How do I discipline my friend's mean child?

Modern Parent

I had a super uncomfortable situation today (first of many, I’m sure). My 4-year-old boy plays with an almost 5-year-old girl all the time. We’ve known them for 3 years now. Their little girl is great, however, I’ve noticed some manipulative/bully-like behavior at times with my son who is younger and tends to fall for everything and not stick up for himself just yet. Her parents often let most things go and don’t tend to follow through with consequences. We parent with a little more structure and an emphasis on kindness so it can be tough to see unfriendly behavior laughed off. But totally not the end of the world, it is what it is.

Anyway, we went to the park today and I noticed the little girl getting extremely bossy… pretty normal. I kept an eye on them. My friend walked away to chase after her toddler while I stood nearby holding my baby. My son picked a flower for my husband and was holding it. I watched the little girl whisper to my son, “hey can I have your flower, I want to see it!” I heard my son say, “not this one, this is for my dad for later.” She says, “Can I just see it for a minute, I’ll give it right back, I promise! I just want to look at it.” My son says, “of course!” She promptly takes the flower and aggressively shreds it an inch from his face just to be nasty. 

I’m so tired of the constant nasty behavior when she thinks she isn’t being supervised. I kindly said, “aww, that wasn’t very nice. here, buddy, you can have another flower.” My friend, her mom — asked what happened and made her apologize. Immediately after she seemed so upset with me because her daughter was throwing herself on the ground, presumably embarrassed that her behavior was seen and corrected by another adult. My friend quickly said, “we’re going home.” And headed out. I spoke up and said, “Hey, I’m so sorry if I made her feel upset, I just wanted both of them to know that I was there and that it wasn’t nice as I genuinely want them to continue to respect one another.” She shrugged it off, said it was fine, etc., but I can tell it was totally not fine for her. I told her she could feel free to tell me if she felt like I crossed a line. I feel like I might have ruined a friendship or at least strained it by speaking up for my kiddo when I was the one supervising. Then again, I never told her child “no” or that she needed to apologize. I simply acknowledged the behavior for both of them (mostly my son), by gently saying that wasn’t nice.

This is new territory for me with two young children. What the heck is the etiquette here? Should I have not said anything? I guess I didn’t expect a gentle, “aww that wasn’t nice” to totally throw her into an embarrassing tantrum-like attempt to deflect her own behavior.

What do you guys do when you see another kid blatantly disrespect your child when they think adults can’t see? Part of me wants to reach out to my friend to smooth it over but the other part feels like… if we can’t even call our kids out in a kind, gentle manner to promote kindness and respect, are we even friends?!

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