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assvice: re the 3 of them at home- video them and let them watch the interaction a few days later and see what comments they come up with.

The problem isn't the intervene-ing when there is something 'happening', but rather that they're clearly spending too much time together. I don't mean to sound judgey, it's just an observation. Before you had even said what the problem was - and had outlined how much time they are spending together - the problem is right there in the first few paragraphs. Your need to intervene would be superflous if they simply spent less time together. It's your routine right now - and it works for you (to a point) but in the long term it's probably less than ideal.

Hmmm - sounds familiar with my twin boys. But for us it's not the friend that is left out but often one ds. And I don't know whether it was the right thing to do or not but I did intervene. Talked to the other ds how he would feel being left out. Told him it was important to be loyal to his brother, to stand up for him. Of course it worked great - not! He would not listen to me even though I said it over and over again. So I resorted to threatening of a punishment - told him next time I would only pick up one ds early from school and would leave him in school until later while I was doing something nice with his brother. I know, I know, not the best solution. But it did work. I also think that Vanessa might have a point about the spending too much time together and to give Kate some space to chill out.

Kids spend a lot of time together with non siblings - that's just part of life. Just like our coworkers and significant others get on our nerves, the kids do as well.

Instead of intervening - I think Kate would be better served if ou tryed to understand the reason for the behavior vs. the actual behavior itself. Not everyone is happy to be "on" all the time. Sometimes we need some time for ourselves. As adults, we just tell those around us that you are.... going for a walk, taking a bath, etc. and just remove ourselves from a situation. Kids don't know how to do that. Give her the tools she needs to express herself appropriately and work on that instead of pushing her to remain uncomfortable. Let her know that it's okay if she needs a break from playing with K but it's not okay to hurt her feelings. The next time she needs a break, ask her to say "K, I need to take an alone break, I'll be back in a little while" and to go someplace quiet. Explain to K that sometimes Kate needs a break from all the fun but that she's going to a quiet place to get her happy back and in the meantime, would she like to.... (fill in the blank).

I think kids this age are really just starting to figure out who they are and the best we can do is steer them toward all the best things about them while helping them shore up their weaknesses. Kate - it's great that she knows when she needs to be alone but she needs an out where she isn't hurting others to get that time. Maybe she could come to you or another adult and you could all of a sudden 'need' her to do a chore or go into another room for a little bit or something? That way her needs are being met, it's being reinforced by you that it's ok for her to take that time, and K is off the hook about feeling bad about herself. Adam - it's hard to worry about our kids being taken advantage of, but it sounds like you stay close to the issue and you trust his teachers to do the same.

Re. Adam's situation, I think you're totally right not to intervene unless there's real bullying going on. I don't have children yet, so this is complete assvice, but my Dad is the principal of a boys' elementary school, and he often talks about how boys can be beating the life out of each other one minute, and then best friends the next. He says the one thing that causes problems is when the parents start getting involved for these sorts of minor episodes of rough play, and suddenly it escalates into an 'incident'. Often the kids don't even know what's going on, as to them it was no big deal.

Re. Kate, I think your own suggestion is right - Kate needs to know that it's ok to want time to herself, but it's definitely not ok to be mean about it. Girl friendships at that age are really complicated, I wouldn't wish myself back there again...

I think the blurred lines you describe (not-quite-playdate-but-still-not-family) adds a richness to the interactions and opportunities for learning. I have 1 son and we're very close to another family with 3 kids. What worked for us was to make clear that if someone needed alone time, this should be respected regardless of whose house they were in. But we also teach/expect them to be sensitive and take the others' feelings into account (i.e. the "just a thought" insight you reached around the middle of the post). Our kids are comfortable enough in both homes to find something else to do if 1 kid wants time alone. I consider myself lucky that the other mom & I have a similar approach to parenting, that my son has a chance to interact in a larger family environment and that I get a chance to be mom to more than 1 kid (but can send them home at supper time!)

