelings over Henry's needs right now.
posted by _Mona_ at 10:06 AM on May 31, 2016 [12 favorites]

"Look, your son is saying things that are generally considered very rude. They make me uncomfortable, and I feel that he needs to be told that the things he is saying are not OK -- how else will he learn what is OK and what is not OK to say? Will you start telling him that he is being rude? Or can I start telling him? Otherwise I'm not sure if we can hang out together anymore."

Okay, it's perfectly fine for you to decide your friend's child's behavior, and her response, are not something you are comfortable being around. You can limit your time with them until they are further down the treatment path and Henry may have moved beyond these aversions and his parents may have better strategies for dealing with it. But you can't look at this situation as the non-parent and think you know how to solve it.

My son has similar behaviors at times, and we have been told by his treatment team that as much as possible ignore ignore ignore maladaptive behaviors, redirect, and positively reinforce when he is behaving in the ways we want him to. Talking about his maladaptive behaviors with him is reinforcing those in a big way. It's counter-intuitive because people want to explain to kids what they did wrong, but that doesn't work for all kids, and makes behaviors much worse for some. They will learn in other ways as they get older. Henry's parents may be on a similar path, or they may know what works best (where the alternative is much worse behavior from Henry) due to experience.

My son has actually said, "I want them to leave" when we have had a guest (good friends or family members), and it would never occur to me that the adult was hurting from this and looking for an apology. I will try to be sensitive about my response going forward, but please realize this is about sensory overload most likely and about his environment changing without him having any control of it.

If you do plan to continue visiting, I agree with the advice to ask the parents how they think it would be best for you to respond (and whether you are indeed being really loud). Please don't take it upon yourself to scold the child without discussing this with the parents.

In response to an above commenter asking why the parents would expose their son to situations that seem to overwhelm him: they may have been advised to not go out of their way to avoid normal situations. My son has a major aversion to public restrooms, and yet I have been told I need to continue to go about my normal business, even if it means taking him to one, because that is the only way he will get used to it. You want to build up frustration tolerance instead of creating an unnatural environment that shields them from all of their aversions, because pretty soon their aversions become more intense, entrenched, and widespread.

Anyway, I am sorry your feelings are hurt, it does sound like a stressful situation for you, but I think you would be well-served by trying to understand Henry's condition more, realize it is nothing personal against you, and his parents' may have no idea they are coming across as insensitive to you.
posted by JenMarie at 10:12 AM on May 31, 2016 [11 favorites]

I can't understand why Lynette doesn't say, "Oh my god! This is godawful. This sucks."

Because he's their kid, as a parent she's used to being on a last frayed nerve, she's worried about him and doesn't know the extent of the problem, and people around her are probably variously saying that 1) she's a bad parent, 2) he's a bad kid, 3) he'll just grow out of it, or 4) he'll never grow out of it and he has a big problem. It's just her life now and there's no clear or obvious conclusion to be drawn.

The parents are tired, and the child seems to have a sensory processing disorder that leads to overload and lashing out. I think they expect you to be a mature adult who realizes the child is acting out because he's overwhelmed. They might not have explained their tactics in responding to his meltdowns clearly because they are overwhelmed and exhausted themselves. When you're caring for a kid, especially a kid with special needs, your brain can very easily get fried. If you want to be a friend to them, ask them what they think you should do. If you want them/him to apologize to you, I think it would be best if you just gave them some space for awhile, because when I'm watching overactive kids I have very little bandwidth left to soothe the feelings of adults. (I wish I was a superwoman, but I'm not.)

Even neurotypical kids can be little shits. I have a little cousin who was an absolute undaunted asshole to everyone around him ("you're fat! oh my god, she's fat! why are they so fat, mommy??") The mom did nothing, which was aggravating at first, but you quickly realize that shutting that shit down is not always as simple as it looks, if you don't want an even bigger meltdown on your hands, or physical lashing out, or screaming for hours, or whatever stage of hellraising that kid is going through. I might not have "agreed" with all her parenting choices, but I also didn't have to live with her clearly difficult kid, so I took it in stride.

There are lots of kids in our family. If he was hurting another kid's feelings, I shut it down and made it clear to the other kid that what happened wasn't OK and that I was on their side. (I was frankly even a bit mean at times if it meant defending the other kid and signaling harsh disapproval.) If it was just him being an shit to me, I'd dish it back playfully until he shut up. He aged a few years and I think now that he's not so nervous and terrified to be around new people, he's significantly calmed down and clearly wants our approval and attention all the time. Sometimes kids that age literally don't know what to do with themselves. They want attention really bad, or they hate attention, or they're uncomfortable all the time and they don't know why.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:15 AM on May 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

If I were in your place I would be engaging that kid directly.

No, the parent specifically said Henry does not like to be spoken to, so please do not do this without discussing it again. You may think it would be good for the kid to learn to talk to adults, but you are not a behavioral expert and it isn't your place to impose treatment on him.
posted by JenMarie at 10:15 AM on May 31, 2016 [16 favorites]

A lot of people don't seem to be getting that this is not about the kid, it's about the parent. No one expects a four year old to have very good social skills. But it appears these parents don't have them, either. They should be apologizing.

If a friend was holding my infant, and the infant threw up on them, I'd apologize. If my two year old hit my friend, I'd apologize. Of course the children can't be held responsible at that age, but you still apologize, because it's the right thing to do.

You certainly don't blame the friend. That is outrageous, and it is teaching this child that he has no responsibility for his own actions - that it's good to blame others when you do something wrong. They don't have to punish the child, but they certainly are wrong to tell the child that it's the friend's fault that the child behaved badly.

