Children are constantly experiencing changes in their lives. Whether that’s starting a new school, an exciting hobby, or even entering the next grade level, these moments are opportunities for kids to meet new friends and build a community of their own. Every parent’s worst fear is hearing their child struggle to make friends and feel connected to their peers. It’s essential that kids and teens feel a sense of belonging at school. So, how do we teach children to have healthy childhood friendships?
Navigating friendship is a life skill some adults don’t even learn for years and can be highly influential to your child’s sense of wellbeing. Talking to your kids about these friendship lessons can help them avoid chapters of heartache and unfulfilled expectations. Most importantly, instead of just chasing quantity, they will learn what qualities they look for in good friends. Here are five valuable lessons to share with your child about friendship.
1. Friendship is more than leisure; it’s a mutually beneficial relationship.
Many young children understand that they want friends but don’t always know why. Friendship is a valuable relationship that serves a purpose in your child’s life. First of all, it’s important to remind kids that friends will come and go. Not every friendship is going to look the same way, so ask your kids what they want the most out of their friends?
It’s common for kids to attach to one best friend and decide they don’t need anyone else. Remind your child that friends are both functional and fun. There are plenty of people out there that can offer your child something new. No single person will fill up their entire cup; however, they can find a combination of people that fulfill their needs and interests.
Discuss the lesson of purposeful friends with your child. Everyone in their life should be enriching their experiences, not depleting them. Having these conversations allows your child to be self-aware about healthy friendships. Maybe they will restore a sense of gratitude for the good friends they do have. Other times, they may realize they were chasing a ‘friend’ that isn’t that purposeful for them as an individual.
Childhood is confusing, and it’s a time when your child’s self-esteem is vulnerable. Empowering them at a young age about the true value of friendship builds a sense of autonomy around decision-making in relationships.
2. Friendship should never compromise your personal values.
Most parents understand the feeling of wanting to be popular. As your child gets older, they might start confusing popularity with friendship. A true friend will embrace everything that makes your child unique. Every child will have their own journey of establishing personal values and non-negotiables in their life.
Remind your child that acceptance from others is only important when it aligns with their integrity. School-age kids can feel trapped in a social bubble that feels eternal. Start an open conversation about ideas of popularity, friendship, and what’s important to your child. Tell them about the bigger picture of life, and share some of your similar experiences and how they impacted you today.
Children should seek friends that allow them to be honest, transparent, and authentically themselves. If they have to change themselves for someone else, they probably aren’t meant to be in their life. This lesson could save your child a lot of grief that comes with the impossible challenge of trying to fit in.
3. Friendship boundaries are essential at every age.
Discussing the importance of boundaries is a significant next step following the previous lesson. Every parent wants their child to have a strong sense of self. Boundaries give your child permission to say ‘no’ and avoid the negative influences of others.
Many kids find it hard to create boundaries on their own because they don’t want to be judged by others. The modern age is changing many things for children today, which is why personal boundaries are more important than ever. Ask them questions like the following: What are they comfortable sharing with others? What are actions they don’t appreciate? What are the morals and values that they won’t compromise for anyone?
Boundaries help your child avoid peer pressure and make their own decisions. Teach your child that they can respectfully decline an activity, conversation, or interaction if it breaks their boundaries. In the grand scheme of life, this is a monumental skill that can save them years of avoidable heartache.
4. Friendship arguments don’t have to be the end of the world.
Friends are some of the first independent relationships your child will make. They may understand how arguments work within your family, but if it happens with friends, it can feel like the end of the world. Teach children how arguments can benefit friendships, especially if handled effectively. Many kids will lose friends over one silly argument because they don’t understand how to navigate conflict with friends. Remind your child that disagreement doesn’t mean you can’t be friends anymore. Moreso, it’s an opportunity to have a conversation and make a relationship better for the future.
5. Friendship sometimes only lasts for a chapter of your life.
Some people are childhood friends forever. Other times kids outgrow each other and naturally go in opposite directions. When your child starts making their first friends, they probably start talking about all the future memories they will share with that person.
Prepare your child that if a friendship does end, it doesn’t mean that person wasn’t important. Relationships don’t have to end with hostility; sometimes, it’s simply a sign of growing up. People change, and there’s less anxiety if kids know it’s okay to let people go.
The Takeaway: Maintain Open Communication About Friendship
It’s easy for parents to forget that kids still need guidance on topics like friendship. They may not come to you for advice if they’re getting older, which is why it’s great to spark natural conversations. Have these discussions when things are going well for your child, so if conflict does arise, they are well equipped with the tools to handle the situation effectively.