Two comments. The first is just semantics, but sometimes it can shift your thinking. Instead of saying "Kate's a mean girl", I would say "Kate has a tendency to act mean". If she keeps hearing she's a mean girl, then she will identify with that role and play it up. If you say "I saw you acting mean a lot today instead of sweet and kind like you often act....". I'm always trying to get my boys to understand that there aren't "bad guys" or "good guys" or "naughty people". We are all a mixture of good and bad and naughty and sweet (some veer one way more than the other, of course!!). I hate that kid's movies have lost all nuance on this subject -- older movies were so much more balanced on this front. People often do bad things for good reasons or good things for bad reasons and we're aren't intrinsically one thing or another...just some combination of good/bad at different points.
I totally agree that it's easier for me when my kid is getting picked on/left out instead of the opposite. I try to remind myself of that when I get worked up about a mean thing that my kid did -- that the other parent is probably happier to be in their position than in mine.
I'd talk to the other mom about it and see if K is really struggling or perhaps it's you that's having a tougher time? 2-3 days a week might be better than 4? Mixing it up with other kids once a week (and in a fourth for Adam)?

What you describe doesn't sound to me like Kate being mean, it sounds like she is exercising her dominance and lacks the sophistication to be diplomatic about it. I agree with your thought that she needs to learn how to nicely say that she needs alone time. There is no way to stop her from leading other children to her way. Kids know instinctively who is the boss. K and Adam see Kate as the boss and defer to her. All you can do is teach Kate to be polite about it, and take every opportunity to praise her when she uses her power for good.

In all my experience (including my memories of being a child) girls play badly in threes. Girls tend to pair off and when there is a third child, one is always left out.

I don't think there is any solution to this besides inviting another boy into the group. If you force them to never exclude Adam, then they will find vaguely cruel, but not actually naughty, ways to make him not want to play with them.

Kate has every right in the world to have some her time to herself. Not everyone wants to "play" all the time. The only thing wrong is her approach - but you know that. She is NOT being a mean and I feel confident that you have not called her a "mean girl" where she could hear it. I'm impressed with her for knowing she needs her own space as opposed to actually being a mean girl. I know one little girl that just starts breaking things! Her mom lost her wits with her and I (it was my house) demanded she sit down and talk to me. Turns out she wanted to be alone but she didn't know how to ask for it.

As for Adam, you are absolutely correct. He needs to work this out for himself. Do not get involved unless the teacher says something or he asks for help - YOU can tell if he is serious or just testing the waters with you or not. You already did.

They are becoming individuals. Sucks don't it?

To echo some of what others have said (and, as a mother to a strong-willed boy), I try to stay away from ever labeling my son as a 'mean boy' or a 'bad boy' and instead call out his behavior or words as mean, inappropriate, hurtful or not OK. Also, I try to understand what is happening from my son's POV. His reaction to a situation may not be OK but often times he was provoked in some way that underlies the incident.

It may be that the three of them are, indeed, spending too much time together, and in short order you could dial that back and see if it helps the interactions they do have. It will also allow them all to move outside this insular friendship triad and forge new friendships.

And, as far as behavior at school goes, I would approach the teacher first to corroborate the story and ask for guidance. My son once parroted back what he heard older boys say on the playground and told a boy in his preschool class that he was going to kill his family. My son didn't even understand what 'kill' meant. I discussed with him what kill meant and why that was a hurtful and frightening thing to say to his friend and asked him how he would feel if that were said to him about someone wanting to kill me. He has never again repeated it. Lesson learned for him.

My younger sister and I had a neighbor friend who was right between us in age. It was a constant battle of whose friend she was and why, and often times she was manipulative (she, too, was an only child) and played my sister and I off of each other. For her, I think now, it was attention seeking behavior and the beginnings of what turned out to be her passive-aggressive nature. I found that ignoring her was my best defense. Parents didn't intervene at all back in those days but I do wish someone had taken the time to ask me how I felt. I might have said I wanted to take a break from her or thought she was a bully or that she was being mean. But no one ever asked. So, regardless of how you perceive Kate's behavior, ask her why she is behaving that way and how she is feeling that she is behaving that way. You might be surprised by what you hear.

