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On Forced Association

On Forced Association

Since I shared with you that I do not force my children to share, but instead encourage kindness and generosity and encourage them to share if they want to, I may as well also tell you that I do not force my children to play with one another.

By this, I mean that I do not believe in forced association.

As adults we are not forced to befriend anyone we find annoying, deceitful, boastful, manipulative, etc. If there is someone we do not care to befriend, we generally have that choice. I understand that there are situations where we tolerate behaviors we do not like, as in if someone works at a nearby desk in your cubicle at the office, but in general adults are not forced to associate with those they do not wish to.

No one makes you go to dinner and a movie with a friend who is a habitual liar, or a chronic complainer, or a manipulative jerk.

This is the same choice I give my children. This usually plays out quite well in our own home. Here is an example of how it might sound:

Child A: "Mommy, Child B won't play with me!"

Mom: "Why not? Were you being annoying?"

Child A: "(hesitating) … no…"

Mom: "Child B, Why won't you play with Child A?"

Child B: "She cries when we don't play what she wants to play."

Mom: "(to Child A) That is annoying. No one likes to play with a crybaby. Go play by yourself or stop being a crybaby and maybe they will decide to let you play with them."

Do you see how this mirrors the real, adult world? If you encounter a new friend who is a liar/braggart/bully/constant complainer/etc, you have the choice whether you want to continue the friendship or not. No one forces you to associate with that person.

Here is another example of how this goes in our home:

Child A: "Mommy, Child B won't stop bossing us around when we are playing house."

Mom: "Then don't play with her. Nobody likes to play with a Bossy Britches."

Honestly, these scenarios rarely happen at our house because my children understand The Law of Natural Consequences. Nobody likes a bully/liar/cry baby/tattle tale/etc. If you act that way, no one will want to play with you.

This is not to say that I allow my children to be rude to others when they exhibit annoying behaviors, and I also expect them to greet new friends enthusiastically, regardless of gender, race, religion, or politics. It simply means that I do not require them to play with children who exhibit undesirable behaviors.

This freedom has worked quite well in our home. I can see in my own children that it has cultivated in them a propensity to be pleasant and get along when playing with others. They know that if they are an unpleasant playmate, they may not be a playmate at all before too long.

They understand the natural consequences of being unpleasant. 

I think this is important for my children to learn, not only so they will be pleasant playmates, but also so they will be and look for pleasant life mates.

It won't be too much longer that I expect I will be seeing my own children marry. I hope that I have taught them that they need to choose someone who is pleasant, honest, upright, and amiable as a life-long mate.

They have the choice who they would like to spend their lives with. They have been practicing making good choices of who they would like to associate with all along, so I expect they will choose well.

What do you think about forced association? Do you make your children play with others when they don't want to?

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  1. I have a question. My 6 year old daughter “H” is very bossy and has a lot of “rules” to her games. When we have one particular family over to play their 6 year old comes in and says “H is being mean.” I have spent so much time coaching her on using kind speech so her friends will like being around her but it doesn’t seem to be working. This other mom is my dear friend and we have decided we don’t want to micromanage their relationship. We keep telling the friend child she needs to be verbal and express to “H” that she doesn’t want to do something a certain way but she is too passive and afraid. So we are back at the beginning. Is there any way to facilitate this or do we just have to wait for them to mature?

  2. I can see how this would work with certain types of behaviours. Not sure that it would work all the time – two of our girls are less than two years apart, and have grown up with two little girls in the neighborhood who are right in between their ages. The older of my two girls is naturally an organizer, maybe a little bossy, and the two neighbor girls are quite happy to have someone to follow and the three of them will go off playing whatever game they’re playing and completely ignore my younger daughter, who is sometimes suggesting other ideas, or sometimes just didn’t realize that the other girls were going and playing in the back yard (or whatever) now. She often feels very left out. I feel like this is a situation where the one with the ‘undesirable’ behavior (bossiness, and not helping include her sister) is benefitting, instead of having the natural consequences of people not wanting to play with her. The neighbor girls don’t seem to be bothered by being bossed around, and I think they feel like she’s the one with good ideas, so they naturally gravitate to we rather than my younger one. It hurts my mama heart to see my younger one wandering aimlessly in the yard because the girls took off on her again and wouldn’t listen to her. :(

  3. Great post. I think it’s important to mimic “real life,” and in “real grown-up life” we DON’T have spend extra time with others we don’t enjoy. But it’s also important for kids to learn to get along with people they don’t enjoy; to be tolerant, to stick up for themselves, to choose companions wisely. That’s also part of real life. Sometimes we are forced to get along with people we’d rather not be with.

  4. While the examples you give make sense, you have to be careful to teach compassion too. There are many circumstances where a child may be excluded from play because of something beyond their control… Their age, a disability (an obvious physical disability or a not so obvious one like autism), their appearance, or their clothing. I like to use leading questions like “how would you feel if it were you being left out?” “How do you think child x feels?” “What do you think you could do to help him/her feel better?” I don’t want to single autism out, but there are many children who would like very much to have a friend or friends, but struggle with social skills. Teaching a neurotypical child to exhibit patience and understanding with these peers is really a win for everyone in my opinion.

