As every new school year begins there seems to be so many issues to discuss with our children. From class schedules to school uniforms, there are a lot of to-do’s to be checked off of our lists, but let’s not forget that the social and relational parts of our children’s lives also need our attention and support.
Everyone wants friends. Even the most withdrawn and passive child wants to feel included and part of something special. The key to having a good friend is being a good friend. Even for many adults, this is easier said than done, so how much more of a struggle is it for our children? If we take the time as a parent, grandparent, babysitter, or older sibling to teach younger children how to be a true friend, they will not only have a great school year, but will have gained a valuable life lesson that they will carry with them forever.
To make it easy, here are 3 simple reminders on being a good friend.
Yes, to be a good friend we must be good listeners. Have you ever had a conversation where the other party never stopped talking or only wanted to talk about themselves? It probably wasn’t much of a conversation, right? The worst part about that scenario is that it makes that person one to be avoided or disliked. Speak with your child at home or in the car about being a good listener, not interrupting anyone when they are speaking, and the importance of being quiet so that others can share. You can even practice this at the dinner table or in the carpool. Explain that you will give each person a few minutes to tell a story about their day while everyone else is quiet. At the end, allow a time for comments or questions from the listeners, so that they can ‘practice’ paying attention to details and giving someone their full attention. This is hard to do in our distracting world! Encourage your children to continually practice these skills, and pretty soon they will become good habits.
2. BE KIND
Being kind is easy when others are kind to you first. The challenge comes when someone wrongs you or hurts you in some way. How difficult is it to be kind in response to meanness or selfishness? Children are continually growing and learning, and many have not matured to the point of reacting to unkindness in a way that most adults would deem appropriate. We have to teach them how to respond when someone wrongs them, takes their notebook, cuts in front of them in line, or calls them a name. We as parents may even be tempted to get a little angry when we hear that someone has hurt our child, and that is a natural reaction. We are fighting against that natural reaction, however, and choosing instead to return love and kindness for meanness. This requires having conversations with your children before school starts and certainly whenever an issue arises. The practice field for this concept can be found in the middle of your own home. Siblings usually quarrel every few hours, and those make perfect learning opportunities to teach our children how to react when someone wrongs them. Our examples as parents is another tool that we have. Our children watch how we react when someone cuts us off on the freeway, how we communicate with our spouses, and how we resolve conflict in the home. They will often mimic what they observe.
3. HAVE FUN!
Everyone loves to laugh and children seem to be naturally good at it. Laughter can be a wonderful gift that can lighten a heavy spirit or take our minds off of a sad situation. Have fun at home with your children and encourage them to do the same with their friends at school. Telling jokes, singing silly songs, playing charades, and just talking with friends can provide lots of opportunities for laughter. Just remind your children that this behavior is best kept outside during lunch or breaks, to the playground, and after school. You don’t want them to become a distraction while learning is in progress. If two students are having issues getting along, a great solution is to schedule a playdate or hang out session after school hours. Removing them from the environment of school and other peers can be just the change they need to get to the bottom of what’s really causing the problems. Parents can then intervene if necessary. A smile or a laugh can go a long way in making someone feel included.
Friendship is a wonderful gift that everyone should enjoy. When we can help our children work through the challenges that come with it, we are teaching them how to resolve conflict, how to be humble and selfless, and to put others’ needs before their own. As they grow older, they will also learn which friendships to keep investing in and which ones to let go of, which is an essential life skill for any person. Be your child’s biggest supporter and encourager, not only in the area of friendship, but in every area of their lives.