7 basic friendship rules to teach your child

Making - and keeping - mates can be a complicated business
Making - and keeping - mates can be a complicated business Photo: Shutterstock

No pressure, but what our children learn about friendships now will affect every part of their lives as they grow, from the relationships they'll have in the future to the way they allow other people to treat them and how they treat others.

Making - and keeping - mates can be a complicated business but equipping kids with some simple guidelines will help them navigate their way.

1. You don't have to be a clone

Copying a bestie's attitude, interests or even dress sense - for better or worse - is standard kid behaviour. Hey, some of us are still doing it in adulthood, right?

"We're pack animals and we want to be accepted," explains child psychologist, Clare Rowe. "It is very normal and natural."

Even so, encouraging your child to draw a line between themselves and their friends is something they'll need reminding of time and again - especially before puberty kicks in.

"And the aim is to get that message through before adolescence, because no-one wants a child who is heavily influenced during the teenage years," she points out.

2. Know when to keep secrets and when to tell

We all love a gossip, after all it's human nature to share. But the gentle art of knowing when to spill and when to zip it is an art usually only learnt from experience.

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"A lot of skills have to be learnt through mistakes. You dob on a friend and the reaction means you'll never do that again," says Clare.

However, younger children often find it impossible to navigate that fine line.

And of course they'll need frequent reminders that if they ever hear something that could hurt or harm their friend or someone else, then they're allowed a pass to tell their parent or a trusted older person.

3. Arguments are normal and okay

When you're a kid, friendship fall-outs hurt. But children need to know that arguing doesn't have to be the end of the world - or the friendship. Developmentally, squabbling's vital because it helps us learn conflict resolution.

But if your child's struggling, Clare suggests workshopping a three step process with them:

a) Suggest they talk to their friend, say, 'sorry, can we fix this and be friends again?'

b) If that doesn't work, hang out with another friend while things calms down - and they will.

c) As a last resort only, go to an adult or teacher for help.

4. Numbers can matter

These days educators often encourage the idea of having groups of friends rather than just one bestie - it's been reported that little Prince George's new London school even has a best friend ban.

Whatever friendship path your child takes as they grow, they might need reminding that there are pros and cons to all variations and that mixing it up on occasion can be liberating.

Just know that different numbers suit different personality types: just one friend can make things intense; groups of three can be tricky, while being part of a larger group can be tough for a sensitive, quiet child.

5. Have friends you don't see every day

As a child moves through the school years, friendships can become intense.

Encouraging kids to have friends outside their day to day social circle is a way to relieve the pressure.

This might mean occasionally hanging out with a neighbour, someone they know from their sporting team or a family friend's child.

"They can provide a more relaxed friendship - and backup when things aren't going well," says Clare.

6. Your friends might need you to decode their feelings

While learning empathy and understanding takes years - and not everyone manages it even then - kids should be reminded to take a 360 degree look at why their friends are behaving in a certain way.

"It's asking your child, 'can you think of any reasons why your friend might have been quiet today? When do you go quiet?' It's teaching them to look at things from different angles," suggests Clare.

And for younger kids, sometimes all it takes is asking your friend, "are you OK?"

7. Not all friendships last and that's fine

It can be heartbreaking to lose a friend, but increasingly in our transient world kids move schools, neighbourhoods or even countries.

And even when they don't, not all relationships are meant to continue forever. Sometimes they'll only last as long as you sit next to them in kindy.

"Friendships can end in different ways but it's also very normal for friendships to die naturally. They evolve depending on our life situation," says Clare.

She also has a message for parents who often stress far too much when a child's friendship ends: "If they come home happy, don't worry about it."