You would actually be doing this friend a favor if you explained to them that common courtesy dictates that an apology from her for her child's behavior is in order. Because if this continues, eventually she won't have any friends at all. If she takes offense, then you're well rid of her.
posted by MexicanYenta at 10:16 AM on May 31, 2016 [49 favorites]

That is outrageous, and it is teaching this child that he has no responsibility for his own actions - that it's good to blame others when you do something wrong. They don't have to punish the child, but they certainly are wrong to tell the child that it's the friend's fault that the child behaved badly.

This is so patently not true for kids with sensory processing disorders or autism. Parenting a child such as this is not the same. The same tactics you'd expect to work, that you're insisting will work, don't work. They may later on. I can have those expectations of my 7 year old now, but when he was three and four year old? Nothing like this would have worked. Parenting a kid of this sort at that age is like constantly putting out fires, except you don't know which kind of fire it is. Is this an electrical fire? So no water. Better find the dirt bin. Is it a grease fire? Okay. Better find the pan cover. Is it a forest fire? Guess I better call for some help. It's a constant back and forth of what-is-the-situation-which-approach-will-work-right-now-and-oh-god-please-let-me-be-right-and-not-make-this-worse!

I know I didn't have the mental capacity to offer apologies because I didn't have time to really think that much about other people. Now that my kid is older and a really darn great kid, too, some people from that time in my life have actually apologized to me. "I'm sorry we didn't learn more." "I'm sorry we didn't help." "I really didn't get it then. I get it now."
posted by zizzle at 10:27 AM on May 31, 2016 [15 favorites]

I think people are really being unnecessarily finger-wagging with the OP here. It's possible to completely understand intellectually that Henry is a non-neurotypical four-year-old whose words you really shouldn't be taking personally, and at the same time to have a visceral reaction of feeling hurt when someone, even a non-neurotypical four-year-old, says "I don't want to see your face" or what have you. Likewise, it's possible to understand that your friend is overwhelmed, and at the same time feel hurt that she doesn't apologize when her child says things like "I don't want Anon here." Speaking for myself, I totally get feeling hurt at those things and would feel precisely the same way in the same situation. If that's stupid, well, ok. Feelings are feelings.

My own opinion is that there's really no solution here that doesn't involve ending the friendship, or at least suspending it until the child is older. These parents aren't equipped to act in a way that's good for both their child and their friend. Which is fine and understandable -- I'm not criticizing them. But OP, I don't think you have to subject yourself to feeling awful or hurt because your friend's child is having difficulty, and I don't think you should feel torn up or guilty if you decide that you need to ease back a lot on this friendship. People grow apart from a lot of reasons; this reason is no more or less valid than any other.
posted by holborne at 10:44 AM on May 31, 2016 [46 favorites]

Btw, OP, I seem to recall that you asked this same question, more or less, a few months ago. It seems that things haven't really improved much, and in fact have gotten worse now that the kid is actually saying things that hurt you directly. That's part of the reason that I think that maybe it's time to ease back on spending time with Lynette and Rich; it seems like being with them isn't doing much other than making you feel awful on a couple of levels. Obviously only you can say whether it's worth continuing a friendship that makes you feel generally bad; I'm just saying that I don't think you have to feel guilty because you feel as though you're being mean by not liking her kid or something like that. It's actually ok not to want to be around certain small children, same as it's fine not to want to be around certain adults even if the reason they act like assholes is that they have a diagnosed personality disorder.
posted by holborne at 10:52 AM on May 31, 2016 [8 favorites]

Yeah, I think you are vastly underestimating the stress your friends are under. My son has some sensory issues (though evals point away from autism), and he's doing a lot better right now (through identifying and removing major stressors) but the year or so after things really started manifesting (at 2 years old) were TRAUMATIC. The constant, terrible, seemingly random, often physically painful, melt downs. Knowing these meltdowns were because this poor, dear sweet child (because indeed they are dear sweet children) felt so terrible inside, so scared and freaked out, that they just couldn't handle it. The hopeless, helpless inability to help this child you love so very much to feel okay most of the time - just f'ing okay, not even happy, just not freaked the f out.

When I read your description of how your friends handle Henry's meltdown, I thought, "yeah, that's right, mirror, soothe, remove from the situation", that's what the books say, and that what has a chance, not a guarantee mind you, but a chance of actually working. When I think of how they probably feel in that moment, it is probably pure panic "oh shit, it's happening again, what can we do, what can we try, oh my poor baby, what might help, I'm so tired, I feel so helpless, what did the book say? mirror, yeah, mirror, understand, shit and I have to be calm, so calm, I can't show any reaction, etc."

If you think your friends look calm, that's because they are faking the hell out of it because anything else is gasoline on the fire. To me that sounds like an acute stress, all adrenaline on deck situation. They simply don't have the attention for you because they are trying to avert a crisis.

It would be awesome if you were able to really give them compassionate, supportive, understanding ear. Those are few and far between in these situations, and worth their weight in gold (or therapy), so it would be an incredible gift as a friend.
posted by pennypiper at 10:56 AM on May 31, 2016 [20 favorites]

Honestly, if you're interested in keeping this relationship and really understanding what is going on, ask some questions. "What does Henry's processing disorder mean for him?" "How are YOU doing with this?" "So, when Henry is with us and he says those things, how can we react to him to help the situation?"

You might be surprised because a) maybe no one else is asking and b) maybe changing something in what you're doing would help being around Henry and may improve this entire dynamic and c) it shows you are interested in being a good friend to someone going through a much more difficult time than you. The people who helped me the most were the ones who asked questions and then didn't judge my responses to them or my parenting tactics. They're also the ones who stuck with me from diagnosis to now and who affirm that even when from the outside I looked like a neglectful monster, I absolutely did do the right thing. Because they took the time to understand and then they knew what to do to, too. And they also happen to be the people I'd do anything for.
posted by zizzle at 11:07 AM on May 31, 2016 [12 favorites]

Henry's parents are struggling. A lot.

