There’s no doubt that kids and friendship can be a challenging issue for parents to navigate. Yet as their parents, we have a unique opportunity to give our kids the tools they need to encourage them in their friendships. In this article, Kristin Demery shares 10 things to teach your child to be a good friend and develop healthy habits that will positively impact their relationships.
The school supplies are purchased, the backpacks packed, and the shiny new shoes are waiting by the door. But for many parents, the social aspects of back-to-school preparation are equally as important as the material supplies needed for the year ahead. Encouraging kids to navigate friendships at school can be challenging. After all, kids and friendships don’t just set the tone for how a child feels about school. They can also reflect how a child sees themselves in the world. As parents, we have the opportunity to give kids the tools they need to encourage them in their friendships.
TEACHING KIDS FRIENDSHIP SKILLS
One fall, the transition to a new school year was especially rough for one of my children. Within a few months, she went from a single classroom—with her favorite teacher, a tight-knit group of friends, and a joyful demeanor—to switching classes every hour, with a dizzying array of new teachers and no familiar faces.
Friends were the most challenging part, never more so than when I overheard a video call between my child and her three best friends.
“Sorry,” they said. “We’ve decided that you’re out of the group.”
When I peeked in and saw her face—still on the video call—she looked stoic. But later that night, she told me that she felt like she had been betrayed. Angry and sad, she wondered why people she had considered friends would decide that the relationship was no longer worth pursuing. My heart ached as I hugged her and commiserated with her feelings.
Although my daughter soon found wonderful new friends, the truth is that relationships are complicated. As parents, we know it takes intentionality to build strong relationships, including friendships.
HABITS TO HELP OUR CHILDREN DEVELOP QUALITY FRIENDSHIPS
Thankfully, we can proactively encourage kids in their relationships by teaching them healthy friendship habits and helping them to be a good friend. With that in mind, here are 10 things to teach your child to be a good friend:
1. Practice listening to hear rather than listening to respond.
The Bible has plenty to say about being quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). But it’s easy to fall into the trap of waiting for our turn to speak. Gentle reminders to our child about giving the person speaking our full attention (rather than looking at a phone or doing other tasks), asking questions, and repeating portions of what the other person said can all aid in active listening. Listening well also helps our children work on developing empathy.
2. Be the person who invites others.
If we’re honest, many of us wait to be asked to participate in social events or outings. We want to feel included. But the fear of rejection stops us from inviting others into our lives. Encourage your child to be the first one to invite others in. If they are worried about being rejected, remind them that they can always snag a current friend to go along with when approaching someone new. A great side effect is that our children will also be more likely to notice those on the fringes and do their best to include them.
3. Believe the best about one another.
If a friend is grumpy or snappish, it’s too easy to think we must have done something wrong. Helping our children contextualize a situation is essential. And asking them a couple of questions may help them rethink a challenge with a friend. What else might be going on in their friend’s life that day? Are they experiencing any difficulties at home or school?
Giving our children the tools they need to recognize what might happen in a friend’s life (divorce, family member illness, other stressors) can increase our child’s empathy. An excellent next step is brainstorming ways to support our friends in their difficulties.
4. When in doubt, default to in-person communication.
If our children have reached the age of phones or social media—or talk to their friends through their parents’ devices, as mine do—they might benefit from reminders about how tone doesn’t always translate well online or via text. Discussing our own missteps in this area of friendship can also help encourage kids to reach out for clarification rather than remaining miserable or in doubt.
5. Talk about the characteristics of a good friend.
Discuss what it means to be a “safe” or “unsafe” friend who can be trusted to value our friendship and not treat us poorly. A few questions can help our kids determine who might be safe or unsafe:
- How do they speak of others when they aren’t around? Do they poke fun or gossip about them?
- How does the friend handle disagreements? Do they turn the problem into even greater drama by trying to get others to take their side?
- Does this person tell lies or stretch the truth, even about small things?
6. Learn to say “sorry” quickly and sincerely.
Ephesians 4:32 reminds us that just as Jesus has forgiven us, we must set down our pride to seek forgiveness and offer it to others. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
7. Model good friendships and share your experience, helping children understand that friendship struggles are normal.
As a mom, I can be vulnerable and discuss if a friend hurt my feelings and how I responded (in age-appropriate ways that honor my friendships). It matters that I talk about feeling lonely or left out. It matters when I talk about the good things, too—the purpose and joy of friendships.
8. Celebrate our friends’ successes.
Sometimes, it can feel like the world is one big competition. Let’s help our children reframe friendships through the lens of collaboration rather than competition. A game-winning goal, a grade someone worked hard for, or even someone’s innate characteristic (their kindness, their support of others) are all worth celebrating. Cheerleading others costs us nothing but is one of the best ways to strengthen our friendships. Encourage children to write a picture or note, send a text, or simply say aloud something that they appreciate about a friend or think is worth celebrating.
9. Make space in your life and home for friendships.
Just as my husband and I set aside time for our friends, we find pockets of time for our daughters to invite their friends to our house. Welcoming our kids’ friends into our home shows that friendships are something that should receive as much attention and priority as work, church, or school. It also gives us as parents the opportunity to show care and concern for the young people who influence our kids through friendship.
10. Remind children that regardless of what happens at school or with others, Jesus is their first, true Friend.
Our children are fully loved for who they are, regardless of what anyone else says. Unlike our other relationships, God’s love for us is uncomplicated. It’s unfailing. Steadfast. Better yet, it’s unconditional. If God could love us while we were still sinners—and He did and does!—then there is nothing that can separate us from His love. In Jesus, we have the reassurance we need from someone who will never let us down, never give up on loving us, and never walk away from our relationship.
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