Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Kids Need Friends

Pretty much everyone knows that it's important for kids to make friends.  And I think most people will agree that it matters what kinds of friends kids make.  Some friendships are more harmful than helpful.

How do we, as parents and caregivers, help foster healthy friendships in our children?  One way is making sure that we set a good example in our own friendships.  Our kids watch us and often follow our example.  If we have friends who build us up, are positive influences on us, and are there for us in times of trouble, our kids will see the value of good friends.

Another way is making sure that we give our kids opportunities to make healthy friendships beginning when they are young.  If we let our kids spend time with friends who swear, hit, and bully, our kids will learn those behaviors.  If, on the other hand, we seek out parents who share our interests, beliefs, and values, and then provide opportunities for our kids to spend time with theirs, we can hope that healthy friendships will develop.

Unfortunately, we can't always control the kinds of friends our kids make.  Starting with preschool or daycare, we lose much of the control we have over whom our kids chose as friends.  Yes, we still say who comes over to visit and who gets invited to birthday parties.  But if there is a bully or class clown or rebel in our kid's class, we can't keep our kid away from that influence.  If there is a liar or tattle tale or an abused child, our child will be exposed and influenced.

Obviously, we can still teach our children right from wrong at home.  We can talk with our kids about the friends they are making.  We can teach them good friend-making skills (see this article on the importance of friends and friend-making skills by Dr. Michele Borba).  We can invite their friends into our homes so we can observe them and find out how they are impacting our kids - whether positively or negatively.  We can explain to our kids that bullying, lying, hitting, cheating, and disrespectful behavior are wrong.  We can teach by example.

Some of us can even make choices to limit our kids' exposure to bad influences by homeschooling, seeking out high quality daycares and preschools, and enrolling our kids in private schools.  If you have young children and are concerned about how their behavior has changed since they began preschool or grade school, I encourage you to examine your options.  One very legitimate option, especially for families where one parents stays home, is homeschooling.  This book by Lisa Whelchel, So You're Thinking About Homeschooling, describes a variety of homeschooling situations and encourages families that there is no one way to homeschool.

Questions for thought/discussion:
What do you do to promote healthy friendships in your kids' lives?  How do you respond when you suspect your kid is making unhealthy friends?

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