Q: I have a situation with my next-door neighbor, that has been going on for a few years. We both have twelve-year-old sons who used to play together often, for years. I began to see how my neighbor’s son was too rough with my more eidel son, and how he would tease him, and become very competitive with him. It got to a point where I would just have my son give excuses as to why he couldn’t play with him. After enough times, I guess that he realized that he was not very “wanted” in my house, and we’ve kind of had a “cold war,” ever since. I used to discuss the issue with my neighbor, but she would say that she doesn’t get involved with her children’s fights with friends — she lets them work it out. (Have you ever noticed that the parents who say that, are the parents of the bullies??) My son reminds me, in detail, of the things he did in the past that were problematic whenever I bring up this issue.
I do feel bad that their problems have affected the relationship between both families, but I don’t want my son to go through unnecessary pain. The boy has made friendly overtures towards my son in recent months, but I am wary of restarting the relationship. Any thoughts of how to handle this?
A: As you seem to say that much time has passed since your sons have been friends, perhaps it is worth it for your son to attempt to restart some type of relationship with your neighbor’s son.
There need to be parameters and expectations, however, if you will embark upon this project.
You need to assess the situation, and see if your son can be appropriately assertive at this point in his life. Your son needs to assert his wants and expectations towards this peer in order to avoid feeling victimized by him. You can ask your son about a typical scenario that might occur between him and this neighbor’s son, and possible ways to respond to it. You can role-play possible responses — you taking the role of your son, and your son verbalizing typical comments and behaviors of this neighbor. Acting out actual responses makes the situation more workable, and decreases anxiety.
Your son can respond the first time he hears domineering or teasing comments by being very verbally direct. Since this neighbor is trying to restart the relationship, your son can be more forth-coming. He can say: “You know, Shloimi, what you just said was a perfect example of why I haven’t invited you over to my house for a long time. Do you know why that was irritating to hear?”
By opening a dialogue, communication can be very clear, avoiding your son’s previous negative encounters with this neighbor.
In relation to your son recounting previous negative experiences with this neighbor, you can remind him of the Chazal “Kol hamaavir al midosav, ma’averin lo al kol pesha’av,” the greatness of overlooking another person’s shortcomings assures us of our own aveiros being forgiven. A person needs to constantly verbally stress the positive traits of Yidden, and focus on the potential of each person.
On the other hand, calculated risks are more likely to be successful if done with the right timing. If your son feels that he will be too vulnerable and uncomfortable in dealing with this neighbor, and doesn’t want to take this challenge, you need to respect his right to hold off. It will be a future goal to increase ahavas Yisrael, at the right time.