I'm surprised they seem (1) slow to get Henry support (2) they have not shared with you the best way to deal with Henry so you don't feel so helpless and the kid suffers less.

Like I said - these parents are struggling. I think you have to kinda talk to Lynette or just let the friendship go for a bit. Things are tough. And confusing! Just try to do the least harm overall. Ask Lynette! She might have ideas and/or is getting professional guidance.

Gosh I hope this family is getting guidance and support.
posted by jbenben at 11:14 AM on May 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I was going to say, do you really care much for Lynette? Because if you care for her as a friend, reaching out is the compassionate thing to do. If she's just a casual friend and you don't care that much about her personal life, then take some time off.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:14 AM on May 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

The child's medical state, and the parents' parenting styles, are none of your business.

You are not a person that has skills in this area to help, nor are you interested in helping. They have also been hesitant to discuss the situation with you, so I also think they are trying to signal that this is a private matter.

Schedule events with the parents that do not include children. If you are feeling generous, offer to pay for a babysitter and take these parents to the bar. It sounds like they could use some drinks.

This does not mean you are judging anyone, it is just recognizing that it's difficult to have an adult relationship with a 4 year old around, which is true for almost all 4 year olds.

Schedule things differently to exclude children and foster your adult relationship, and ignore unless you are specifically invited to discuss the situation.
posted by littlewater at 11:17 AM on May 31, 2016 [4 favorites]

There seems to be a lot of defensiveness on this thread, which is disturbing to me, because it sounds as if Anon is genuinely concerned about his/her friends and their child and would like to be a positive influence. I don't get the sense from the original post at all that he or she wants to make these interactions all about his or her feelings.

I think one thing that non-parents often find very frustrating is navigating the wide variety of parenting approaches among our friends and acquaintances--for instance, it's sometimes hard to know whether a casual acquaintance wants to continue a conversation over his or her child's interruptions, stop and acknowledge the child and resume the discussion, or break off discussion entirely to engage with the child (expecting the non-parent to do so as well, because the child's needs always come first). I want to be supportive, but in circumstances where I'm not familiar with the specific family dynamic, I often come away feeling as if I've been "put in my place" as someone outside the intuitive, charmed circle of Those Who Know Exactly What To Do Because They Are Parents.

I mention this only because I think it might be helpful for parents to understand what a difficult and often lonely path their childless friends are negotiating, and that we're likely not judging you at all--rather, we're extremely confused about how to support you, whatever your child's behavioral or developmental issues (or lack thereof). Should we laugh off bad behavior as something kind of beyond the child's (and therefore the parents') control, or would the parents see that as reinforcing a behavior they're trying to correct? Should we maintain a neutral expression in the face of acting out, or would that be seen as judgmental? If a child is having a five-alarm meltdown, my instinct is often to say, "Hey, looks like someone's getting hungry/cranky/tired; maybe we should pick this up another time," because I'm thinking that my presence is adding to an already stressful situation, not because I want to escape or because I feel put out by the parent's sudden attention shift away from our interaction.

I think that last case appears to be what was motivating Anon's decision to depart. A child has reacted extremely negatively toward a visitor; the parents make it clear that they sympathize with the child's feelings while failing to indicate otherwise (even nonverbally) to the visitor and offer no explanation, expecting the visitor to just magically know what's going on and how to proceed. While there's a lot we can pick up in speech and nonverbal cues about how others want us to react to a situation, we're not mindreaders, and without even the briefest of signposts, these kinds of interactions can end up seeming like tests that we are intended to fail for one reason or another. It's hard to help when one doesn't know how or when every attempt one makes to be helpful somehow turns out to be wrong.

But if you share what's going on with your child, talk about why you do what you do, you gain an ally.
posted by tully_monster at 11:24 AM on May 31, 2016 [56 favorites]

From some of her reactions (such as "Poor Henry! Anon was being awfully loud, wasn't Anon?" and "Henry really doesn't like being talked to") I'm guessing that she may feel like she has tried to explain Henry's needs but it hasn't gotten through

This is my read as well.

It's worth noting that even with neurotypical kids, some of them don't want to be interacted with by adults, and there's kind of this cultural thing where we think it's okay to ride over children's boundaries, where we wouldn't with adults. If a kid shies away from a hug, for example, it's considered acceptable to force them to hug the person, where we would never, ever, force an adult to do this. We tell them to say the opposite of their feelings. And it really tends to exascerbate whatever the kid is feeling, because we're invalidating them.

Have you tried being at Rich and Lynette's house and just ignoring the kid and looking away from them?
posted by corb at 11:56 AM on May 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

It's hard to help when one doesn't know how or when every attempt one makes to be helpful somehow turns out to be wrong.

God yes, this exactly. Which is why

You are being obnoxious. You are not understanding what they are going through.

does nothing but compound anxiety about interacting with people who, it sounds like, really could use support from friends. Because of course Anon doesn't know what they're going through. That's why they're asking what to do!

Anon is trying to be a good friend through unfamiliar circumstances. It's perfectly human to feel confused when you aren't privy to the game plan - especially regarding little kids with unfamiliar needs.

Anon is not being obnoxious to ask the question here. Anon is trying to avoid being obnoxious by asking the question here. Maybe Anon is the canary in the coal mine for more people doing a fade from the parents' lives, when a simple 'okay this is a rough outline of stuff about Henry, just so you don't feel put on the spot, here's how we'd like to handle it' could turn awkward situations into anticipated ones and prevent further alienation.

