Help your child develop healthy friendships this school year by focusing on these purpose-filled interactions. Keep reading for information about our latest free family Bible study + an amazing deal you don’t want to miss this month!
Last year was a rough year. I expected 3rd grade to be challenging because of increased homework and the introduction of letter grades on my daughter’s report card. But my girl did great academically, ending the year with scores we were so proud of.
Third grade did, in fact, kick our butt, though. It had nothing to do with the work load. Instead, we had an unexpected, yet constant challenge looming throughout the entire year: friendships.
I always knew relationships would become hard, especially for my girl. But I never imagined it would happen so soon and be so intense that it affected her teacher, would require regular visits with the school counselor and would potentially taint her reputation as a good kid.
At first I thought we were the only ones. That my daughter’s friends, while individually sweet girls, were just a bad mix of personalities. When brought together, these girls couldn’t seem to avoid conflict. The foursome had a love/hate relationship – one minute they were attached at the hip and the next, they were split down the middle, fighting over some imbalance of power.
Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with a friend who has a daughter one year ahead of mine. I was only partially surprised to hear they’d encountered similar situations since the 3rd grade. We lamented over the challenge of helping our kids navigate such complicated adolescent relationships. By the end of our chat, we realized that at the core of the problem was our girls’ desire to “play friendship”; to mimic what they see on TV and in the media, which often involves intense drama and emotion.
Michelle and I decided we don’t want our girls to play friends. We want them to be a good friend and to have good, healthy friendships. But how do we help our kids go from playing the part to living real life with the right friends?
During the last week of school back in May, my daughter and I had a great conversation in the car one day; a conversation that organically led to many insights I’ve been pondering all Summer. I want to send her back-to-school this Fall with relationship skills that help her navigate the raging waters of adolescent friendship.
My goal will always be to help my children understand the keys to being kind and loving others well. But even more so, to grow a good reputation rooted in the truth about their value, and the value of the individuals in their sphere.
The insights I’m sharing below were born out of my experience navigating my daughter’s relationships this year, but the principles can be used to help both girls and boys grow good friendships.
What You Need to Know to Help Your Child Develop Healthy Friendships
- She needs you to teach her how to share kindness out of a whole and healthy self-worth, not just because it’s the right thing to do. I spent years teaching my kids to “act kind”. When I realized this directive was supporting a child’s tendency to “mimic” or “play” even in their relationships, I decided it was time to take the focus off their outward actions and begin cultivating a spirit of kindness within them. Because when we help our kids prepare good heart-soil and plant seeds of self-worth, they will relate to others out of an overflow of kindness.
- He needs you to listen without trying to fix the situation. Whether the problem lies with our child or their friend, our instinct is to swoop in like a mama bird and fix the issue. But our kids will never learn conflict resolution if we solve their problems. Often, we need to exercise restraint, take a step back and allow them room to fail and learn.
- She needs your help to understand her friends’ uniqueness and filter their behavior accordingly. It’s natural for kids to expect others to act and respond just like they would. Even adults have a hard time realizing everyone is unique and has different backgrounds, filters and needs. At the end of the year when my daughter came to me with friendship woes, I started asking questions about her friends’ individual personalities and I encouraged her to filter their responses through that understanding. This process will open our children’s eyes to see things differently and protect their hearts against unneeded offense.
- He needs you to teach him to expect the best in others. Insecurity breeds negativity. If a child doesn’t understand their very unique and very valuable self-worth, they will play the victim and always be looking for conflict. But a child who walks in confidence expects the best in others and gives their best in return.
- She needs your help in finding her voice. Before I became a mom, I used to hate the saying,“Use your words.” I didn’t know what it meant and it sounded patronizing. Then I realized this instruction was encouraging newly-verbal little ones to find the words they’ve been learning and practice using them, and I changed my opinion. In the same way, parents can encourage older kids to find their relational voice. We can empower our children on the front end with the right words to say in different situations or questions to ask in order to go deeper in friendship.
- He needs you to remind him it’s okay to explore different friendships until he finds the right fit. Our kids don’t have to (and simply can’t) be friends with everyone. While I will always encourage my kids to be “noticers”; on the lookout for those who need to be invited in, they can’t have a deep relationship with every child they know. And if a friendship is causing constant conflict, it’s okay to take a break and explore others that might be more compatible.
- She needs you to help her not take it personally. Kids are kids. We can’t expect them to have the relational maturity of an adult. We can encourage our children to understand that their peers are learning (just as they are) how to be a good friend. We can help them extend grace and protect their own heart by not taking the words and actions of others personally.
- He needs you to remind him to stay true to who he is when he encounters conflict. My husband tells the kids, “You should always respond to friends the way YOU would, not how you think they want you to.” When our kids are playing the part of friendship, they are easily swayed by the desires and emotions of their friends. But the more confident they are in the character they’ve been taught, the more true to themselves they will be when the pressure is on.
- She needs you to care about her friends. This doesn’t mean you get all up in their business all the time. But it does mean that the door of your home and your heart stays open and inviting for the important people in your kids’ lives. Our kids want us to ask questions and take an interest in this very sacred part of their growing up years. Start early. Because if you wait until your child is a teenager to start taking interest and asking questions, chances are it will be too late.
Relationships will never stop being hard work. But the right relationships are well worth the effort. The kind of friendships we dream about for our kids may develop organically but more likely, they will take lots of work and involve many tears (well, at least for our girls). One of the best things we can do for our children is build their confidence so that decisions about who they are friends with and how they treat others are rooted in their self worth.
The other thing we can do is to pray. To pray hard and pray often. To pray specifically for their friendships and for their friends. Let’s start with this prayer. . .
Dear God, thank you for the gift of friendship. As we begin a new school year, I ask you to connect my children with the right friends. Help them to be drawn to kids that enrich their lives. Give them eyes to see those who need to be invited in. May their confidence be rooted in you so they can stay true to themselves while being a good and kind friend. Give them courage to make good choices; choices that may not be popular but will lead to growth. When we encounter difficulties in relationships, give us wisdom and words that bring peace. May my kids point others to you in everything they say and do. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Stay tuned for more friendship-focused prayers in our Back-to-School Prayer Challenge coming soon! In the meantime, grab our FREE BTS Family Bible Study: The Popularity Principle (based on Proverbs 3:3-4). While it shouldn’t be our goal to be “popular”, this verse taught me the secret to being liked and admired by God’s standards. It’s a promise of relational prosperity that focuses our attention on the means (good character) not the end (popularity). Popularity will come and go but a
good God reputation lasts a lifetime.
What has been your greatest challenge in helping to navigate your child’s relationships? What insight can you give to help other parents?
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