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Heavy Meddle: Help! My 6-Year-Old Is Being Stalked By A Classmate

A mother struggles with what do about a classmate of her son, who likes him way too much. (rogersmj/flickr)
A mother struggles with what do about a classmate of her son, who likes him way too much. (rogersmj/flickr)
This article is more than 5 years old.

Welcome Meddleheads, to the column where your crazy meets my crazy! Please send your questions to email. Right now. Not only will you immediately feel much better, you’ll also get some advice.

Hugs,
Steve

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Dear Steve,

There’s a boy at school who is “in love” with my 6-year-old son, according to the staff. Apparently my son is extremely patient and tolerates this stifling attention, but when should we draw the line? I know the staff at school is watching out to make sure nothing untoward happens, they have reassured me several times not to worry, while at the same time telling me that this other kid’s behavior is really out-of-the-ordinary for this age group. When my son isn’t there, for example, they told me this boy is constantly talking about him.

Apparently some adult intervention had to happen the other day because this kid was so adamant about holding my son’s hand, while my son wanted to hold another friend’s hand. This kid literally jumps on my son when we arrive at school in the morning and my son told me the other day that this kid “is always on my back.” My husband finally told my son to tell the other boy to leave him alone, but I think we should tell our son to continue to try to be nice and patient with this boy who seems to have fewer friends than our son, who seems to get along with everyone.

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Our son has already said he doesn’t want to invite this kid to his birthday party (nobody invites this kid to their birthday parties), which I can accept, but I feel like my son might be able to help this kid make friends somehow or model normal social behavior for him,

I don’t know. I’m proud of him for being so patient, but I also don’t want this kid negatively affecting every day of my son’s life. Nor do I necessarily think it’s his job, as a 6-year-old, to have the responsibility of having to help a social outcast navigate the schoolyard. What would you advise?

Signed,
Worried About My Son

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Dear WAMS,

As the father of a 6-year-old son, I feel for everyone involved. It can be absolutely wrenching to watch young children try to navigate social situations, especially when there’s an imbalance in affection and social skills. It speaks well of your son — and how you’ve raised him — that he is patient with this other boy, who obviously admires him so much and has more trouble fitting in.

One thing to remember is that all these kids are 6. They’re still figuring out what appropriate behavior is. And there’s going to be a wide range when it comes to maturity, impulse control, etc. My kids have certainly jumped on other kids out of sheer enthusiasm, and been jumped on, too.

My central advice is to listen to your son, and take your cues from him. If he’s not deeply upset about this overweening attention, you shouldn’t be either. I say this because I think sometimes kids pick up on parental anxiety about situations that they might be navigating just fine on their own.

I’d also heed what his teachers have to say. They’re the ones who are seeing the daily interactions up close, and who understand the unique dynamics of this classroom. As you note, they’re aware that this other boy puts a certain amount of pressure on your son. And I suspect they’re trying to help this boy find ways to express affection while respecting boundaries. That’s their role in the process.

My central advice is to listen to your son, and take your cues from him. If he’s not deeply upset about this overweening attention, you shouldn’t be either.

And while it’s kind of you to consider how your son might help this boy make friends, that’s not really fair to your son, and it’s a bit of a setup, because this other boy clearly wants to spend time with your son, not other kids. If you’re feeling confused about how you should handle this situation — especially in light of this upcoming birthday — a brief meeting with your son’s teachers might be a good idea. Chances are they’ve seen situations like this before.

I don’t mean to minimize your concerns. I get that it’s frustrating to see your son being pressured. And in this case, it’s guilt provoking, because this other boy sounds isolated. But it sounds to me like the teachers are on top of the situation — they have told you several times “not to worry” — and that your son is behaving with poise and kindness.

He certainly has the right to tell this boy to back off, as your husband advised him. But I think everyone involved will benefit if your son can deliver this message with compassion rather than contempt. As concerned as you might be, imagine how this boy’s parents feel.

I know from both my 6 and 8-year-old, that emotions around social interactions can be very intense for children. They haven’t learned to play it cool in the way adults do. They still weep and hug and throw tantrums. But I also believe that kids are a lot more adaptable and resilient that we realize. That goes for both your son and the boy who admires him, WAMS.

To be clear: your son doesn’t have an obligation to play with this boy, or to invite him to his birthday party, or to relate to him at all, if he chooses not to. But the best way to view this situation is as a teachable moment. Because all of us, at some point in our lives, are going to develop feelings of affection for someone who doesn’t return those feelings. It doesn’t matter if you’re 6 or 60 — that hurts. And you can’t shield you children from this hurt. But you can teach them to set boundaries without being mean, and, perhaps more important, to empathize with those whose struggles are different from theirs.

Good luck,
Steve


Steve Almond is the author of the book "Against Football." He is the co-host, with Cheryl Strayed, of the WBUR podcast, Dear Sugar.

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