Every parent wishes their child chooses friends who are a positive influence and value the friendship. Oftentimes with kids learning about friendships, they need the help of their parents to learn how to choose the right friends – the ones who will support, encourage, stand-up for and value their friendship. Learn how you can guide your child in choosing the right kind of friends, and others to stay away from.
Children start building meaningful friendships around the age of 4-5. These relationships can be with classmates, neighborhood kids, cousins and connections through the parent’s friendships. As parents, we want to ensure our children know how to choose the right friends.
Before age four, children practice playing side-by-side where they are involved in their own games and exploration to satisfy their own desires, separate from one-another. After the age of four, children are more in-tune with working cohesively with a friend, know how to compromise and have better awareness (and empathy) of other’s feelings.
Most often, the start to friendships is nurtured through a parent involvement, demonstrated through your own relationships with your friends. You are showing your children how to communicate with others, share, encourage and qualities to look for in friends.
Guidance from adults will help relationships flourish and have meaning, but can also help kids weed out no-so-good friendships.
Gently steer your children with suggestions of how friends act towards one another, encourage them to be “includers” and not excluders when it comes to larger groups playing together, and also how to respond to peer pressure and bad behavior.
Model the type of friendships you want your children to have; how you speak to people, how they treat you and how they make you feel. Kids are always watching and this is another prime example of the early guidance they lean on you for.
Loyal friendships are built upon teaching your child to be a good friend and the traits necessary to maintain friendships.
COMMON INTERESTS TIE FRIENDS TOGETHER
It may be that kids are on a soccer team together, in the same class, live down the street from one another or are simply the same age.
There is one common thread that links people together, but on top of that, friendships require more depth. Lasting friendships are built upon finding many shared interests and enjoying time spent together doing them!
The commonality between your child and their friend is what will draw them together but finding shared interests like creating science projects, scrapbooking, making up songs and dance routines, playing basketball, creating jewelry or riding bikes will be what keeps them joined at the hip.
Help your children and their friends explore their interests and find things in common they enjoy doing together and help to foster their interest by supporting them and encouraging the extra activity.
Children will have a handful of friends that they have unique shared interests with each individual. Julie and Sarah like to take dance classes and make up their own routines together, but Sarah likes to play with her neighbor Emily and do crafts together.
Friends don’t have to fill every box our kids have available to check, some friends will fill a couple, and others will fill different ones.
TRUE FRIENDS OFFER SUPPORT IN GOOD TIMES & BAD
Friends offer support to each other when they are sad, upset, hurt, scared, happy, excited and to celebrate accomplishments.
A good friend will offer their support, encouragement, kindness and of course, be a cheerleader because the person means a lot to them.
When your child’s friend is struggling or has had something exciting happen, encourage your child to celebrate their success or help them as much as they can through the tough time.
Help your child see over the green envy monster – jealousy – during any big wins the other friend has had like a team victory, being elected to school council, etc. and show your son or daughter how to be excited for the other person.
If this means that Mom is the person who picks up the phone to dial your child’s best friend’s Mom just to say “congratulations,” then do it.
FRIENDS DON’T GOSSIP
Friendships that stand the test of time are built on loyalty, kindness and honesty, and this means that under no circumstances, should friend talk badly about one another.
It’s Ok for them to vent to their parents about something that they’re frustrated with or need help to understand, but especially for school-age children when cliques begins to form and peer pressure begins, talking badly about friends is a no-no and will only hurt the other person.
Practice role-playing at home. How would you daughter feel if her best-friend began to make fun of her clothing or the way she talks to the other girls at school? It’s hard being on the receiving end of gossip and role-playing is a wonderful empathy builder for children to remember what it “feels like” to be in someone else’s shoes.
Also equally important, if your child hears others talking badly about her friend, encourage her to stand up for her friend. Being a good friend means being loyal and sticking up for one another in hard situations.
When your children are learning to choose the right friends, a person that talks badly about another person will not make a good friend. A bad friend might not talk nicely, but also won’t listen, isn’t considerate of other’s feelings and might ignore or make fun of others.
PROMOTE PERSONAL CONNECTIONS
One of the best parts of connecting with another person, is that you are able to share personal feelings, experiences, and even treasured treasures with, without feeling judged.
Always encourage your child to listen with an open heart to what their friend needs to say. Family connections can run deep and Mom or Dad may be the person that your child likes to share with for now, but as they get older, they want to be relatable to their friends and that includes sharing their deepest information.
Young children begin the sharing process with their connections. Hey, we all have to start somewhere! Encourage sharing when they are comfortable with it, but don’t force any behavior they are not ready for.
As kids grow and get older, listen and gently guide the conversations you have to personal topics so they understand how to open up and what sort of questions are appropriate to ask to get to know another person.
HELP KIDS CORRECTLY HANDLE DISAGREEMENTS
It’s natural for friends to get into occasional disagreements and when they butt heads with one another, just like they do with their parents and especially with siblings, it’s important to come together and communicate.
A confident child will be more open to accepting responsibility for their part of the disagreement, be willing to apologize and move forward – all important skills to sing a good friend.
A parent may be needed to gently moderate a conversation about what led to the disagreement and help both kids voice their sides of the issue, before they can find a common resolution that makes everyone happy.
ENCOURAGE INCLUSION AMONG FRIENDS
It’s fun to be around new people and join a new group of friends, but don’t forget to remind your children that its important to be includers. Make sure they don’t leave “old” friends behind when new friends enter the picture.
When your kids make new friends, let them know that discarding old friends is not good standards. There are always going to be the friends who have grown apart and are heading into different directions, but if this isn’t the case, encourage inclusions among the new and old friends.
Suggest ways old friends can participate with the new group to help the meshing of groups.
Popularity is a passing dad, and is not usually created with deep bonds between true friends. Having a true friendship will last longer, and be more meaningful than being labeled a “popular girl” for the five-minutes it lasts.
PARENTS: WAYS TO HELP KIDS STRIKE UP FRIENDSHIPS
- Point out some of your child’s strengths (also a great confidence booster) and see if any of their strengths and interests intersect with another friend.
- Practice a simple greeting / introduction for your child to use on the playground, etc.
- Create a list of simple games or jokes your kids can share with other kids
- What is your child interested in? Consider enrolling them in a new class or sport where they can meet alike children who share these interests.
- At school, ask teachers about positive friendships that are forming (or be aware of unhealthy ones which is equally important), and offer to get the kids together outside of school.
Children will always learn the most from their parents. If they observe you surrounding yourself with positive, supportive people who love you, then your children will learn to invest their own energy into friendships like the ones they know.
If you’re an introvert like me, then making friends is more out of your comfort zone, but you probably have a couple solid relationships and can talk more to your children about the qualities to look for when they’re forming relationships, and the ones to stay away from.
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