Telling a Friend their Child has a Problem

We’re tackling a sticky situation moms may face.
What should you do if you suspect a friend’s child has a problem?
Therapist, Julie Hanks, explains when to step in and when to step back.

1) How close is this friend?

If you notice that a neighbor’s child is overly aggressive and angry (hitting,
biting or throwing things) toward others should you say something? It
depends on how close you are to your neighbor. “I’ve noticed that your child
sometimes feels things intensely and gets a bit rough with other kids.”

TIP: Bring it up in a tentative, emotionally neutral way

2) Has your friend been open to feedback in the past?

If you’ve given your friend honest feedback in the past it’s more likely that
she’ll be open to specific feedback about her child. Even moms who are
generally open can easily get defensive when the think their child is being
criticized. If you suspect your friend’s child has some kind of emotional or
mental disorder like ADHD or Autism, it may be hard for your friend to hear.

TIP: Ask first if she is open to feedback about her child

3) What is your intent?

Look honestly at your motives and intentions. Are you bringing up a concern
about your friend’s child to make your little darling look better, or to make
yourself look like a better mother than she is? If you suspect that your
friend’s child is cheating on tests at school to get straight A’s you may want
to check yourself and make sure your motive is really trying to help her child.

TIP: Make sure your intent is to help her child

4) Does this directly impact your child?

If your child is directly affected by your friend’s child’s behavior, then bring
your concerns up to your friend. You first priority should be protecting your
own child, and preserving you friendship comes second. A common issue
with preschool and early elementary school is peers asking to show their
“private areas”.

TIP: If it impacts your child, bring it up

5) Are you willing to risk your friendship?

There are some concerns that may be worth risking a friendship. For
example, if your friend’s teen is drinking and driving or having unprotected
sex with multiple partners and your friend has no clue, for public safety and
serious health concerns it may be worth taking a risk and bringing it up.

TIP: Safety and health issues should be discussed

Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW is a therapist, self & relationship expert, media
contributor and director of Wasatch Family Therapy. Visit
for individual, couple, family, & group
counseling services designed to strengthen you and your family. We treat
mental health and relationship problems in children, adolescents, and adults.
Now open in Provo! For additional emotional health & relationship resources
connect with Julie at

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