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When I was a child, my friendship philosophy was more "all-in" than friend collecting. Once I bonded with someone, we spent every day making up stories and pretending we had James Bond skills. I may not have the same friends as when I was 9, but I know friendship still influences my steps. So, if you're a parent who wants to help your kids build strong friendships, think about what friendship means to you. What did you learn from your earliest friendships? What do you wish you'd known?
Depending on your child's age, you probably have a hand in initiating their friendships. Studies show that children between the ages of 3 and 6 tend to base their connections on the moment and change their loyalties when someone else caters to their interests. During that time, kids need their parents to teach them about empathy and give them tools to understand why deeper friendships matter. As kids get older, they learn how to form mutually beneficial bonds. Those lasting friendships have a foundation on a solid understanding of selflessness. No matter what age your kids are, the best way you can influence them is by illustrating selflessness in your life. It's also valuable to teach the difference between selfishness and self-respect. Selflessness doesn't mean self-hatred or letting others walk over us. It does mean giving up our own desires and comfort as an act of showing love. We may not need to "lay down" our lives in a heroic act, but we should regularly offer ourselves in service to others.
"My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends." - John 15:12-13
Kids tend to fixate on whatever their current obsession is, especially in the early years. That can require parents to give extra motivation to get kids to include people and ideas outside of their bubble. A good place to begin is by encouraging your kids to learn about Jesus with others. Attending Sunday school or a day camp helps kids contemplate that we are all connected by a loving God who created us. As they learn to follow Jesus together, kids can see that they share the same curiosities and struggles. At the end of the day, encourage your kids to think intentionally with an opener like, "Tell me about a few people you met and something you like about them."Sometimes we all need a reminder that friendship is about helping each other move forward. When one is having a hard time, the other is there to reach out a hand. The problem is that we often set our focus on receiving rather than giving. And when both sides are looking for what they can receive, there's no rhythm for growth. If your kids are hesitant to make friends or struggle with current friendships, ask them to think about what they have to give. Can they identify their emotional strengths? Have they noticed someone who could use kind words? What about someone with a talent/hobby that could collaborate with theirs? In what ways can they work with someone else in following Jesus? (Studying the Bible together, memorizing verses, holding each other accountable for challenges such as "This week I'm going to help my Mom with _, and you're going to do something nice for your sister.") Encourage your kids to pray with their friends, and if they like to write, they can keep their friends in mind with a prayer journal!
"If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up." - Ecclesiastes 4:10
To truly help your kids build strong friendships, they need to understand the power of forgiveness. None of us deserve forgiveness, so when someone does something wrong, that doesn't make them inferior to us. God calls us to share the forgiveness that Jesus gave us, even when we're really, really mad. It's good to have boundaries when people mistreat us, but we only hurt ourselves when we hold grudges. Give your child some examples, such as, "What if your friend calls you a mean name?" and ask them to describe how they'd react. Explain that it's okay to ask for an apology when feelings are hurt, but everyone makes mistakes, so they may regret losing their friend if they respond harshly. Let your kids know that they should always tell you when someone does something they don't like so that you can mediate. If a friend is continuously acting unkind, forgiveness and separation can go hand in hand. But big arguments can boil down to simple misunderstandings that a third party can sort through.
"Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends." - Proverbs 17:9
The first step to friendship (or anything else!) is asking, "What would Jesus do if He were you?" Having a relationship with Jesus is how we can learn to answer this question. To help your kids build strong friendships and move toward their purpose, show them what it means to know God. Show them through actions and teach them the simple truth of the Gospel. Know that God loves the real you, and give that message to your children. The more love you live out, the more you will influence your family to love and form healthy relationships. At Sun Valley, we want to help you and your family move forward. Check out our parenting courses, events for kids, and student ministries.
Written Content Coordinator at Sun Valley Community Church. An avid writer since the age of 5, who loves to explore new ideas and places. Inspired by Jesus, books, and travel.