Before I became a parent and something I learned in business was "seek first to understand, then to be understood". I've tried to carry that into my relationship with my son and not apply my perception or judgement of a situation unilaterally without asking him why or how questions first. Then I can explain, redirect, or speak to how he answered me instead of what I think I saw or what I think he should have done.

Looking at all these comments you probably don't need mine, but I'll give it anyway, because what is the point of blogging if you don't give advise and ask for it in exchange?

I remember being devastated when my cousin didn't want to play with me (and we were together every holiday from the start to the end and on several weekends during the term too). My mom explained it as she was growing up at a different time to me (she was older by a fraction, so duh). I just amused myself until she got over herself and then we were all Cagney and Lacey again...

I would try to focus on not excluding Adam, because K had the option of playing with either child, and if Kate is in a 'mood' then he's willing and able to step in and be the BF. If you could somehow impress on them the importance of Three's Company (hahahahaha) then your problem is solved. Adam seems quite capable of playing on his own and with his siblings, so he seems to be the key.

Tough situation as they do spend a lot of time together.
Think Kate is entitled to time to herself for sure,wouldn't force her to play.
I find Sam needs alone time every day and doesn't do well with play dates often....think we are all different as to how much alone time we need,think she has a bit of her Dads' genes with not always wanting to socialise.
Also remember Kate has 2 of her own siblings that are still around when K goes home.K probably just wants to maximise any play time she has as she knows when she goes home she's alone.
That's my 5c worth....good luck

I am not a parent at all so it feels weird to comment, but I have just been reading a book about introverts (called the introvert advantage), because I am one. There is a really interesting chapter about introverted children. Because introverts have a very long brain pathway for processing social and external information, extended periods of social interaction can be very draining, and if you cannot go and have some alone time then you can become really grouchy and edgy, and in my case when I was small, just have a total meltdown because we just cannot take in any more social information and are at the end of our wits. This book has some really good advice on how to teach kids that if they need some time out alone to recover they should recognise it before they get too drained, or the parent could point out that maybe they need a quick break from playing before the child reaches over stimulation, and it should be put to the playmate very politely so that the poor child does not get hurt. Maybe Kate appears to be mean because she is just becoming exhausted and a bit frazzled. The fact that she already organises her own time out is a really good sign, she just needs some help maybe in making it an easier thing for her friend?

All good comments have already been made, but I like repeating myself (and others) so here it goes:
Good point from some other poster about labelling the kids. I have one very insensitive child and he just lacks interpersonal awareness for lack of a better word. He acts "mean", but he really has no clue. Girls may be stereotyped more easily into the "mean" category, since we somehow expect them to be more tactful. Even at 6. So my son can be just as mean as Kate. You could try to teach the kindness, but I am guessing that Adam may be better at this when he is older. In the meantime I would say that Kate is entitled to as much aloneness as she wants, but I would tell her that you expect her to say it in a way that does not hurt the other persons feelings. (Of course I have been telling that to my son forever, and progress is very little. Nevertheless, he should know how I (mom) and the other person(friend) feel about the words he is using.)
Should they include Adam? No idea. I usually decide that on a case by case basis. In our house these problems often arise, if the dominant child starts feeling jealous. Since he/she is fully aware that the other two play nicely without him/her. Of course that helps nothing when trying to find a way to solve the situation at hand.
But I think it is really a great experience for all 3 of them to be able to grow up so close. And while you observe a lot of "unfairness" in their play, it still seems a wonderful learning experience for all of them.

Difficult one this but I think the main thing that comes across is that their together time is probably too much. I see it in the interactions between my child and his cousins when they have simply spent too much time together weekend after weekend. Then we take a break for a week or two and when they see one another again the three of them play together like there is no tomorrow.
On the issue of "meanness" and "sensitivity", I also have the sensitive child and often have to tell him to stand his ground when other kids are being mean or bossy. We enact situations and possible positive outcomes for him (essentially, I just tell him to give as good as he gets but somehow he just can't bring himself to retaliate - poor child).

