Teaching your child to be a good friend

friendship
friendship Photo: Getty Images

My daughter picked a flower on the way to her first day of preschool. She offered it to a child when we arrived, and it was declined. (Perhaps not a fan of flowers.) She extended the gift to another little girl, who accepted it with a smile – and the two have been friends ever since.

Friendship is about liking someone, having something in common (even if it’s as small as a flower), and companionship. And while making friends may not always be as simple as it was for my daughter that day, it’s vital for our kids to experience the sense of belonging and social wellbeing that comes with having friends.

In our role as parents we need to be conscious of the friendship models we provide, because as always our offspring are watching and learning. Over their years of observing us, they’ll see good versus toxic friendships, arguments, fun times, and they’ll listen to what you say behind your friends’ backs. It’s tricky territory for all of us but we need to help our children navigate it, and arm them with the tools to make their friendships flourish.

We each have strengths and weaknesses in our friendships, but it’s worth striving to be the best friend you can be. These are the things I want my children to know about friendship:

Treat others as you wish to be treated

It’s an oldie, but a goodie. You don’t have to like everyone, but you do have to treat them well and speak to them nicely. It’s really important to leave aside the excuses (“But he started it!”) and take control of your own behaviour.

Expect to be treated well yourself

Knowing you have power over how others treat you is so important, leading to greater friendships and relationships throughout life. It starts at home: parents and siblings need to model what respectful behaviour looks like, and set a high benchmark. I teach my daughter to tell others what she expects – that is, if they do something to her that she doesn’t like she should tell them so. And if it keeps happening, seek alternative action, which depending on circumstances could mean telling a trusted adult or simply walking away from the person’s behaviour.

Show your friends that you value them

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Do small, thoughtful things for your friends. I must admit, this is my great friendship downfall and one way my daughter leads the way for me. She is often making little gifts for her friends, showing pure excitement at seeing their reaction. Letting someone know you’ve been thinking of them and took a small part of your day to do something special just for them is invaluable.

Be mindful of who you surround yourself with

It’s not just about having friends, it’s about having good friends, the ones that bring out the best in you. The people you hang out with influence your life in such a huge way, and you need to stick with the ones who lift you up rather than those who weigh you down.

You will have fall-outs

Kids can be fickle in friendships. Lots of time is spent together at school, tempers flare, tiredness ensues, and in later years hormones come into play – it’s a recipe for disaster. The occasional falling out is natural (for adults, too). Some friendships are to be valued and nurtured, while others will drift in and out of your life. Learn to know which is which, and realise that some fickleness is okay.

Forgiveness is the key to a stronger friendship

Sometimes you will be hurt, and whether it’s intentional or accidental we all have to find a way to forgive. Forgiveness makes us better friends and happier within ourselves.

Let your friends in

Confiding and sharing a part of yourself is the crux of a true friendship. It’s risky and sometimes scary but that’s the idea: trusting someone enough to show them your vulnerability. Perhaps just as important, though, is that you also need to keep some things for yourself and learn the limitations of what you’re comfortable sharing, and with whom.

Look out for your friends

There are three types of friends: those who stick around only for the good times, the ones who love the dramas in life and want to be needed, and those in the middle. Aim to be a balanced friend who always looks out for others without feeding off their bad times.

Trust your instinct

Sometimes your instinct rings alarm bells about a friend. Keep an open mind but always listen to your gut feeling about people – how much to trust them, when to let them go and when to stick by them. You won’t always get it right and you’ll definitely get hurt, but you’ll ultimately be a wiser and stronger person for it.

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