Helping Children Navigate the Struggles of Friendships
Friends – from the preschoolers who share sandbox toys to the teens who share secrets, these can be the people who help our children learn more about themselves and grow to be healthy adults. As much as we might want our children to grow to be strong, independent people, the reality is that humans are social creatures that rely and thrive on close interpersonal relationships. Studies have even shown that as people age, they are 22% more likely to live longer if they have safe, secure, nurturing friendships when compared to those without these connections. For centuries humans have lived and moved as social creatures, and our children are no exception to these formations of relationships.
How can we teach our children the values of friendship?
To have a friend you must be a friend. It really is a true phrase, but it is not enough to simply hang a note with it as a reminder on the fridge and expect our children to develop into good, nurturing friends. Like so many things in life one of the best ways to teach our children how to be good friends is to be in healthy friendships ourselves.
- Talk with your kids about why you value your friends.
- Engage your kids in your own friendships – they don’t have to come for coffee with you but they should know who this person is and why you love getting coffee with her.
- Show your children how you are a good friend. Perhaps your friend is ill so you take her family a meal, or maybe you send a daily joke or prayer by email. Let your kids know why you take this extra time.
- Let your kids know why your friendships struggle. You don’t have to engage your kids into the gory adult details, but you can talk about bigger issues of trust, respect, and support that affect friendships.
- Admit to your kids when you make mistakes with friends, and show them how you make amends.
- Help your child recognize healthy friendships and be watchful that they are being good friends as well.
Encourage and reward healthy behaviors. If your child declines to join in a group and tease another child, a true friend would walk away with your child, not criticize her for declining to join in this behavior.
Help kids face adverse situations. Adversity comes in many forms, but true friends will remain by your child’s side when times get tough.
Don’t require your child to change who he is in order to be good enough.
“People with social connections feel more relaxed and at peace.” says Tasha Howe, PhD. Unfortunately this is not always true and there are times in our lives when we realize that either our own or the friendships our kids have with others are not healthy. These friendships become increasingly unbalanced, and the benefits no longer outweigh the energy required to sustain them.
It is hard to lose a friend, but I think even more difficult to watch our children struggle with their own friendships and relationships. In an age when kids are going through a social revolution of technology enriched and affected relationships, we need to be careful as parents and caregivers that we watch for signs that our children are in friendships that are more detrimental than bountiful.
Toxic Friends Are
- Unsupportive and critical
- Draining of energy and self-esteem
- Unequal in their treatment of your child or others
- Unsatisfied with what your child has to offer as a person
- Smothering in demands of time, expectations, or energy
- Unenthusiastic for the accomplishments of those they call friends
Signs Your Child Has Toxic Friendships
- Your child displays more behavior problems after spending time with this friend.
- Your child is more critical of herself and has lower self-esteem after spending time with this friend.
- Your child is often adjusting his own beliefs to match his friend’s.
- Your child seems more focused on pleasing this friend than on staying true to herself.
- Your child has lowered her standards for herself and others after being in this relationship.
There will be struggles and changes in friendships for your children, just as there are struggles and friendships in their lives. Sometimes in their lives the most pain has come from those who they considered to be friends, but I know that these moments are also teaching them important lessons about friendships they will need the rest of their lives. As I have watched my own kids evolve as friends, I have also watched them be blessed with solid, secure, and caring relationships. One of the biggest gifts a parent can receive is a true friend for their child. Thanks to all my kids’ true friends (and their parents for teaching them the values of friendship)!