With a new school year beginning, our children may be experiencing a lot of changes – everything from clothing sizes and styles to classes and schools. Add the tensions of meeting new people and finding out where they fit in, and it can be overwhelming for young people.
Friendships are critical for young people but many do not know how to navigate them. As parents, we often look for the best ways to encourage our children to be themselves and to develop good relationships with their peers. Contrary to modern wisdom, strong relationships are not typically organic or free-flowing.
We can help our children build strong friendships and avoid detrimental ones through conversations and by role-modeling.
It is beneficial to continually speak with our kids about friendships and relationships and to intentionally walk with them through the weeds and the forests of connecting with others. Young people of all ages love to express their thoughts and opinions to others.
Here are some questions we can ask our children to generate great insightful conversations about their relationships with others:
1. What is a friend?
2. What are some things that make a good friend?
3. What are things that make a person a not-so-good friend?
4. What can you do if you have problems with a friend in your life?
5. How will you respond if see someone treating another person poorly?
The answers we receive can provide teaching moments and we parents also learn so much about the values our children hold. The answer can also be guideposts for our children and young people as they navigate the friendships they have and form.
Another great way to give guidance to young people about relationships is by modeling friendliness and inclusion, and by fostering community. My mother has always been good at doing this, and I suspect I picked it up from her example. For instance, I acknowledge, greet and engage in friendly conversations with the people around me — neighbors, colleagues, other parents, mail carrier, etc. This tends to come naturally for me (even though I am an introvert), but I am more intentional about it while my kids are in my presence.
In the busyness of life, or in our cautiousness, we can sometimes ignore those around us. Guess what? Our kids are watching and are picking up the good and the not-so-good we model.
Lastly, we can encourage our children to be comfortable holding meaningful conversations with peers and adults alike. This normalizes conversation and healthy social interaction, things that may make younger people feel awkward. Let us also make sure that our children know that we have and are friends. When they see how important our friendships are to us, they will hopefully look forward to and cherish the friendships they form with others.