Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Children and friendships...some random thoughts from an older woman.

Warning: In retrospect, I should have turned this subject into a series. As it is, the post is long, so you may want to break it down into separate readings.

Here are some random thoughts on children and friendship. Some of these principles I learned through putting the Bible and godly advice into practice; others I learned through making mistakes.

1) How are your own friendships? Have you ever done a study of what the Lord's word says about friendships? (Proverbs is a great place to start, and another great thing to do is to look in the Gospels about how the Lord interacted with people -- from his closest friends and disciples to people with whom he had only one good conversation. What are your strengths in friendship? What are your weaknesses? In what ways would you like to grow in your friendships this year? Your children will pick up on the quality of friendships you have, and their friendships will mirror yours --at least to some degree.
2) What are your children's strengths and weaknesses when it comes to making and keeping friendships? Not all children in the same family will have the same talents for friendships or the same approach to building relationships. We have one child who has always made friends easily, and we have another child for whom this did not come naturally in the beginning. The child who made friends more easily had one set of joys and challenges, and the child who was less outgoing in the beginning had another set of blessings and trials. Understanding each child's individual nature will help you help them to foster healthy relationships according to their individual needs. Don't try to force one child to be exactly like another brother or sister; teach him how to have the heart of Jesus in friendships and guide him in making the most of his own personality.
3) Friendships are a sweet blessing in our lives. However, friendships aren't just about having our needs for companionship met. They are a chance to put into practice agape love, which seeks the other person's good. Also, it's worth noting that there are different levels of friendship. Certainly, our child's closest buddies should be those whose attitudes encourage our child in faith and character. But, we should also teach our children how to reach out to someone who is shy, someone who is new in town, someone who is challenged in some way, or someone otherwise in need of a little kind attention. Look at the way the Lord extended friendship to the lost and the outcast. Teach your child to be likewise unselfish in friendship. Also, teach your children not to from exclusive cliques that make others feel unwanted or inferior.
4) Often, a child's shyness or outgoingness is evident from babyhood. Even young children can learn be more confident if you teach them to wave and say hello to others from the safety of your arms. Also, as a child grows, teach him how to greet anyone who comes into your home, how to look someone in the eye when meeting them, and other little relationships skills. Don't assume that a child will automatically know the little courtesies of a friendship. A child will absorb much from watching you, but he will still need your guidance with the nuances of relating well to others.
5) Sometimes, a preteen who was an outgoing child will suddenly become withdrawn from his usual friendships. Or, a child will radically change his set of friends. These are red flags that something is bothering your child. It could be something as something as simple as feeling awkward in a growing body, or it could be something deeper. It's good to pray about why your child has withdrawn from former friendships, and it's good listen, listen, listen to your child in order to discern the cause. Sometimes, it works the other way, as well. A shy child may blossom as he or she gets older and outgrows self-consciousness. Or, a child may retain the same basic nature, but he or she may learn how to overcome weaknesses and make the most of strengths.
6) Your child's group of friends may change, too, as they hit the preteen years. Our daughter had a number of friends in the area where we lived who were happy, wholesome children. In the preteen years, some within this group started getting into activities and attitudes that were not helpful, to say the least. Fortunately, our daughter recognized that and realized that if she just drifted along with her old friends, she'd end up being involved with those things, as well. But, things like that are reasons why it's good to know your children's friends.
7) Know that it will take sacrifice on your part to ensure that your children have wholesome friendships. Are you willing to have your children's friends into your home? Are you willing to drive your children to activities where they make wholesome friendships. Do you make it a point to get to know some of the families of your child's friends? Do you pray with your child for his friends, and do you pray on your own about his friends?
