About a year ago, I (Nadine) had two teen boys in a social group together who did not get along. Despite their obvious dislike for one another, they gravitated toward each other each week. Boy A enjoyed needling Boy B and Boy B was very reactive to the needling, causing a combustible reaction between them. Their interactions definitely made the group dynamic complicated and oftentimes difficult. It certainly crossed my mind to separate the two boys into different groups, however, what I decided to do is keep them together so they could learn how not to needle and how not to be over reactive. As much as having them together was unpleasant for all of us, it was literally the best thing for them. We spent the better part of a year working with Boy A’s urge to needle others. He enjoyed it when he got a rise out of someone and did not understand that interacting in this manner would have a negative impact on his ability to make friends. He was coached on various other ways to interact with Boy B. On the flip side we worked with the Boy B so that he was able to recognize when someone was teasing him in a playful way versus trying to upset him. He learned temper his reactions over the course of many months.
The tendency for many people is to remove themselves and their kids from uncomfortable situations. No one enjoys discomfort, of course, but sometimes it is in those moments when lifelong learning can occur. In this case, this toxic mix of these two boys provided the environment where both learned to co-exist with the other. They will never be friends, but by being together, they are now have a better chance of making future friends.