I used to wonder why some parents limited their children’s friends’ age groups, but now I understand that even a year can be a problem when the children are young. A one-year difference translates into different developmental stages, which makes interaction between children difficult. Older friends tend to dominate interaction with your children, though it will lead to confrontations between the parents, but these are teachable moments.
Ana (not her real name) was a just a year and a half older than my girls when they became friends. She seemed sweet enough, and her mother appeared to be an involved parent. More importantly, the girls seemed to get along and play well together, except that none of this was actually the case. Ana bossed the girls around and determined what games they played, who took turns when, controlled access to toys, and pitted my girls against each other. On the positive side, Ana did challenge my girls simply because they would attempt to do what she could do like swing from one side of the monkey bars to the other, read, do double digit math problems, etc.
Ana’s mother simply saw her as “bossy” because she was an only child. Initially, I thought this was indeed the case. However, Ana’s family problems aside (of which there turned out to be many), this pattern was true to all children when the age difference was over six months. Ana’s mother also argued that the girls did not require that much supervision. I attempted this approach, but Ana wrecked the girls’ playroom and pitted the girls against each other. I allowed them to play together but only under my watchful eye. Our different perspectives led to continual tension that eventually ended our relationship.
While I often felt these play dates were more trouble than they were worth, I allowed the play dates to continue with Ana for several years and still allow the girls to play with older children. I felt then, and feel now, that this is acceptable under direct supervision. I don’t mean that you should be a helicopter parent. No, not at all! However, I think these types of situations are always teachable moments. My girls have learned that a) not everyone is fair, b) to problem solve, and c) to recognize when they need help. However, I do believe that these situations require vigilance because I am not comfortable with anyone, including a child, abusing my children (more later on bullying). What do you think?