Care and Feeding

Not So Neighborly

My 6-year-old son and our 11-year-old neighbor don’t always get along when they play. Should I intervene?

A girl and a boy yelling at one another.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Milkos/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My family and I moved to a new town last summer. The next-door neighbor kids made quick friends with my 6-year-old son. The 11-year-old, “Riley,” plays with my son almost every day after school. The problem is that the two of them don’t always get along. My son can be bossy and controlling, and they fight when they can’t agree on what to play. I usually step in and let my son know when he’s being unreasonable, and I try to shift their focus by suggesting other ideas of what they can play, but it’s usually met with protests. They can usually work it out, but I’m sure there’s resentment on Riley’s side, as she often makes many concessions during those times. In fact, when she has other kids to play with and my son wants to join them, she’ll passive-aggressively try to push his buttons or work to exclude him.

While I have a lot of sympathy for Riley (she has mean older teenage brothers at home, and their home appears messy and is slated to be torn down for development), when she picks on my son and ignores him, my mother-bear instincts kick in, and I let her know that she’s not being nice.

She’s kind of like a big sister to him, and siblings often have their fights. Should I let them continue to hang out? Or do I work to reduce their interactions, stop letting her come over so often, etc.? I had been planning on fostering their friendship after she moves out of her house, but the fighting with Riley has been getting worse lately, so now I’m not so sure. My son really values his friendship with Riley.

—Neighborhood Friends

Dear NF,

It’s amazing to me that your 6-year-old and this 11-year-old have been able to maintain even this level of relationship. They are in such different places, and it speaks to a genuine, familial kind of love between them, which is great.

To be honest here, I don’t see very much of an issue, at least not one that has to do with you. Occasionally, kids need adult help navigating their relationships, and it seems you are providing that. No one is coming to you and saying, “I don’t ever want to play with this kid again, and don’t make me,” so it’s not like you have some significant decision facing you. I think you can continue dipping in and out with light crisis management like you’ve been doing and let nature take its course.

These two may remain friends for a long time, or they may grow apart quite naturally. The most you can do is provide the opportunity for them to remain connected should they want to as they grow. But to me this sounds sweet and I’m hoping they stay in each other’s lives for a long time.