A hidden fear of every parent is that their child will not have friends. We want our children to be loved by their peers as much as we love them. You would think we would quell this fear by teaching our children how to be a good friend, but often this training only comes in the midst of some type of “friend” crisis erupting in the lives of our children.
In the meantime, we allow our children to believe the best friends are the people exactly like them. The people who enjoy the same things they do. The people who laugh at the same jokes, cheer for the same teams, have the same classes and think like they do.
1 in 68 children is on the autism spectrum. About three percent of children have just moved from another state or region of the country. Ten percent of students receive some sort of special education. 1 in 5 teens has a mental or behavioral disorder requiring treatment. Ten percent of students were born in other countries. Your children may often be around children who are nothing like them.
As a Christian parent, this is a life changing skill I think God insists we teach our children. Our children need to reflect God’s love to those around them by learning to be friends with children who are very different from them. Not just be polite to them, but actually love them enough to become their friends.
I have been having discussions with parents who are raising children with special needs. Time and time again my heart aches as I hear how lonely their children are. No other child seems to want to or be able to take the time and energy necessary to befriend these children who are different in some way. As a result, children who are already having to struggle in school because of their learning differences also have hearts constantly hurting from the rejection of their peers.
As a parent, you are going to have to walk hand in hand with your children to teach them how to befriend children who they do not believe are easy to befriend. Kids generally want to be popular and have lots of friends. They want things to be easy, especially friendships. This often means changing even core things about themselves in an effort to easily fit into the popular group (more about that another day). You will have to not only coach them in how to love and accept someone who is different from them but also how to stand up to peer pressure if they are mocked for their choices of friends (and much more).
It is going to be hard work for you and your children. The rewards though are amazing! Your children will be able to accurately reflect God’s love to others for the rest of their lives. They will be more patient with people, including future roommates or spouses. Your children will begin to understand what it must feel like to be different. They will be able to share their faith with the millions of people whom our society still often marginalizes. Is it just me, or does this sound like we will be training our children to be more like Christ?
While you are helping your child learn to befriend people who are not just like them, consider befriending some parents who don’t have kids in the same activities in which your kids participate. Seek out the parent sitting by herself at PTA meetings or waiting for the children to be released from school for the day. You may just find some parents are very lonely, too.
The scariest thing I heard from many parents is that the isolating behavior their child experienced at school was the same treatment they received at church. Take a look around your church and make sure every child and teen (and their parents) is made to feel not only welcome, but loved and valued. Just because your church allows anyone to walk through its doors, does not mean your church is loving them like God would want them to be loved.
Don’t wait for some official ministry (although that’s a great idea too). Make it your personal goal. Encourage your family to join you in this special mission. See if you can get others to join you. We may not be able to change the world for every child who doesn’t fit society’s idea of “normal”, but we can make sure every child, teen and adult our families encounter is received, accepted and loved equally.