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Love your friends, hate their kid

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  • Sometimes people dislike friend's kid or cringe at their behavior
  • Some parents want you to speak up, others get offended
  • Expert: Try to discuss problem behavior without naming child
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By Heather M. Ross
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(LifeWire) -- If you secretly think your friend's child is a monster, is your only option to grit your teeth for the next 10 years?

Even parents find some other children less than adorable.

For one woman from Philadelphia, speaking up meant losing the friendship.

"One Thanksgiving, we decided to go away with close friends for the holiday," says the nurse, who asked that her name not be used because the subject is still a sensitive one. "Their daughter was very demanding and fresh with them; at one point, she even hit her mother." The nurse's husband made a comment about the incident, which their friends didn't appreciate it. "Our friendship has never been the same since."

Oriana Schooley, on the other hand, says she'd want a friend to come to her with any problems. One woman was "openly disrespectful to my 5-year-old son," recalls Schooley, 29, a real-estate professional in Buckeye, Arizona. "I have purposely avoided that woman since. If she had spoken to me first, it would probably be a different situation."

Clearly, it's a touchy subject. Even touchier: What if it's not a certain behavior you don't like, but the kid himself?

Jeff Burnor, 47, simply stays away.

"We definitely have friends whose kids I don't like," says the Phoenix ice-sports retailer. "I figure out other ways to occupy my time when they're around."

But maybe that's not an option for you, and the child is creating a roadblock in your relationship. If you can't pinpoint a specific behavior that you'd want the child's parents to correct but just have a general negative feeling about the child, you should also "look at yourself first" before you give up on the friendship, says behavioral-health consultant Keith Lee, author of "Addicted to Chaos: The Journey From Extreme to Serene."

Lee contends that typically bad behavior in a child might irritate people more than normal because it reminds them of a difficult period in their own childhood, a personality trait of their own or someone else who conjures up negative feelings. As a result, you may need to let go of some emotional baggage of your own to preserve the friendship.

Moving on

If the conflict seems unresolvable, though, perhaps it's time to move on. The Philadelphia nurse says losing a friendship taught her that.

"We are people who don't play games," she says. "If you like us, you like us. If not, we don't really care. In the past, I have bent over backward to get along with people. I don't go out of my way anymore."

She has, on occasion, extended this lesson to her own children. One friend's child was mean to her son, and the friend didn't follow through after reprimanding his behavior.

"I used to tell my children that they have to be friends with everybody," she says. "But I don't tell them that anymore. If someone is mean to them, I don't expect them to go out of their way to remain friends."

When it's a specific behavior you don't like

If the problem really is just a specific behavior, Lee suggests a "feedback sandwich" -- stacking compliments on either side of the problem when you bring it up with your friend.

Another nonconfrontational approach is not mentioning the child as you bring up the problem; for example, asking the parent: "Does it bother you when people interrupt you in the middle of a conversation?" If your friend agrees, Lee says, you could continue with something like, "You know, I've been noticing that little Mikey has been interrupting us, and it's starting to bother me. Do you think we could find a way to stop that behavior?"

Don't mention more than three problems at a time so that the list isn't overwhelming to your friend.

Most importantly, Lee says, identify a specific behavior to avoid falling into a blame game: "Problem-solving is much more concrete and allows you an opportunity to preserve your friendship."

Of course, there's always room for compromise, as Jessica Ullman, 29, has found.

"(My friends) know that I don't have kids, and I think they make adjustments for that," says the bookstore employee in Goodyear, Arizona. "Still, even though we may be in different places in our lives, I can't imagine not being friends because of a child." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

LifeWire provides original and syndicated lifestyle content to web publishers. Heather M. Ross, MS, APRN, NP, is a nurse practitioner specializing in cardiovascular care.

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