8) Do your older children -- teens and adults -- have older role models in their lives in addition to you and dear hubby? Of course, such mentoring relationships can't and shouldn't take away from your role as your children's parents. But, they can and should supplement your parenting and also enrich your children's lives. Teen and adult children should also be building peer relationships that will be a lifelong encouragement to them. Pray for your child to have a close, faithful friend who will be a positive presence in his life through thick and thin. Keep praying about your child's friendships after your child grows up and is making his own decisions about relationships, and pray this for your grandchildren -- future or present.
9) In a friendship, are both your child and your child's friend encouraging each other and bringing out the best in each other? In that case, be happy. Or, are they bringing out each other's weaknesses? If it's the latter, what can you do to help them build a more positive relationship? If, despite prayer and action, it doesn't get any better, do you want to encourage this relationship to continue? If your child has a friend who is going through some tough times, is your child being a positive example for the friend? If so, that can be good, and it can give you a chance to teach your child how to persevere in love in order to help a troubled friend. On the other hand, is your child bowing to a troubled friend's negative influence? In that case, you may need to help your child learn how to stand firm, but with gentleness and love. Or, it could be that your child is in a situation he or she is not prepared to handle. You may need to monitor the friendship in order to protect your child.
10) Is your child getting picked on or teased or criticized to the point of losing confidence? In life, we will all encounter a difficult relationship now and again. Part of growing up is learning how to deal with relationship difficulties. Also, all who want to live a godly life will be persecuted, so our children must learn how to maintain convictions in the face of opposition. Thus, you can turn many difficult friendship moments into learning experiences for your child. You can provide support, love, prayer, and encouragement, while allowing the child to have the victory of working through the relationship difficulties on his own. On the other hand, if your child has tried and is floundering, there are ways you can help. Perhaps, you can assist the child and a critical friend in working things out. Or, maybe, you can work with the parents to help the children treat each other kindly. Or, maybe, it will come to the point where you must take your child out of a harmful situation. Once, we were excited when we were able to get our grade school children into a small school attached to the university where my husband taught. Everyone we had talked with loved the school. However, our small fourth grace son was put in class with a lot of bigger fifth grade boys, who pummeled him on the playground. It seemed the teachers would do nothing to help. Our daughter had some unpleasant times there, as well. We deemed it wasn't the place for our children, even though other families had more positive experiences. We also had a reason why we did not allow our son to enter a certain house in a neighborhood where we lived, though we often welcomed the son from that household into our home. However, don't overdo. If you rescue your child from too many situations, your child will never learn to stand on his own convictions.
11) Teach your child how to rejoice with those who rejoice and to mourn with those who mourn. Teach your child to be happy for the blessings and achievements of others. If your child learns this, he will have learned a lot about how to be a good friend. Not only that, but he will be happier and more confident. It's the insecure person who is threatened by other's successes.
12) Sadly, it goes without saying that children need to be protected from sexual abuse. As parents, we walk a fine line when it comes to protecting our children without instilling undue fear in them. Usually, we think of abusive predators as being adults, but this is not always so. There have been some tragic instances in our city where children, who were victims themselves, have turned around and abused other children. Teach your child to draw appropriate boundaries. Don't leave a group of children to play totally unsupervised for long periods of time, even if you are chatting in with their parents and the children are only in the next room. With a friendly, unworried, and nonthreatening attitude, pop into where they are playing from time to time, just to make sure every thing's going ok. If your child is out playing in the neighborhood, ask him to talk with you before going to someone's house.
13) Teach your child that no matter what his friends do or don't do, he is responsible for his own actions. Also, teach him how to enjoy friendships without placing his emotional security in what his peers think of him.
I have heard many people attribute a friend's home life to forming their character, particularly if there was something lacking in their own home life. Who knows what positive effect your family and your child could have on a child who needs some love and friendship?



Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. I don't mind long posts, and it's a subject that is important to me.

One of my child-rearing goals for my little girl is:
"Create and maintain strong relationships with extended family and with friends, so that she has a connection to family and a support network beyond our immediate nuclear family."

Elizabeth said...

Hi Topaztook
That's a great goal for your daughter!