A few weeks ago I was sitting in Starbucks having my habitual morning coffee when a regular approached me and asked if I had a second to discuss something they needed help with. Of course, it wouldn’t be “just a second”, rather a good half hour or so to get to the heart of the matter—How does he get his daughter to stop hanging around with one of her friends who is a “bad influence” when she refuses to sever ties? Interestingly, in the last two weeks this has become a common theme, at least for concerned parents approaching me. How does a parent get their child to stop hanging certain kids/friends who are definitely a bad influence in their child’s life?

There are no easy, full-proof answers to this question other than collecting your family and relocating to another town. Then guess what? Your kid will probably find another “bad influence”! Unless you plan on relocating to Barrow, Alaska you will have to make do with good insights and even better parenting skills.

The best place to begin with your children is to open up the lines of communication. As a private practitioner teaching parents good parent management strategies, I encourage them to discuss their concerns with their kids—Discuss! The problem is that most parents take the wrong approach. They either teach, preach or scold instead of having open-minded talks with their children where the channels of communication flow both ways. You see, rule number one is that when you tell your child not to do something, they are more likely to do something out of spite, ego or curiosity. The only control that kids have at this point of their lives is their ability to make decisions. With that said, it is important to tip the balance for decision making skills on the positive side. And this is accomplished through being assertive with children—respecting and accepting their rights.

First, it is best to ask your child why they like hanging around the “supposed” troublemaker. What are they getting out of it? Parents can learn a lot about the situation, the child they dislike as well as their own child. You know they say that “birds of a feather flock together” and “it takes one to know one”. Is it possible that your child is stirring up the same feelings in other parents? Perhaps your child is a bad influence as well, or does “certain things” you are not aware of. Get to know your child!

Second, ask your child what they are getting out of hanging around with the child in question. What type of enjoyment, entertainment or excitement do they feel they derive from being around the trouble-maker? Perhaps your child is simply bored and/or lonely and is using this kid for stimulation to pass time. If this is the case, then it is time to address your child’s boredom and loneliness by getting them involved in activities, groups or events that will give them what they are lacking. Give them something positive to hang around and onto!

Third, tell your child how you feel about the other child. Do this in a non-threatening way. Let your child know that you love them, care about their well-being and only want what is best for them. When your kids hear it discussed this way, they are less likely to fight you and/or rebel out of spite. In fact, they will learn that you value them, respect their decisions and what they are doing with their lives. From this they are more likely to make better decisions and chose better friends. At the heart of the matter, children want to make their parents proud. If you tell your kids what you want for them in a non-threatening way that is reasonable, most if not all children will do their best to put big smiles on their parents’ faces.

When you follow these three steps believing that you are doing your best as a parent because you want what is best for your children, kids will pick up these cues and will try their best to make good, if not better decisions. The problems parents most often experience with their kids are self-inflicted. Many either treat their children as chattel (property), or go to the other extreme and treat them as miniature adults. At some point parents have to trust their children to make good decisions because they are not omniscient and omnipresent. Playing God is a tough role to take on!

Instead, by keeping the lines of communication open and treating your kids with respect, you create psychological parents in your kid’s minds to carry around with them. This is a very good quality in helping kids with their decision-making skills. Unfortunately, there will be situations where a friend might be an extremely bad influence and create very negative situations that you as a parent may have to put your foot down and operate on the premise of “tough love” banning your child from seeing that friend. If this happens, you still need to carry out the three step communication process until your child knows they are loved, accepted and trusted.

Communication and patience is importance when it comes to teaching children very good life skills and decision making skills. When feelings are involved it is never easy. And when all else fails, you can always pack up the parka, dog sled and family and head for Alaska!