In Teaching Kids How to Make Friends, I shared how lonely this current generation of young people appears to be. This loneliness is leading to all sorts of serious problems including depression, suicide and substance abuse. Many children are thrust into environments with only one or two adults supervising ten to thirty children for most of their waking hours from birth until adulthood.
Some of those adults are wonderful, talented people who are doing their very best, but it’s almost impossible for a teacher to parent your child. Especially when they are also parenting the children of ten and sometimes many more other families. Sadly, most teachers really aren’t talented enough to do more than the minimum academic teaching they are required to do, much less add in things like teaching kids how to make godly friends.
Whether your child is around you one hour a day or twenty-four, you are responsible for teaching your child (amongst other things) how to make friends. It is a life skill, which means it must be taught. If you are constantly making and interacting with godly friends, your child may pick up many of these skills by observing you. Even so, it’s important to make sure your child truly understands what you do and how to do it on his/her own.
If you rarely make new friends or see the few you have, your child may never have seen someone make and nurture a friendship. Which means your child will have to use trial and error. It saddens me when I see children struggling through trial and error when the training of apparent in a skill could have prevented the child a lot of unnecessary pain.
So what friendship skills do you need to help your child master? There are quite a few, but here are some of the very basics:
- How to introduce oneself to someone new. It doesn’t hurt your child to learn how to make formal, proper introductions, but even a casual one will do for making friends. Shy or introverted children will really struggle with this. It is crucial that you continue to encourage them. College will be especially difficult if they have not mastered this skill by then. Your children should be able to confidently walk up to another child their age, say a few words of greeting and offer their name.
- How to ask questions to narrow the gap. There is a natural emotional gap when we meet someone new. If you begin asking questions and finding things you have in common, that gap narrows, making friendship possible. Walking away after an introduction greatly reduces the chances the new person will become anything more than an acquaintance, if that. Help your children practice asking natural questions that will help them get to know someone they just met. Focus on finding things they may have in common with the other person. (Having differences will make the friendship interesting, fun and educational. You must have at least a few things in common though for the friendship to develop.)
- How to include the new person. Ever have a great conversation with someone, loved them and then the friendship never really took off because you never spent time together after that? Encourage your children to include the person they just met in something to begin building a friendship. A quick “We were just going to jump rope. Want to come?” can be the beginning of a beautiful friendship!
- How to listen. Do your children know how to listen to another person, empathize and not somehow turn the conversation so it is suddenly all about them? Everyone likes talking about themselves, especially kids not getting enough adult attention. Everyone wants to be friends with good listeners, though. Your children shouldn’t always be the ones listening in a healthy friendship, but they shouldn’t always be the ones talking either.
- How to encourage. Do your children know how to encourage others – especially to do what God wants them to do? Encouragement is rare, especially amongst children and teens. Those who encourage others are often valued. Once again, your children’s friendships should provide encouragement for them as well, but giving encouragement often means you will receive it in return.
- How to be supportive and engaged. Sometimes it is the little things that make a friendship. Remembering birthdays, checking up on someone who is sick, taking the work they missed when they were out to their house and more show investment in the person and the relationship. Those types of friends are the ones that often stay in your life through adulthood.
- How to be true to core values. Your children need to be able to obey God even if everyone of their friends is about to do something sinful – and feel okay about it. This is tough, but if your children have friends, they will have friends who will sin from time to time and may try to get them to sin also. Your children have to become comfortable with taking the lead – even if no one follows – in obeying God. (They will probably be surprised to learn later that others wish they had been as brave and had done what was right, too.)
There are no guarantees, but if your children can master these skills the chances are great they will have some great friends. Remember the number isn’t as important as the presence of at least one or two and the importance of at least one or two godly friends. Taking the time to help your children master these skills will make their lives a lot richer and fuller.