Nobody knows how to instinctively navigate new circumstances, especially in terms of social situations which rely so much on context and nuance. this feels a strangely ironic point to be making, somehow
posted by Fantods at 11:59 AM on May 31, 2016 [42 favorites]

I can say, as a parent of a neurotypical kid, it can actually hurt when they say hurtful things, even when they are small. Most of us are not used to having angry personal insults spewed at us, especially if we have been acting loving 5 minutes ago, and there was more than once I had to walk away or even cry after my oblivious child said something terrible. He grew out of it, and we helped him, but I was not perfectly serene during that process.

I just wanted to give the OP space to acknowledge, hey; this hurts. Even an unintentional blow can hurt.

As far as advice goes, I would talk to one of the parents and tell them, you don't know how to act or feel when Henry says/does/reacts like that. You don't want to be a jerk to a 4-year-old, but you need to know why it happens and what your response can be. You can be honest that you aren't sure you're up to it all the time, but you still want to see them.

Since I'm a facts person, I would ask about his diagnosis, because I would want to read up on what he's dealing with. If I understand why something's happening, I can come up with my own strategies for dealing with it. Quite possibly these two have had to become instant experts on what their son has or could have and could probably lend you something or point you to a website.
posted by emjaybee at 12:04 PM on May 31, 2016 [9 favorites]

Anon is not being obnoxious to ask the question here. Anon is trying to avoid being obnoxious by asking the question here.

I agree with this and hope my responses didn't come across as harsh. I think some of the harshness in the thread is because people are saying if you follow some of the advice proffered here you may come across as obnoxious or you may cause harm, or whatever.
posted by JenMarie at 12:05 PM on May 31, 2016

Oh my lord, you have no idea how much apologizing the parents of kids with autism and/or behavioral issues and/or developmental delays do, all day, every day. The parents have probably lost track of if they've apologized to you. If you want an apology every time their kid does something that offends you, I guess you can tell the parents that -- but given how much these friends of yours have on their plates right now, it's rather cold for you to expect them to prioritize your feelings.

One one hand, we have a family in crisis. On the other hand, we have an adult whose feelings are hurt because the family-in-crisis isn't paying enough attention to them. Be a better person than that.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:13 PM on May 31, 2016 [15 favorites]

*taking a deep breath*

Asking "how should I handle this situation?" of the parents might seem perfectly reasonable. But, again, you wouldn't believe how many times a day parents of non-NT kids get asked that, often in a tone that suggests there's some magic words that should be said and then the situation will be okay.

It is a perfectly reasonable thing to ask and it's great if you want to find out how to deal with stuff so you can be part of this family's life. But don't ask mid-meltdown, because they're going to be busy. Don't ask during a quiet time when the parents finally have a chance to relax and would like to not think about Bad Things for a few minutes. Don't ask if they seem like they could possibly be feeling fragile right then. Don't ask if you're not willing to have the parents start crying. Don't ask when the kid is in the room. Don't ask if your feelings are going to be hurt if the parents aren't up for the discussion and instead gloss over it because they just can't deal right then.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:20 PM on May 31, 2016 [6 favorites]

I work with little kids with autismy, and I wanted to share one thought.

It's possible that since kiddo was slow to talk, they may be attempting to reinforce any speech he has, even rude speech. Especially if it's speech that shows he's beginning to interact with the outside world. I would guess that in OT they'll begin to shape/provide appropriate things to say for kiddo, but right now the parents are so relieved that he's talking that they'll respond positively to anything he says.

I think if this is something that is going to hurt you, it's okay to take a break or want to see your friends without their kiddo for a bit. However, I would caution you that raising a child with developmental differences can be really socially isolating and lonely, and if you can find a way to not take this as personally and be patient with your friends that'd be huge.
posted by superlibby at 12:30 PM on May 31, 2016 [7 favorites]

> Since I'm a facts person, I would ask about his diagnosis

It's none of your business what his diagnosis is. I tend to be forthcoming with such things, because it makes people more understanding (sometimes), but many parents don't want to share that information because of stigma or to protect their child's privacy or because they're resistant to the particular label that has been applied to their child. They'll tell you when they're ready to, if ever.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:33 PM on May 31, 2016 [4 favorites]

One more thought! I think sometimes with developmental differences that are not immediately visible, people can be a lot less understanding/compassionate. I'm not saying that's necessarily what's happening here, but I think by disclosing that the kiddo is in OT, the parents are trying to give you enough information to cut them some slack without sharing more about the specifics of he diagnosis/treatment than they feel comfortable with.
posted by superlibby at 12:42 PM on May 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

charmed circle of Those Who Know Exactly What To Do Because They Are Parents

Hahahahahahahah! Ho boy! Seriously, this charmed circle does not exist. Not to speak for parents everywhere, but having kids in no way equals "knowing exactly what to do" - though boy do I wish it did! We're all just winging it! And even if we get more practice with our own kids, all parents are different so we're just as likely to not know which approach to take with other peoples' kids.

I mention this only because I think it might be helpful for parents to understand what a difficult and often lonely path their childless friends are negotiating, and that we're likely not judging you at all--rather, we're extremely confused about how to support you, whatever your child's behavioral or developmental issues (or lack thereof).

"Difficult and often lonely path" is exactly how I would describe parenting in this kind of situation.

And related from the OP:

I can't understand why Lynette doesn't say, "Oh my god! This is godawful. This sucks."

