Parents play a crucial role in teaching their children how to develop and maintain healthy friendships. Often this happens unconsciously, but it helps if mom and dad can find ways to be intentional about it.
The first step is to guide and direct your child in the development of strong positive virtues. In other words, you have to begin by helping her become the kind of person who can be a good friend. By modeling and discussing these virtues, you can protect your child from many of the heartaches that result from unwise associations. Here are some of the most important qualities you can build into her character:
- Honesty. A truthful child is more likely to develop friendships with others who don’t lie.
- Loyalty. A faithful child is less likely to be a fair-weather friend. Loyalty inspires us to support our friends in times of trouble.
- Respect. If you teach your child that everyone has been created in God’s image and is worthy of dignity and respect, she will be more likely to show consideration and thoughtfulness to others.
- Compassion. Children who have a capacity to appreciate and understand the hearts of others are able to show sensitivity to those who are hurting or needy.
- Acceptance. By modeling openness and inclusiveness and teaching your child to reach out to those who are different, you will enable her to build friendships with those whom others reject.
The second step is to build your child’s confidence. This is a key factor in helping her learn how to establish meaningful friendships early in life. What’s more, a healthy self-esteem increases the likelihood that she will make wise choices about the associations and connections she forms with others. You can build your child’s confidence by affirming her strengths and congratulating her when she does something well. Spending time with her on an individual basis-for example, going out for ice cream, taking a walk, or playing a game together-communicates the message that you value her as a person and enjoy her company. You can also facilitate the process of meeting new people by involving your child in socially interactive activities, such as sports or music. And you can encourage friendships by throwing parties and inviting her friends over for dinner. Trying inviting a different child over every other week.
Third, help your child develop an attitude of open-mindedness and acceptance towards others. Exclusivity is a vice that poisons the well of genuine relationship and friendship. It’s also a direct violation of Jesus’ Golden Rule-“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Here are some ideas that may help your child avoid the pitfalls of a clique mentality:
- Have your child invite someone new to her birthday party each year.
- Discourage an attitude of superiority.
- Read books that present the message that everyone is unique and has something valuable to offer.
- Ask your child to reach out to a classmate who is playing alone at recess or eating by himself at lunch.
- Help your child become involved in activities that promote teamwork.
- Teach your child how to reach out to the needy. Take her to visit the elderly in a retirement complex or nursing home, or sponsor a child in an underdeveloped country.
These strategies can go a long way towards defusing a very common mentality that might be referred to as the “cooties phenomenon.” We all know that little boys think little girls have the “cooties” and vice versa. But the sad truth is that the “cooties phenomenon” doesn’t really disappear with age. It just shifts focus. As years go by, children tend to choose their friends less on the basis of sex and more and more on the basis of appearance, achievements, athletic abilities, or social status. This is nothing more than prejudice and narrow-minded snobbery. We need to make our children aware of it and help them avoid it in every way we can.
If you’d like to discuss your concerns with a member of our staff, feel free to get in touch with Focus on the Family’s Counseling department. Our trained counselors would be more than happy to speak with you over the phone for a free consultation.
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Developing Friendships That Last