Have you ever watched Leave It to Beaver (the sitcom)? If not, you might enjoy viewing an episode or two (or all 264!). If you have Netflix, this show is at your fingertips. In addition to all the laughs, there are several things I like about the way this show portrays family life. Specifically:
- The children are allowed to freely express themselves and develop their own interests, within clear guidelines and parameters.
- The parents don’t jump in to rescue their kids from all tough consequences. Responsibility is important in the Cleaver household.
- The parents allow Beaver and Wally to choose their own friends. They participate in the process and step in when necessary, but most of the time Beaver and Wally, with their parents’ guidance, are able to figure out for themselves what friends are or aren’t good for them.
Right now, I’m focusing on #3. All of us, as parents, want to make sure our kids are in “good company” and develop positive, healthy friendships. Sometimes, this desire leads us to actually pick their friends for them. While this might ensure that they have good friends now, this approach can be harmful in the long run, because it doesn’t allow our kids to develop their own judgment regarding their friendships. Instead of choosing their friends for them, parents should help their children learn how to pick good friends, giving guidance but allowing our kids to play an active role, even when this means allowing them to make a mistake. Here are a few things parents can do to help their children learn how to choose friends wisely (incidentally, for any teachers out there, these same strategies can be used to help students learn about friendship).
1. Teach your child about values. Your children assimilate many values just from watching you, but don’t assume they understand all of them. Talk about virtues and values that are important to you as a family. Go in depth, analyzing with your children what goes into each value and how you can see that value in others. Having a solid understanding about values will make it easier for your child to recognize whether a “friend” is compatible with their beliefs or not.
2. Talk to your kids about their experiences with their friends and what they learn from these experiences (both about themselves and about their friends).
3. If your child discovers that a friend believes something different, or has different values, talk about that specific belief or value with your child. Make sure they understand why someone might believe something different, but also make sure you give them the reasons why you family believes what it does. Once your child hits their teens, “because that’s how our family does it” isn’t going to be enough; giving them the reasons behind what you do beforehand is important.
4. Give your children opportunities to meet a variety of friends with different personalities and interests. This allows them to discover who they really enjoy being with. It also helps them learn that being a “good” or “bad” friend has nothing to do with personality or interests. Someone can be very different from you and still be a good friend, just like someone can be very similar to you, but still be a negative influence.
5. Encourage positive friendships. When your child finds a good friend, clearly express your approval, and help your child find the time and means (transportation, etc.) to develop the friendship. If your child starts to develop friendship you think could be harmful, step in and establish very clear boundaries regarding the extent to which your child may/may not interact with the other child, and in what circumstances (you might, for example, allow him to be with certain children in your home, but not in the other child’s home).
6. Give your child a set of questions to ask themselves after they’ve known someone for a little while. They could answer these verbally or in writing. Some questions you might include:
- Do they respect you even when you say no?
- Do they take your opinion into account?
- Do they share your core values?
- Do you feel comfortable expressing yourself when you’re around them?
- What are some things you have in common?
- Are they honest; do you feel you can trust them?
- Do you think this friend will stand up for you even in hard times? Why or why not?
7. Make sure your kids know that you are there for them and feel comfortable turning to you for help. If they ever feel like they’re in a bad situation with friends, they can turn to you for advice or other forms of help.
It’s never too young to start teaching your child how to choose friends well! As soon as your child is able to speak and play with other children, they’re old enough to start hearing about how to be a good friend. Your three year old might not be old enough to pick their own friends, but they are old enough to start understanding that you don’t want them to play with so-and-so because so-and-so hits and they’re not allowed to. Everything you teach them about friendship is double sided – it teaches them how to pick good friends, but it also teaches them how to BE a good friend, and they’re never too young to start learning what that means!