It might be because when she has expressed this feeling to other people (professionals, family, friends with or without kids), they dismiss her concern ("he's just being a kid", "boys will be boys", "all kids get upset sometimes", etc.) in a way that invalidates her lived experience and subtly or not so subtly implies that what's actually wrong in this situation is Lynette's parenting. AND that she is a bad mother and person for feeling that "this sucks". If this is the reaction she's gotten from people who she would most expect to understand and support her, then she has probably learned to STFU about this with almost everyone, because it hurts too much to repeatedly come up against this disbelief and judgement from the people who are supposed to support her. Ask me how I know.

To be clear, it doesn't sound like you're doing this OP, but it might explain why she's not opening up about their challenges, and how tough it is.
posted by pennypiper at 12:45 PM on May 31, 2016 [6 favorites]

One more thought! I think sometimes with developmental differences that are not immediately visible, people can be a lot less understanding/compassionate.

There was just a post on the blue about a comic that outlines this; I would implore the OP and anyone else curious about the full spectrum of autism disorders (which there is some debate if SPD is a part of or not).

The comic is designed to explain adult behaviors, but it shouldn't be too much of a stretch to extrapolate some of the descriptions there to smaller, more fragile humans.
posted by furnace.heart at 12:45 PM on May 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

it isn't anyone's fault but I don't think you should spend any more time around Henry. If this means you won't be able to spend time with his parents as well then so be it - you can still chat or talk on the phone to keep the friendship going. Maybe you'll be able to schedule a couple of things where it is just you and Lynette or Rich or see them all at a gathering.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:57 PM on May 31, 2016 [5 favorites]

Asking "how should I handle this situation?" of the parents might seem perfectly reasonable. But, again, you wouldn't believe how many times a day parents of non-NT kids get asked that, often in a tone that suggests there's some magic words that should be said and then the situation will be okay.

It is a perfectly reasonable thing to ask and it's great if you want to find out how to deal with stuff so you can be part of this family's life. But don't ask mid-meltdown, because they're going to be busy. Don't ask during a quiet time when the parents finally have a chance to relax and would like to not think about Bad Things for a few minutes. Don't ask if they seem like they could possibly be feeling fragile right then. Don't ask if you're not willing to have the parents start crying. Don't ask when the kid is in the room. Don't ask if your feelings are going to be hurt if the parents aren't up for the discussion and instead gloss over it because they just can't deal right then.
That is entirely understandable. Timing is everything--and so is tone. Just keep in mind that if you want to continue friendships and relationships with people, you do need to meet them at least part of the way. Even 10% of the way. Give them something to work with.
posted by tully_monster at 1:07 PM on May 31, 2016 [6 favorites]

I think it's good to give kids clear feedback. It's not really about the parent, you and the kid are two people interacting, and I think it's ok to keep interacting with the kid as you give some social feedback about just that exact moment that's happening, and a bit weird to call in the mom to mediate the interaction. I treat other people's kids sort of as my equals- so I wouldn't scold a kid about how they behave in general, because that's a parent's job. But as an individual human, I do comment on behaviour that is done directly to me, like insulting or hitting me (or being sweet to me or helping me).

If a kid was nice to me, I would say "Thank you for holding the door, Henry! It is so nice when you help me!" so I don't see why the opposite isn't ok.

When a kid is rude to me, I calmly say "Ouch Henry, that hurts my feelings!" or "Ouch, that makes me feel sad!" I don't make a big deal about it or use a super-dramatic tone, but I do let them know.

If the kid keeps on being mean or laughs, I might say "When you say things like that I feel sad, maybe I will go sit over there." and just separate myself for 10 mins or so.

If the kid apologizes or looks like they feel sorry but don't know how to apologize, or didn't mean to hurt my feelings, I might say, "You didn't mean to hurt my feelings did you. You could say Sorry if you want." Then if they do say sorry, I say "That's ok, thank you for saying sorry! That makes me feel better. I like playing with you!" and then I make the next couple of minutes extra-nice and reassuring to make up for the awkward part.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:10 PM on May 31, 2016 [5 favorites]

Asking "how should I handle this situation?" of the parents might seem perfectly reasonable. But, again, you wouldn't believe how many times a day parents of non-NT kids get asked that, often in a tone that suggests there's some magic words that should be said and then the situation will be okay.

The question may come off as a bit of a burden, I can see that. Maybe just a statement, "Let me know if there's anything I should be doing differently, I'm happy to help however I can." I don't know, that wouldn't offend me, and I think I'd be glad to be given an opening. But everyone is different, so tread carefully and try to think about your friend's personality before broaching the subject.
posted by JenMarie at 1:11 PM on May 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

This kind of comment:
Anon was being awfully loud, wasn't Anon?"
"Henry really doesn't like being talked to"

Sounds to me like she is trying to hint or reinforce previous comments she has made to you about how to behave with her kid's sensory issues. Notice the things she says and moderate your behaviour accordingly.

It's possible that the way you interact with the child is overwhelming him- things like making a lot of eye contact or watching him, asking him questions, touching his belongings, being loud, wearing cologne or sparkly or jangly things, touching him, being in his personal space, etc. Try entering gatherings in a calm quiet way and letting Henry come to you rather than making a big fun entrance (You may already be doing this, but try if not).

Watch how Cesar Milan greets a hyper dog- he kind of ignores the dog for 15 minutes after he enters, and creates a calm, soothing energy to help the dog not feel overwhelmed. This works with kids, too. Try moderating your behaviour as she suggests. Be less of a presence and let Henry come to you.

Even though I agree that hinting means she's not asking in a very mature way, I think you're right that she's probably overwhelmed and in denial, or hopeful that THIS time it will be ok, then disappointed and embarrassed when it's not ok. Remember that as the kid develops, she's just getting used to figuring out what she needs to ask for, how she feels about asking for it, and how best to ask for it. It's a learning process for the parent too.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:20 PM on May 31, 2016 [8 favorites]

[Friendly reminder everybody, please don't use the edit function to add or change content; just add a second comment. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 1:28 PM on May 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

How should I respond when Henry says, "I don't want to see Anon's face!"

