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Helping Your Children Develop Healthy Friendships

 

Having strong friendships is an important part of being emotionally healthy.  Talk often with your children about how to be a good friend, how to keep good friends, and how to stay emotionally healthy by getting out of friendships that aren't good for them. It's helpful to think about what we are looking for in a good friend and strive to be the friend we want others to be.

Where to start

1. Model and have talks about the qualities of true friendship and encourage many

Start by making a list together of traits or qualities in true friendship. If your list looks anything like mine it's likely you'll need many different friends to fulfill your friendship needs. Having multiple friendships is helpful when friendships change through life.  You don’t need a certain number of friends, just a number of friends you can be certain of. 

I've put together a few talking points to help you get started.

True friends make you feel...

  • Good most of the time and bring out the best in you
  • They support you, listen, are non-judgmental, caring, and there for you
  • You can be yourself, you can trust them and they are honest with you
  • You may share common interests or hobbies, able to share secrets and deep thoughts, and have a good connection even if you don’t see each other often 
  • Friendships require attention and tending
  • Quality of friends is more important than quantity 
  • Be the friend you want others to be...you teach others how to treat you

A friendship is not healthy or true if: 

  • You feel bad most of the time or brings out the worst in you
  • If you feel judged, put down. or criticized more than built up
  • If you can’t be yourself, trust each other, or talk behind each other’s back
  • Feel consistently disappointed or feel drained spending time with this person
  •  They take and you give - not a two way street or reciprocal relationship
     

You could use a teachable moment to bring up friendship with your child after watching a movie or tv show, reading a book, or taking a class together like our BFF's and Frenemies/ Buds and Bullies. These can help kids be the friend they want others to be. 

2. Listen more than you talk

If your child comes to you with a friendship trouble start by simply listening and validating their feelings.  If you ask questions about their friendships try open-ended and powerful ones to get kids talking.  Your child shouldn't be able to say "yes, no, or fine" to an open-ended question. Powerful questions are big and begin important conversations. Try ones like: "Tell me what your ideal friend is like" or "What are 3 ways you can work on being a better friend?" 

Then listen. Listen more than you talk. Remember we have 2 ears and 1 mouth so that we listen twice as long. ;)

If you have a child that isn't as open invite their friends over to your home, volunteer for carpool, and look for opportunities to be a fly on the wall to observe their friendship interactions.  Pick a good time later to bring up things you noticed or create a teachable moment to start talking.

3. Share stories that may help guide them and normalize what they are going through

Let's face it. You've probably been there, done that or can relate in some way to what your child is going through. Even if your stories didn't have a happy ending you can talk about what you wished you did or how you would handle it today. 

Teach children not everything is about them!  Sometimes people are not the friend we need all the time. It doesn't mean your friend isn't a good one. Sometimes people are wrapped up in their own stuff and may not realize you are going through something, they hurt your feelings, or that you need them.  Communication is key. Always give someone the benefit of the doubt and remember not everything is about you! 

4. Role play with kids when they have friendship troubles

If your child comes to you with a problem or you suspect a friendship trouble its helpful to talk it out.  Help your child explore all the options to dealing with a situation. You could practice in the car rehearsing what to say once they have decided how they want to handle things.  Start this when children are young and you'll face less resistance when they get older. 

5. Allow time in schedule to foster friendships

It is so very easy to over schedule ourselves. After homework and extra curricular activities it can be tough for young people to have the time to tend to their friendships. Think about how hard is as adults. This can lead to loneliness and disconnection. Be sure to allow a little (but not too much that they are bored) downtime in their schedule to tend to their friendships.

If you have a child or teen that struggles making friends belonging to a group or club, volunteering, or playing a sport is a great place to start.  Help your child find "their" people! 

6. Don’t get overly involved

When we see our kids emotional or hurting it is normal to just want to make it better. However, children need to learn how to deal with conflict themselves. Sometimes just listening and reflecting back to them how they must feel is enough. You don't always have to give advice and you definitely don't always have to call the other child's parents to help solve the problem for them. Also remember there are always two sides to a story.  Help your child learn to be empathetic to how others may be feeling as well. 

If you don’t approve of a friend try to tread lightly. Teens are protective of friendships and their ‘tribes’ and may go behind your back if they feel you don’t understand them. Encourage your child to stop hanging out with people who don’t support them, cheer for them, or people who make them feel insecure or judged without naming names. And, remind them to not feel guilty about it. Guilt isn’t a reason to stay friends or to agree to plans. 

7. Talk about boundaries and ending relationships

In the early stages of establishing limits, remind yourself as often as needed that healthy friendships involve two people who equally respect the other’s needs for personal time and space. Practice communicating with love and confidence so that you’re not constantly afraid that setting boundaries will put your friendships at risk. When you decide that it’s time to talk to your pal about expectations, try using phrases like “It makes me uncomfortable when…”, “I want to share with you how I’m feeling about…”, or “We need to come up with a different plan, because this isn’t working for me.” If we are having trouble with a particular person often it is likely time to set clear boundaries. 

At the end of the day we all have many different kinds of friendships in life.  Many say there are three types of friends: those for a season, a reason, or a lifetime, and that couldn’t be truer. Not everyone is meant to be your best friend forever. And not every friendship that starts to fade is broken–it might just mean that the season of your life has changed.
 
If you change schools, neighborhoods, jobs, or end a relationship, you change the pattern of your life so your friendships will change too. That’s normal. That’s how “seasons” of life impact friendships. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong, it just means your life is in a new season. Perhaps Dr. Seuss put it best...

 
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