I’ve talked recently about those special life long friendships and how important they are. I loved hearing all your stories of the precious friends in your lives too! It got me thinking about how I can better encourage those kinds of close friendships for my children, especially as they get older and peer pressure becomes more of a concern. This year, I’ve been partnering with Responsibility.Org’s #TalkEarly movement encouraging open conversations with our children to help foster healthy habits in the future. With school now back in session, friendships have become a big piece we’ve bene focusing on. Here are some things I’ve been thinking about, and some tips I’ve learned from the #TalkEarly program…
Last week I read an article in the The New York Times about things to think about when you’re child is headed back to school. The part that stuck with me the most was about the importance of friendships for happiness in school. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, co-author of the book Growing Friendships (a book for children on making friends) said something that really stuck with me: “It’s really impossible to overstate how important friendship is for kids: If you want kids to be more engaged in school, help them make friends. If you want them to feel happier, help them make friends. If you want them to be less likely to be bullied, help them make friends”.
So, it comes back down to how can we help our kids make and keep good friends? I’d love to hear your brilliant ideas!
Here are some things I’ve been thinking about:
Do they need more friends? Or is just one close friend okay? When school was starting this year, Henry was convinced he needed to make one more friend. He’s still the new kid in school, so he’s been a bit more sensitive about friendships since moving last year. And yet, he’s made two very close friends and seems to get along well with others he doesn’t consider close. So they question is, are kids better off with more or less friends? Or maybe you’re an extrovert and you have an introvert child, or vice versa. Psychologist Dr. Alvord said in an interview on Responsibility.Org ,”Research shows that even having one close friend serves as a protective factor against bullying.”
When kids are surrounded by good influences, chances are they’ll be encouraged to make decisions that they want to make, which is a lot of what we’ve talked about with the #TalkEarly program around the topic of alcohol. How a good friendship should encourage your kids to be the best they can be and help them succeed. Here’s a tricky one to think about: what if you don’t like your child’s friend?
Good examples beyond parents. This summer, Henry had a teenage cousin stay with us for a couple weeks that he looks up to a lot. His cousin mentioned how he found out a friend of his was stealing and decided he didn’t want to be friends with them any more. I was grateful to his cousin for showing him a courageous path in friendship and know it really resonated with Henry (he’s talked about it a several times since).
Pointing out your acts of friendship. I know leading by example is the best way to parent, but recently when it comes to teaching about friendships and being a good friend, I’ve started doing this forward thing with Edie and Henry where I explicitly tell them when I’m doing something for a friend and why I’m doing it! This would sound a little ridiculous and braggy to anyone else but hey, if you can’t brag to your children, who can you brag to?? So, now I find myself all the time explaining acts of friendship as “because she’s my friend and I want to help her”, or “because I really want to be a good friend”, or “because that’s how we treat friends”. It’s become a very repetitive thing but I’m hoping it becomes something they’ll internalize.
I like this friendship advice website for school aged children. Children can write in questions and the expert, a psychologist, responds to them in a very age appropriate and thoughtful way. I think for some kids that might clam up when you try to talk to them about friends, reading through these might be a good exercise for them to do on their own. Also, it might just be my kids but they’ll do anything if they feel like it’s a computer game! Also, some helpful tips in this article if your child didn’t end up in the same class as his or her best friend (always so tough!).
Alone time is important. I’m a very social person and thrive on social interactions, but I’ve been trying to be better about making quiet time for myself. A little balance and self awareness is something I want to emphasize more in my children too. More discussions about their feelings and listening to their gut are things I’ve been trying to prioritize.
Being curious about differences. With everything going on right now in the world, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to encourage curiosity and acceptance around difference. In this curiosity, I’m hoping they’ll find commonalities and friendship with people that may outwardly look different than they. Encouraging them to ask questions and be curious about different families and cultures, religions and background without judgment. No person/culture/religion/family structure/background is better than any other. So being curious about others has become something I want to encourage in my children more.
Role Playing. We do this sometimes with Henry, and will start to do it more with Edie as well. When there’s a social situation he’s uncomfortable about, we act it out with them. When I worked as a school counselor I did this probably multiple times a day with students to navigate intimidating situations like approaching teachers, friends, parents about tricky subjects. It was one of my favorite techniques as a school counselor. I’m super rusty now (it’s been years) but every once in a while I try it on Henry.
Any thoughts? What do you do to teach your children about friendships?
This post is in partnership with #TalkEarly, a parenting movement with Responsibility.org that encourages early and thoughtful conversations while modeling healthy behaviors. Thanks to Thanks Henry and one of his best friends, Charlie, for letting me interrupt their playdate with clicking cameras!