If you're visiting their house, you respond by gathering your stuff and saying, "It was so great to see you guys! I'm going to get going now!" because it sure seems like your friends have their hands full with their kid and probably the last thing on their minds right now is entertaining you.

If you want to remain friends with these people, understand that almost all 4-year olds are a handful in general. When around non-family, they're like little drunk frat members who say stupid things. Non-neurotypical kids have that going on plus some other serious issues.

Cut your friends some slack. They've got a difficult road ahead and they're doing the best they can. If being around the kid is problematic for you and you're not okay with the dynamic or their parenting, the best thing you can probably do right now is steer clear of their kid.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 1:53 PM on May 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

It sounds like your friends are exhausted and don't realize that their emotional mirroring of their kid (who has consumed their entire world because they're his only support) is being done in ways that are hurtful to you and that are making you feel like you should leave.

I would try to have a conversation with them about what they want you to do when he has a meltdown or when he says he doesn't want to look at you, preferably not at the time of the thing happening and in an accessible manner (ie. that can be interrupted in order to go take care of the kid, so IM instead of phone call? or phone call when kiddo is asleep?).

As an adult with SPD, their comments of "Anon was being quite loud" and "Anon is a lot to deal with" really don't seem that bad? It's not that you personally are being loud according to neurotypical standards and should be quieter, it's that to his ears, you are loud. It's not that you are a lot to deal with as a person, but as a sensory experience (which may or may not be related to things like smells, bright clothing, clothing with patterns, whether or not you're wearing a texture he finds overwhelming, if you emote differently than his family). Him not wanting to look at you is an eye contact and overwhelm issue, not a him specifically hating your face issue, and his parents are trying to encourage him not to do things that he finds painful; keep in mind kiddo has a speech-language delay so he's saying things the best way he can and his parents probably have to explain away his behaviour/words to every single other adult they deal with every single moment of the day. Their phrasing doesn't seem as hurtful (to me, a person who is used to exhausted/overwhelmed people) as your feelings are telling you it is. I understand that their reinforcing comments can be upsetting but I suspect part of your hurt here is because you don't feel any closeness to the parents and you're not getting any reinforcement that they DO want you around, all you're hearing is them reinforcing the kid's negative feelings.

It sounds like you want them to rely on you in an emotionally intimate way because that's what friends do and in the absence of that emotional intimacy and friendship validation, you're wondering whether they actually want you around after all or whether they're just humouring you while you make things worse. I would assume that parent friends who bring their difficult kid around you are doing so because they trust you and it also sounds like they just do not have any emotional bandwidth left to prop up your self-confidence more explicitly. You might get some of the validation you seek by checking in with them - "what do you want me to do when X? am I doing this right? I want to be as helpful as possible/make sure I'm not making things harder for you" - but you might not get the declaration of "you are doing just fine and we really appreciate you" that you seek because they are just too exhausted to intuit what you need.

Also, have you tried asking them how they are doing (ie. not making the conversation about Henry) or organizing a hangout that consists of helping them with tasks? Your friendship right now might mean more support and less having intimate talks about things. I feel like this is half the reason parent friends lose all their single friends, what friendship looks like changes a LOT when you're raising a very time-consuming little human.

Basically: them bringing their kid to hang out with you might be a sign of trust and how much they value their friendship with you, even if they are too exhausted to tell you explicitly. They simply do not have the emotional energy left to figure out that you're feeling insecure about the friendship or that you need reassurance. You might need to dial back or change your expectations for what emotional intimacy will look like with these folks because they don't have much left in the tank right now.

Also, if what friendship looks like with them now really is not working for you, that's fine. You have your own needs to attend to. Better to opt out than to sit in feelings of resentment and martyrdom - not saying you're there yet but it's an easy path to go down.
posted by buteo at 3:13 PM on May 31, 2016 [17 favorites]

I have had trouble, on and off, with people who won't respect my kid's boundaries (or mine). She tends to ADHD/anxiety and I am anxiety/auditory processing. So for both of us, people screaming for fun can be a problem and I have a dear friend who laughs like a gunshot and the first few days of any vacation with her my kid and I are on edge. Similarly I get really pissy when people who know my kid, know her focus issues, still interrupt her over and over when she's doing something. Same with when they know my auditory processing issues but insist on having TV and radio on during a conversation and face away from me and get irritated when three tries later I still haven't understood what they're saying. In those situations I often don't modulate what I say to make them feel better, because I am trying to moderate both my kid's reactions and my own as her parent.

I can't tell you how many people would get angry with me for asking for quiet and peace while I was feeding my kid, or putting her to sleep, because 'adult conversation' is important.

The fact the mother is reiterating sensory things to the kid, even if they are one's that hurt your feelings, sounds like that's what is actually causing the meltdown. When I soothe my anxious child because laughter startled her into crying, and I say "I know that was a shock and was loud!" I am not talking to the person laughing, I'm talking to her in order to help her understand the emotional process she is going through. Because if she can understand 'loud sudden noise made me fearful' it is less likely to become 'I hate ladies who laugh' or things like that. It's helping her work out how to respond to that stimuli. I wish my family had done something like that, because I'm only now as an adult working out that I'm not an idiot, I'm not slow, I'm not a permanently grumpy asshole, I just genuinely need a fairly quiet environment, particularly if I am going to have a conversation with someone (I grew up with a partially deaf father and a mother who had at least the radio on 24 hours a day). And if this is somethign I have discussed with my friend in some fashion, I'm not going to apologise either because I'm expecting that they understand what is happening.

