Q&A: When you hate your friend's child

Eileen writes:

"How do you handle it when you INTENSELY dislike the child of a close friend? The person I'm referring to has three children, and two of them are delightful. The third is a whining, oversensitive, horrid little tantrum-throwing brat of a child who is so awful I...I mean, the person I'm talking about...can't even stand to see a photo of him. It's seriously affecting our ability to do things together as families (all the rest of the family members get along great.)"

[EDITED: The conversation in the comments and another conversation I've had about this made it obvious to me that I should have framed the poster's question more with what I knew about the situation. The question is asking what to do when it is clear that the way your friend interacts with her child is reinforcing bad behavior and that the friend is not even trying to enforce boundaries or standards with that child. It's NOT saying that the friend doesn't have a perfectly-behaved child, or that the parents are trying but there are challenges. Also, a separate but related question is why the parents have different behavioral standards for one sibling and not the others, so they enforce boundaries with two of their children but reward bad behavior in the other. It's NOT about giving each kid what they need based on temperament and other issues, but about letting one kid be mean to others while the others are expected to interact nicely, etc.]

Writing this post has been like pulling teeth. And I finally figured out that I was struggling so much with it because it's hard to admit that some kids are just brats. And they're brats because we trained them to act poorly. But wow, who wants to talk about that? So this post isn't flowing the way some of them do. Grind through reading it like I ground through writing it:

Children are just people on the way to being adults. Plenty of adults are jerks we don't want to be around, and all of those people start somewhere. But it's hard to watch kids--who start out with no bad habits--growing up as people we really can't stand to be around.

It's especially hard when one of our friends is the parent of the poorly-behaved child.

Let's be clear that we're not talking about kids who are still learning social skills and who have a mismatch, or kids who are really little and are still learning. We're talking about kids who act like jerks, with adults and other kids, and display behaviors that are a direct result of how they're parented.

I wonder how many of us have this problem and are afraid to admit it, or to say anything about it to anyone else. I know that there's one child of one of my friends that I would not miss if I didn't have to see him or her again, and it bothers me, because I don't know what to do about it, or if I should or could do anything about it.

How do you say to a friend, "You know, if you give her ice cream every time she whines she's going to keep whining."? You can't, really. Or, "We can't have you over because your child alienates everyone and you never set limits."

I wonder how people can be good teaching parents--who really communicate functional behavior patterns--to some of their kids, while letting another kid get away with bad behavior. Or even promoting and fostering that behavior by the ways they act and react to that child.

And here's the sad secret wondering: Is my friend really the person I thought they were if they're raising a jerk?

I don't know. It makes me feel small. (And it makes me wonder if anyone's thinking the same thing about me and my kids...)

I wish I knew of a way to fix it. The only way to deal, I think, is to keep doing what you do anyway: Reinforce appropriate standards of behavior to you and your family. Protect your own children. Use natural consequences, both happy and unhappy. Be an example for your friend.

Does anyone have this same problem? What do you do about it?