Dear Patti,

When I was in high school, Iris and I were in a few classes together but we were just acquaintances, never really friends. We ran in different circles. Iris hung around the popular kids and I didn’t. She was thin and graceful and I always thought she was beautiful. 

I hadn’t seen Iris for 10 years. We met up again when we were both pregnant at the same time and in the same childbirth class. Iris was carrying twins and was having a difficult pregnancy. I felt empathy for her, helped her whenever I could and we became fast friends. Most of the time it didn’t matter, but sometimes I’d look at her and couldn’t believe I was best friends with the same gorgeous girl from high school.

Iris’ twin girls—Charlotte and Olivia—are of course the same age (4) as my daughter, Cora. Iris and I get together several times a week and the girls play with each other. If I’m honest, Charlotte and Olivia don’t play very nice (especially Olivia) but Iris doesn’t do anything about it. I’ve tried to bring it up to Iris but she makes excuses or changes the subject. The twins are kind of hyper and run around my house tearing up and breaking things. More importantly, they taunt and tease Cora and aren’t very nice to her. Olivia will call Cora names, then both twins will laugh at her and run away. I’ve seen them grab Cora’s favorite doll and play keep away with it. I’ve tried to tell them to stop but they don’t pay any attention to me.

I know kids will be kids and maybe I shouldn’t interfere and let all three of them work it out. Then again, I sometimes wonder if maybe I should be doing something. Iris is my dearest friend and I don’t want to hurt her, but her girls are out of control. I think she realizes it but feels helpless and just hopes they’ll grow out of it. I don’t want to make too big a thing out of it.

  — Sarah

Dear Sarah,

I appreciate your concern for Iris and even for her twin girls but your priority is your daughter. Cora is only four years old and if you don’t protect her in a situation like this, who will? She can’t choose whether or not the twins come over to play; she’s automatically put together with them repeatedly because you and Iris are friends. Olivia and Charlotte are sisters and it sounds like it’s often two against one.

Sit down with Cora and ask her how she feels. Listen to her experience. Is it a big problem for her? Ask her if she likes playing with the twins and let her tell you why or why not. Cora needs to know you care about what she goes through. It’s important that her hurt isn’t ignored and that she doesn’t end up feeling invisible.

Rather than try to discipline Iris’ children, talk to Iris directly. It’s best to avoid labeling her daughters; i.e., calling them hyper or using broad terms such as saying her children are out of control. Instead, list the behaviors that are unacceptable such as taunting, teasing, calling names or breaking Cora’s toys. Set down boundaries and state that if Charlotte and Olivia’s actions continue to appear to you to be not nice and friendly but seem hostile toward Cora, you’ll have to take a break from playdates. Let her know you’ll be happy to see her for coffee or lunch but without your three children for a while. Due to logistics, I understand this might be difficult to do, but let Iris know you’re serious about protecting your daughter.

Since you brought up that Iris was the popular girl in high school and you weren’t, make sure there isn’t a residue of emotion from those times when you felt Iris was more important than you. You and Cora are equally important and you have the right to know that Iris cares about Cora’s feelings as well. Not to mention, if Iris stops her daughters from acting out cruel or socially unacceptable behaviors, it will definitely be better for them as well.

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email Visit her website,