At a young age, our kids are influenced by their peers but even before their peers have clout we set the stage for their social and emotional engagement. I have been doing a lot of work in the field of anti-bullying, relational aggression and friendship. As a therapist, these topics are of interest to my client base and unfortunately, unhealthy friendships are sometimes a big reason why someone would seek out a counselor. It helps me a bit to have a head start in this regard because my three-year-old is at the point where he is determining his friends, best friends and as he calls them the “bad guys”.
His friends are inclusive of everyone including the Starbucks barista. His best friends are specific and dear to him. They usually include kids from his pre-school or the neighborhood. The bad guys are what he tends to call those he doesn’t agree with. This means that his dad and I have been the “bad guys” before too. When I became a mother I realized that my whole road map to friendship was altered in some ways. I gained “mom” friends.
Mom friends helped me to get through the swaddling, the tummy-time, potty-training and they still are great for playdates and lots of coffee time meeting where we share best practices on discipline, toddler menus and the like. I have talked with so many parents who feel judged and unfortunately a fair share of them that feel bullied. I have empathy for a parent who feels as though they are not included in playgroups or overlooked for fun activities. I want us, as parents to take a deeper look at what this models, though…when a parent excludes, teases or berates another parent for whatever reason they are usually in front of a tinier audience who is taking it all in. The person watching them is usually their own kid and that child is getting an education in what friendship is. Please understand I am not saying it is possible to be friends with everyone and I would never put that pressure on anyone.
What I am saying is that the dignity and respect or lack thereof that we show for other parents is example setting for our kids to learn how to treat their own friends. We are still learning just like our young people and we have chances to get it wrong but thankfully we have chances to make it right. Below are some suggestions on how to talk about healthy friendships with your young people. Since they are watching us anyway it doesn’t hurt to communicate about our own friendships with them as well. This can make us relatable and create a healthy foundation for the future.
*Ask your kids what they like best about their friends and talk about what you like best about your own friends
*Go to the craft store and buy items so that each of you can make small gifts for a special friend.
*Talk about boundaries and when you think you have to disagree with your friends
*Have a parent and child playdate on a regular basis where kids and their parents come over for snacks, drinks, and fun (rotate homes if need be).
*Be sure to let your child know that they can always talk to you about friendship