It sucks when kids have issues with you - my friend's kid had a real issue when I shaved my head for example. But she's two. I'm not going to try and force a relationship with a kid who finds my head terrifying. Same with my cackle. So I moderate the cackling around her as much as I can, and accepted that she won't come close while I'm bald (now it's grown out a little she's fine, it's the shiny bald she didn't like). Kids are not miniature adults, and kids with sensory issues aren't like kids without them.

If modulating your response in this situation is difficult, removing yourself is good because chances are the parents and the child have no resources to compensate for that.
posted by geek anachronism at 4:21 PM on May 31, 2016 [8 favorites]

Henry's behavior isn't troubling, the parents' behavior is. Sorry they are having a tough time with their kid but their responses ("Anon is really a lot to deal with") are incredibly rude. That's no way to treat another human. I'd bow out of their lives.
posted by pintapicasso at 4:37 PM on May 31, 2016 [15 favorites]

I can't read all of the responses, because many of them are kinda ouchy for me. Because I was Henry. I'm autistic and being overwhelmed by people and sensory situations is totally part of the deal. And as a small human, it's REALLY HARD. Because you're still learning how to deal with the world at all, and you have very little control over your emotions and how you express them. So combine normal small human with "that person's shampoo is freaking me out and I don't know how to express it" and meltdown city and sometimes things that sound rude. Like if he doesn't want to see your face - do you wear particularly loud makeup? It might be throwing him off because he's not sure how to interpret it. Or it accentuates your emotions, which are already really loud for him because he's hyper-empathetic. (Not saying this is the case! But these are some things that aren't about "you" as a person that could be making him say these things. They're problems for me sometimes.)

It would have been so incredibly helpful for me if my parents had acted like Henry's. If they had just acknowledged the source of what was freaking me out ("Anon was so loud!") I could have felt heard, which would have helped at least part of my freak out. Instead, they didn't help me learn how to name and manage my feelings. They just sent me to another room or yelled at me. And I didn't "improve". I learned how to SHUT UP sometimes, but that came with a whole boatload of trauma and bad boundaries. I am still recovering from this.

It sounds like they are acknowledging and allowing him to have boundaries, even when he states them poorly. This is incredibly good parenting. I am so so happy for Henry to have these parents.

For your part, please be open and honest with your friends. Ask what you should do when he says those things. And please please be supportive of how they're dealing with him. Having his feelings acknowledged is SO RARE for someone on the spectrum or with sensory processing issues. Like, I can't even tell you how incredible and amazing this is. You should be proud of them. And know that what they're doing is draining them and is so hard.

Please feel free to memail me. I would be happy to talk about this more with you, and I'd be happy to give you some thoughts about how to make dealing with him easier.
posted by stoneweaver at 5:12 PM on May 31, 2016 [19 favorites]

You know, I agree with everyone here saying that the parents probably have it hard and it's important to shrug off the kid's behavior, but I have a HUGE problem with the whole "well, Anon is being very loud!" business. That's not just reinforcing the kid's feelings--that's actively insulting Anon. You can reflect back the kid's feelings without agreeing that whatever upset him is actually annoying. Instead of "Anon sure is loud!" you can say "you feel startled right now because Anon spoke, right?" You can reflect and validate feelings without necessarily validating the unreasonable source of the feelings. Like, I'd probably take that personally, too--I'd think "okay, obviously your whole family thinks I'm loud."

And I'm a parent, and not a particularly sensitive person. I have pretty neurotypical kids, but I'm close to kids who are not as neurotypical, and again: Yeah, kids say stuff like that, kids can be shitty (though by four, I strongly suggest that if they're still doing this they either need a parent to shut that down or are, yes, struggling with developmental issues). But you can be sweet and patient with the kid while also recognizing that the way that the parents are handling it isn't necessarily great. They have it hard, for sure, but they're still PEOPLE. Don't forget that.
posted by hought20 at 6:24 PM on May 31, 2016 [13 favorites]

Honestly, if it were me, I'd be distancing myself from this family. At least some of them clearly don't want you there, the parents aren't going to say or do anything about that, and there's clearly some kind of autistic-ish reasons this is going on so it makes things even harder to deal with. Probably the easiest thing here to do is just not be over when Henry is around and/or distance yourself from the friendship. You can't really make the kid stop being rude and hurtful and his parents for whatever reason can't do that either, and if you can't just shrug off rude comments from a 4-year-old, then ...avoidance is best.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:04 PM on May 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think the most helpful thing you could do is ask them what they need in the moment. If Henry says you're too loud and his parents validate his feelings (which is probably the correct and developmentally appropriate thing to do) then ask them: "would it help Henry if I spoke more softly/trod more carefully/closed the cabinet more gently?" Even if you think you were being perfectly quiet, something is setting Henry off and it could be as simple as the sound of heels on hardwood floor or your laugh. It's not your fault but rather than taking offense which, frankly, is a little ridiculous in the face of their son's challenges, maybe try to make things easier on everyone.

Or just stop hanging out with them if the burden of his behavior is too much for you. You're allowed.
posted by lydhre at 5:25 AM on June 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

It's possible that since kiddo was slow to talk, they may be attempting to reinforce any speech he has, even rude speech. Especially if it's speech that shows he's beginning to interact with the outside world.

My son is neuro typical, but has a speech delay. This lead to some severe behavior issues because he was unable to communicate effectively. If he told me he didn't like someone's face as opposed to *literally banging his head into a wall,* I would have been thrilled. He's doing so much better now, but it's hard to be in a position where you really DO have to reinforce negative speech.

Of course, I also would apologize to anyone he was being rude to - but that's just me, and my kid isn't dealing with any processing issues.