Is it necessary they are together every day?? If possible, I would make it 1-2 times per week. They will all get along better. Can Adam sometimes go to a separate friend's house or have another friend over? 3 is a REALLY hard number. I think it is all totally natural, but I do believe they would all be better friends and get along better if they were not together so much.

How about getting them a playdate with a boy who is close to Adam once a week? K. could be there too. I think this would even things out. I agree that three is a difficult number.

I agree with the others - too much togetherness and Adam needs a boy to play with. Also, I wouldn't just let Kate be mean with just a comment about it, that is grounds for punishment or she won't understand that the behavior isn't acceptable. You could also tell her when she needs her own time to just excuse herself to her room, bathroom, etc for a few minutes.

No advice, just sympathy. My daughter has been on both the receiving and the giving end of meanness, and it is MUCH easier for me to deal with the situation when she is the hurt one than when she is the one doing the hurter. I know all the right things to say to a child whose feelings have been hurt, but I'm at a total loss when she's the one hurting someone else. Having been the pushed-around child myself, I think I also have a tendency to try to protect the feelings of the child my daughter is hurting at the expense of trying to find out what's really going on in her head. I'm reading everyone else's advice with great interest!

I totally agree that it's easier for me when my kid is getting picked on/left out instead of the opposite. I try to remind myself of that when I get worked up about a mean thing that my kid did -- that the other parent is probably happier to be in their position than in mine.

Haven't read through all the comments but it does seem like lots of togetherness for the three of them. At the end of the school day don't most people need a break? I know most children will insist that they don't and want to play play play full speed ahead but in reality a little down time is usually a good idea. Could there be a bit of time after they get home that is set aside for quiet alone time? That might give everyone a chance to recharge their social batteries. Is there a consistent routine? Just like everything else in a child's life routine helps. Something like, come in, get bags and belongings put away, have a snack, spend some quiet time coloring, reading, doing puzzles, then something active.
It doesn't sound as if Kate is a "mean" girl and it is probably hurting her feelings when she's told so. She just hasn't learned to express herself tactfully. A 6 year old certainly hasn't learned to say, "I'm feeling a bit stressed right now after a long day at school. I think I need a few minutes to myself and then I'll be ready to play with you again." Instead they act out or say "leave me alone" or "your not my friend". Her need to be alone is perfectly justifiable she only needs to be taught how to express it appropriately.
As far as 3's a crowd, does it ever help when parents jump in and say who is to play with whom and when? What about instead of correcting their behaviour you guided them to a game that the three of them can play together. Sometimes children just need a little direction in what to do with eachother. Loosely organized activities can sometimes help.

Not wanting to play with anyone is fine, as long as no one is getting deprived in the process. So if TV is allowed, a kid can watch TV alone, but the kid can't announced that no one else can watch TV because this is My Alone Time. No hogging the entertainment.

Similarly, I think deliberately excluding someone for no reason is a form of bullying, and I say no. If the third person won't play what the other two are playing, or is somehow messing it up, then the third person can be excluded. Or if it's a two-person game, fine, but you have to take turns with who is included. But saying no just because you can doesn't fly with me. It's mean.

Do you want to spend every single day with your friend? I think Kate has the right to as much alone time as she needs, just like you do xxx

Re. Adam's situation, I think you're totally right not to intervene unless there's real bullying going on. I don't have children yet, so this is complete assvice, but my Dad is the principal of a boys' elementary school, and he often talks about how boys can be beating the life out of each other one minute, and then best friends the next. He says the one thing that causes problems is when the parents start getting involved for these sorts of minor episodes of rough play, and suddenly it escalates into an 'incident'. Often the kids don't even know what's going on, as to them it was no big deal.....

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