Today’s children are lonely. Oh, they are surrounded by people from the time they wake up until they hit the pillow at night. Yet, that is perhaps the worst loneliness of all – the loneliness that won’t disappear when other people come into view.
Unfortunately, so many aspects of our culture are robbing our children not only of quality parent involvement, but also the solid friendships many of us had in our youth. The incessant rushing in our lives does not allow for hours of “I don’t know, what do you want to do” discussions or analyzing everything happening in your worlds in order to support each other and try to make sense of things.
If children don’t fit into culture’s idea of “normal” or “cool,” the odds are even greater they are lonely. Children and teens want “easy” friendships in our disposable society. A relationship that feels uncomfortable at first is tossed away in favor of someone who just “fits” into their world.
Godly friendships take a lot of time and effort. You have to be willing to really hear what the other person is saying. Godly friendships require unconditional love. They require each of the people to support the other’s growth, especially spiritual growth. Godly friendships require loyalty and the willingness to sacrifice your own wants and desires for the good of the other person.
If we want our children to be in those types of relationships, we need to coach them into being that type of person themselves. Most of these are godly principles we might already be trying to teach our children. Sometimes though, parents need to also teach their children what it looks like in every day life to live out these principles. Without that knowledge, our children may never have the friendships they need and really want.
There are a lot of principles you can teach your child to help them become a godly friend. Here are a few of my favorites to get you started.
- Teach your child to look for the good in everyone and to see the gifts God has given them. Children tend to pick friends who are very much like themselves. Let’s face it, having things in common makes it easier to talk and find things to do together. The friendships that will probably help your child grow and blossom the most though, are the friendships with people who are very different from them. Help your child learn to consider every child as a potential friend. (Because of immaturity, I would suggest introducing your children to the idea of “acquaintances” for any children who exhibit consistent or dangerous bad behavior.) If a child is relatively well-behaved, he should not be rejected as a friend for external reasons. Teach your children to ask interesting questions when they meet someone new that will also help them discover the interests, talents and other positive traits of the person. Help your children learn to relate comfortably with people who may have problems interacting well in social situations. Train them to consider everyone they meet as a potential new friend.
- Teach your child she can have more than one “best” friend and tons and tons of “friends”. Children can become very possessive of their friendships. This causes a lot of hurt feelings and loneliness. Help your child understand it may be healthier and more fun to have a “Church” friend, a “music” friend, a friend who likes collecting rocks and a friend who likes vintage clothes rather than expecting one person to fill all of those roles. It also gives more children an opportunity to have a godly friend in their lives.
- Buddy up with your child on outings with other children who may have trouble interacting socially. Is there a child your child knows who is painfully shy, has a physical disability affecting communication or is on the autism spectrum? Your child may not have the skills yet to make the other child feel at ease, which is why many of these children have trouble making friends. Go with your child and model how to interact. You may even want the other mother to join you and give suggestions. A mother I know invited children who may have normally rejected her child as a friend to do fun things with them. On the outings, she taught the other children how to communicate with her child (he used a communication board) and what to do when he behaved in certain ways she knew they wouldn’t understand. Even though her child can’t speak or walk, years later, one of his childhood friends invited him to “walk” the sidelines with him during one of his college football games. The mothers had taken two children who might not have been friends without their assistance and helped them develop a friendship that was incredibly important to both of them.
- Teach your child how to be nurturing and supportive in his friendships. It’s the little things that make great, godly friendships. Teach your children how to be considerate of not only their friends’ feelings, but also their needs. Train them to encourage their friends to grow and flourish. Teach them how to be supportive in a healthy way when their friends struggle with something. Train them how to listen to their friends and really hear what they are saying. Model for them how they can love others as they love themselves.
- Teach your children not to make jokes at the expense of their friends and to defend their friends when others try to tease or bully them. Even Christians can be very cruel to each other under the guise of humor. Laughing “with” someone is almost always actually laughing at them. Continuing to tease someone about something that clearly makes them uncomfortable is never “all in fun”. Your child doesn’t need to become ugly, but he should be willing to say “please stop that” when others are mocking or bullying someone.
What other ways have you trained your child to be a godly friend? Your child’s friendship may just keep another child from the heartbreak of rejection and loneliness. It is definitely a great way for your child to show God’s love to others and share their faith by their actions. For your children to be truly godly friends, you will have to proactively train them in the skills and heart attitudes they need to have. Chances are great that if your child is a godly friend, some of her friends will be godly friends, too. And isn’t that what we really want for our children anyway?