  5. We try this, but it never seems to work right. When we tell our two boys not to play with DD (who is normally the bossy one), my boys don’t seem to know what to do. Then the other scenario is that the boys don’t want DD to play with them, but she doesn’t take the hint. Maybe eventually they’ll get it.

  6. Great post! I do agree with you. I don’t “force” my kids to play together. Especially when their reasons for not playing with so and so is like the reasons you stated. I have one daughter that complained that no one wanted to play with her. She said she had no clue why. Later (that day and over the next few days) I observed that several of the other girls, at different times, asked her if she wanted to come play with them. She always turned them down. Every.single.time. I got her alone and pointed this out to her. It isn’t a lack of effort on their part, it was a lack of wanting to on her part. I also have a daughter with DS. She’s typically a loner by choice. Every now and then when her two nieces and our other daughter (all 4 are nearly the same age and call themselves the Four Musketeers) ask to do something, I’ll see the daughter with DS sitting there reading or playing by herself and I’ll ask them if they invited her to play too. They have no problems inviting her and sometimes she’ll say yes, other times no. I guess living with a couple of kids with disabilities, my have the tolerance for it and try to keep them involved. They are more tolerant of all of that in parks and such as well.

  7. I don’t force association, although it is a common aspect of my experience of the adult world.

    A bigger problem for my kids, though, is forced exclusion. It has frequently happened at playgrounds the my kids will try to strike up a conversation or start playing with kids who are a few years older (my oldest is five, and he will often approach kids who are 8-10). My sons usually start with something like, “Hi! I like your scooter. It’s a nice color. Mine is blue.”

    The older child doesn’t discourage it, although he might not be enthusiastic, but then the parents swoop in a scold my child for talking to an older child.

    If the older child doesn’t want to play, I don’t have a problem with that. My problem is with the adult notion that a five year old should not talk to eight year olds.

    It absolutely crushes my sons when this happens, and it angers me that what I think is a perfectly civil overture would elicit such a reaction. Honestly, I think part of it is the mentality fostered by the public school system. We’ve experienced this at dozens of parks and in three states (CA, OK, and NM), and we’ve stopped going to playgrounds because of it.

    Am I completely off my rocker? Has anyone else experienced this? How do you deal with it?

    • Sarah D. says:

      My oldest (almost 6yo) is like your son: he’ll walk right up to older children and start a conversation. I haven’t seen any parents stop him from talking with the older child, but I have seen the way the older child will just stare blankly at him. The older children don’t know what to do with a friendly younger child. It’s sad. I think you’re right in assuming a link with it being a public/ non-home school mentality. This scenario almost never happens with homeschool children. I don’t have any advice for how to deal with your situation, except that I might say the other person just isn’t interested. Most of the time, I don’t think the children even notice that the other person isn’t reciprocating their friendly enthusiasm.
      (By the way, we live in IN so that may have an impact on how people here interact with each other.)

      • That is so silly! To suggest that kids attending school don’t know how to socialize with older/younger kids is as silly as assuming home-schooled kids don’t know how to socialize with kids their own age! Kids are just all different! Some kids naturally have great social skills, others need a bit more coaching, and still others need lots of guidance!

        I’m also a big believer in “natural consequences,” but some kids need more help than just “Were you being bossy? She doesn’t want to play with you then!” Sometimes what seems obvious to an adult is not so easy for a child to navigate. I’m more likely to say,
        “Why don’t you invite her to pick who she is going to be and who you are going to be?” or “What ideas for games does SHE have?” or “Tell her how much fun you have when she plays with you.” “Tell her you are sorry you hurt her feelings.” “If that doesn’t work, find something to do by yourself and try again after lunch.” There are always times when siblings/friends need time apart, but I tell my girls that life is all about relationships when you boil it down. People are a worthy investment of our time, energy, and effort… even (especially?) the ones that are hard to love. And especially our family members God has chosen for us!

        These tricky social situations are really opportunities that are too good to pass up… for a mommy hoping to disciple her kids and nurture Godly character! It certainly takes more time and effort than the hands-off/she’ll figure it out/ ‘that’s the way the world works’ approach. But if I had to sum up my primary focus as a Christian mom, it would be to 1) nurture a love of God 2) nurture a love others. Everything else is a distraction from these two things–not the other way around!

        It’s not okay for people to mistreat my daughters and I hope I am also teaching them that they can have boundaries, but I actually think sometimes God DOES call us to spend extra time with people who are very difficult to get along with. I actually think that it becomes harder to avoid these tough personalities once they are adults and have left the homeschool environment! The world is full of them and guidance on how to have a Christlike response is so important during the growing up years.

  8. This is an interesting topic, for sure. When I was going to school for Early Childhood Education, I read a book that proposed a philosophy of letting the consequences of children be realistic to what they would experiences as adults in the real world. I think this post describes that well. There are some very good lessons for our children to learn in that environment. That being said, we should always teach them to be kind and respectful towards one another while not accepting or tolerating inappropriate behavior. I think there can be a tendency in today’s society that anything goes. Good discussion!

  9. Sarah D. says:

    Thank you! I’ve told my own children that if they have trouble playing together (someone is bossy, whiny, etc.) then they can go play by themselves. Works most of the time! =)