Tools to Help Your Child Make Good Friends
by Amy Diller
When my girls were preschoolers, my husband and I chose the kids they played with. Some of our friends had children around the same ages, so we moms formed a playgroup to see each other on a regular basis. It was cute to see our little ones interact with one another while it also provided teaching moments when they fought over toys or weren’t being kind as we weathered the biting and hitting stages. When they reached the elementary years, friendships began to move from entirely parent-initiated to more toward their own preferences.
As kids grow, the importance of close friendships increases and their interests play a bigger role. Parents find themselves a step removed from the process of making friends, so it needs to be a priority to teach your kids how to form and maintain positive relationships.
Qualities of Friendship
Think about your own friendships and consider how they began. They probably started based on a combination of proximity, shared interests, and engaging personality traits. Kids look for friends in the same way. Some kids initiate relationships on their own, while others need a little guidance. But all kids need to understand what to look for and how to be a good friend.
When you talk about friendships with your kids, start by looking at things the Bible has to say. Emphasize the wisdom established in God’s Word and the fact that the Lord’s character traits show us how we and our friends should live. Here are some verses to think about and discuss:
· Proverbs 18:24
· Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
· John 15:12-13
· Romans 1:11-12
· 1 Corinthians 15:33
Feel free to paraphrase verses to make it easier for younger children to grasp. Use examples from Bible stories to demonstrate the thoughts and actions of godly friends like David and Jonathan and Jesus with his disciples. Don’t hesitate to ask for help from the children’s ministry leader at your church. They would love to support you!
There are children who seem able to make new friends, while others really struggle. Depending on the situation, your child probably displays a mixture of both. No matter where your child falls, he or she needs your help to navigate the ins and outs of friendships. Here are some areas where you can influence your child:
· Model healthy relationships in your own life, including between you and your child. Demonstrate respect, kindness, positive conflict resolution, cooperation, sympathy, etc. Telling children is a good way to teach, but showing them through your actions speaks volumes.
· Facilitate conversations about relationships regularly. Find out what your child likes and dislikes about their friends so you can encourage looking for healthy traits while discussing troublesome negative ones. If your child seems to be drawn toward kids who manipulate them or monopolize their time, insisting that they be your child’s only friend, work on skills to speak up and how to pull back when necessary.
· Practice at home. Role-playing allows kids to experience and work through different scenarios. Things like introductions, listening skills, conflict resolution, cooperation, etc., help them with important tools in making and growing positive experiences with new and continuing friendships.
· Share that not all peers will respond with interest in closeness. This issue can be very disappointing and can potentially affect your child’s self-esteem. Teaching your child that other kids may not want to establish a friendship and those who are in your life for a season as opposed to long-term relationships. Assure them that these situations are normal and are true for adults as well. It may not take away the sting completely, but it will help increase their understanding.
Even though your elementary-aged child is becoming more independent in choosing friends, you still have a vital role to play in helping your kids make good choices. The following are areas you need to consider:
· Relationship with the other parent(s). Always get to know the other child’s parent(s) and not just through a quick phone call or at-the-door moments. This may feel a little awkward at first, but both families will benefit from it. Parents want to know that their kids are in safe hands with people who provide a similar environment and approach to parenting. Take the time to be assured of this by inviting them to join you at first while your kids play.
· Think about playdates and sleepovers. In order to deepen friendships, kids do need time together outside of church and/or school. What will your guidelines be in regard to kids’ time together? Where will playdates take place? Will you allow sleepovers? What rules will you have for your child while at another’s house regarding activities like watching movies, listening to music, and places they go? These questions will help you determine what’s important to you and what will be the best environment for your child. Share your guidelines respectfully with the other families.
· What about non-Christian friends? Kids will inevitably form friendships with those who don’t share your faith beliefs through school, sports, or other activities they participate in. So, is it okay for them to spend time together? Yes, but with some important parameters. You know your child best and can determine if she or he can stand up for their faith and speak up when something doesn’t feel quite right. Is the other child a good influence? Does his or her family hold similar values to yours? Work to nurture your child’s friendships with other Christian kids, spending the most time with them, but don’t miss the opportunity for kids who are ready to be a Godly witness to those who don’t yet follow Jesus.
Helping your child to develop peer relationships is important. As they get older, those friendships will begin to have a bigger influence in their lives. Being able to be a good friend and to nurture healthy relationships is a lifelong skill they need to have. You are the most important and influential teacher in the life of your child. Ongoing intentionality in guiding her or him is vital for your child as they begin to form their own friendships and continue to develop relationships throughout their lives.