Are your children popular? Unpopular? How many friends do they have? Are their friends encouraging them to do things they shouldn’t? Friendship issues often start in the preschool years and continue until long after your kids have grown up and left home. Your children’s friends (or lack thereof) and the quality of their friendships can cause a lot of drama and stress for your entire family.
Often at least some of the drama could be avoided if we had actively taught our kids about friendship rather than just letting them figure it out from trial and error. Knowing how to choose friends and how to treat friends will drastically reduce the amount of friendship trauma your kids endure. It can’t all be erased, because people are involved – people who are constantly changing – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. You can better prepare your kids though, by teaching them how to find great friends and how to be a great friend.
So what are some key tips for teaching your kids about friendship?
- Teach your kids what God has to say about friendship. Read them Bible stories about friends like Jonathan and David or Jesus and the Apostles. Share verses about friends and friendship.
- Teach your kids how to introduce themselves to new people and ask respectful questions to find common interests, experiences and beliefs. Friends start out as acquaintances. If your kids don’t know how to meet new people and discover those who may become friends, they may never have very many friends.
- Help your kids list all of the qualities that make a good friend. Although they will naturally include more superficial things, make sure they understand the primary focus should be on character.
- Teach your kids that the best friends will encourage them to worship and obey God. There are many types of friends. They should choose people for their closest circle of friends who will encourage them in their Christian walk.
- Help your kids understand they should be kind, encouraging and loving to everyone – not just their friends. A lot of friendship drama could be avoided if young people were taught to be kind and encouraging to everyone. Then no one feels quite as rejected as when they are teased or ignored.
- Teach your kids friendship requires time and effort. If your kids want to remain close to their friends, they have to put work into the relationship. Hopefully, it won’t feel like work most of the time. They need to understand that ignoring friends, being too busy for friends or not resolving conflicts will eventually end those friendships.
- Teach your kids how to resolve conflicts with their friends in godly ways. Godly conflict resolution is a skill that must be taught. Left to their own devices conflict resolution for young people can become ugly and ungodly really quickly. Often things are said and done in conflicts that leave permanent scars on the friendship. Some friendships won’t survive. Teaching your child to handle conflict in godly ways will increase the chances those friendships can continue and thrive.
- Encourage your kids to spend less time with friends who encourage them to make poor choices. Because young people are constantly changing, a great godly friend from last month can be the one encouraging their friends to shoplift the next month. Teach your kids to be aware of changing values in their friends and remove themselves from the danger of ungodly friendships when necessary. Don’t teach your kids to put loyalty before godliness – they are too young and inexperienced in most cases to overcome peer pressure and reform a child who has gotten off track. It’s much more likely they will get swept up in the negative changes themselves if they continue spending a lot of time with those who have changed.
- Remind your kids that while it is natural to change friends from time to time, they should still be kind and encouraging to former friends. Whether it is from changing schools, activities, interests or something else, young friendships often change rapidly. There really isn’t anything inherently wrong with your children changing friends periodically. They do, however, need to avoid crushing the other person in the process or treating former friends as enemies.
Friendships are rarely easy. Some kids will find making and keeping friends easier than others because of a variety of factors. Even those who make friends easily though, need to be taught how to be a good friend. Your kids can’t control how their friends behave, but often their example can set the tone for their friendships and their friends will mirror their actions. Make sure you have taught your kids godly friendship actions for their friends to copy.