I don't think any conversation about this will be productive. While you mean well, I'm sure the parents will get defensive, adding more strain to the situation. It's so hard to talk about parenting styles even in a more "normal" context, it's such a charged subject. If you can't brush the issues w/Henry aside, don't hang out with him. This probably means seeing them a lot less for a while, but it's not going to be forever.

(Also, while a well meaning suggestion, a babysitter for a kid with developmental issues might not be an option. It's quite likely that Henry simply can't deal with adults outside his circle of trust and adding in a new one isn't going to be as easy as 'here's some mac n cheese, bedtime is at 8.' )
posted by sonika at 9:54 AM on June 1, 2016 [5 favorites]

So i was a kid kind of like this. I was diagnosed with aspergers a few years later, mid elementary school.

The reason i'm prefacing this with that, besides that i really don't agree with a lot of the comments here(i'm 100% on the team "this is how the parents reacted, not what the kid did) is that my mom fucked up my friendships with a bunch of other kids when i was young by making their parents hate me and her, and likely with her own friends by reacting like them.

Basically, she didn't really apologize and always "took my side", and no one ever really said anything to her either besides paternalistic "oh, THIS is how you should be parenting him" stuff.

I think it's TOTALLY COMPLETELY LEGIT to go up to her and say "hey, is there anything to do to help? I felt kinda ganged up on there, but i also know you were just trying to support your kid/encourage them. How should i work with you there?" before just backing off.

Like, everyone slowly backing off is what happened with me and my mom. At least have the ~scary~ possibly rude conversation and see how she/they react before just disengaging, if you end up deciding to go that route.

I can't even count the number of friends who "moved away" or "just weren't around anymore" when i was young because of them getting fed up with the way my mom engaged with them about me. Please don't just back out without at least trying to talk about it. At least give them a chance to not be defensive, and if they are, well then you can go "well at least i tried..."

I really hate the narrative of "oh, they have it really hard so you can't talk to them or say anything that could be remotely interpreted as criticism because the entire world is crushing them and you'd be such a shitty awful bad person!" because... Parents of non-neurotypical kids still fuck up, and still need to be talked to about it, or even just about how they want to be interacted with/their kids interacted with. I watched my parents, and the parents of other kids i was friends with in elementary/middle school fuck up a lot in retrospect.

And to be clear, i favorited a few comments on how hard they're having it in here(buteo's super resonated with me!) but you're not a bad person or being unreasonable or overloading them by starting a conversation. Maybe this is some ask Vs guess culture thing, but guess kind of flies out the window when they're that preoccupied with just... raising their kid, and attending to their needs.
posted by emptythought at 1:43 PM on June 1, 2016 [19 favorites]

I feel that he needs to be told that the things he is saying are not OK -- how else will he learn what is OK and what is not OK to say? Will you start telling him that he is being rude? Or can I start telling him?

I will just point out that for some kids, this sort of thing is exactly what they react to and pushing on it can make things infinitely worse instead of better. The parents are in the best position to have some sense of whether or not this is true (whether or not they can articulate it at this point in time) and you, of course, have no idea.

FWIW with one of ours--a bit older than the child you are talking about, at an age where it would normally be quite reasonable to expect a child to say "I'm sorry" after a little incident or other at school--our school managed to parlay what could/should have been minor 5-minute incidents into multi-day knockdown drag-out fights because they insisted on the apology when the apology itself was (for whatever unfathomable reason) the precise thing that our child reacted most to.

"[I]gnore ignore ignore maladaptive behaviors, redirect, and positively reinforce when he is behaving in the ways we want him to" worked like a charm, once we figured that out a few years later--OR we could spend our time insisting on an apology and have multi-week drag-out fights about it. Like "several minutes of hysterical screaming" wouldn't even have registered at all on our Richter Scale of what fights could be.

Personally as the parent I would have tried to explain or mutter some words of apology to adults caught in the crossfire of this, if possible, but you have to understand that at the time we as parents were simultaneously baffled by the behavior, trying our best to deal, and on the one hand mortified but on the other trying to be completely supportive of a child who very obviously needs our full support and love, and is going through something that is very intense but that we don't understand. It's not easy to figure out and you don't do it perfectly, ever.
posted by flug at 2:20 PM on June 1, 2016 [5 favorites]

Do the parents agree with their child that you are exhausting or loud or annoying? It kind of sounds like it, doesn't it? There is a difference between validating and agreeing. Validating = "Yes, anon sounds loud to you." Agreeing = "Yes, anon is loud." Validating = "Anon is a lot for you to handle right now, right Henry?" Agreeing = "Yes, anon is a lot to handle."

Sounds like they're not as much validating as agreeing, to me.

I mean, do these people actually like you? Because you know, it's totally possible they don't. And have chosen to be sort of passive-aggressive about it. Life's way too short for that nonsense, if so.

If Henry gets to have adult boundaries (I don't like her, so respect that and don't make me be around her) then its' logically consistent that he also gets to deal with adult reactions (I said something rude, so now people don't like me.) If an adult said that to you, it would be very rude. I think if you treat a kid's desires and wishes as being "adult", you also have to treat the kids speech as "adult" for consistency. Otherwise, you're really not treating them as an adult at all, you're just giving into them more than you would an adult. Which, okay, yes, is one way of dealing with children, but let's not call it "respecting them like an adult" because that's inconsistent hooey.

I think I'd just stop seeing them. It's weird that they don't get that you have feelings. I guarantee you every mother on here who says "I don't even flinch when kids say rude things" has indeed flinched when their kid screams "I hate you mom!" and really means it in the moment. Not even understanding that a little bit seems purposefully obtuse to me.
posted by quincunx at 2:02 PM on June 2, 2016 [7 favorites]

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