As a family, we've been blessed to be in the same church for the last 17+ years. Our church is an extended family to us. And we are so thankful.
But what we realized when our son started his first preschool experience was that he'd known all of his friends since before they were born.
His closest buddies were gleaned from families that were already intertwined in our lives. We realize that none of our children had ever really spent much time thinking about how to start and build friendships.
Last month I shared about 10 ways that we can grow friendships (even during these "mama years" with little ones). And as promised, this month I want to share some of the practical ways that we have tried to encourage our children to build friendships.
Before I share though, I just want to note that there are many different personalities in our band of children, so these concepts came more easily and naturally to some more than others, but bringing some of these basic suggestions to a conscious level was helpful for all of them (and to be honest, I think was helpful for us as well, even as adults).
Ways to Help Your Child Start & Build Friendships:
1. Pray beforehand. Before entering a setting where your child may need to meet and make new friends-- PRAY. Pray with them and for them and encourage them to pray. Ask God to help them see who might need a friend in the new setting. Help them memorize verses related to friendship or fear (if they struggle with new settings).
2. Prior to a group setting, encourage your child to be brave and take first steps. Maybe share about a time when you as a child, or even better, as an adult, felt nervous about making friends or being new in a social setting. Remind them that most children in the group will also be wanting a friend. Help them understand, that even if it feels awkward, it's worth it to reach out. With one of our children, it is particularly helpful if they can go into a group setting looking for others who might be lonely and I'm convinced this really is helpful to most of us because it takes our eyes off ourselves and our own fear-insecurities and it helps us be on the look out for others.
3. Discuss the basics. And I'm talking about the very basics. My husband had a list he would go over with our kiddos before they entered a new setting. It may sound silly, but I'm convinced many adults need to go through this same list prior to social gatherings.
First, walk over to a person or notice who is near where you are sitting. Second, make eye contact. Third, introduce yourself and say your name. Fourth, ask their name if they don't offer it. Fifth, ask them a question and listen to their answer. Sixth, invite the person to join you if you are participating in an activity or conversation or even just to sit by you.
4. Help them learn to show interest in what their friends care about. The best way to do this is by modeling it and by giving good examples. For example, if your child's friend likes insects or sports or art, you could encourage your child to loan out a book or toy that is related. Just last week one of our older boys used his own money to buy something for his friend at a garage sale. Not because he was interested in it, but because he knew his buddy would like it. Discuss how in conversations, it is important to talk about not just what interests them, but also what interests their friends.
5. Help your child know what it means to rejoice with and weep with. Again, the best way to do this is to help them see what it looks like in your life. We've had many a discussion about how a good friend is happy when another person succeeds and feels sorrow when another person is hurting. If this is a struggle for you or your child, be honest about it, and pray together to ask God to cause change. Practically this can be anything from cheering when a friend scores a goal on the soccer field, or building them up with encouraging words when they do well on a math test, or making them a card when a pet dies. Empathizing comes naturally for some children (and adults) but it can also be cultivated.
6. Teach your child how to have a servant's heart. Or maybe I should have written-- "show them how to have a servant's heart." Take time to discuss how a good friend is willing to lay down their own needs and wants for another. Jesus is our very best example in this area. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. ~John 15:3 Ask them to think about times when it might be their "right" to go first, or play with the toy, or to expect a certain response, but then brainstorm how they could respond if they were willing to lay down their own immediate "rights" for their friend.
7. Help them expect sin, but have hope for redemption. We've tried to share candidly with our children about how in our closest relationships there have and will be disagreements and hurtful interactions. We can and should expect this because we are all sinners and can be selfish and we all make mistakes. It's important for our children to know that God can heal relationships when both people involved are willing to obey Him, to apologize and to ask for forgiveness. “The Bible assumes that relationships this side of eternity will be messy and (will) require a lot of work. Every painful thing we experience in relationships is meant to remind us of our need for God. You can’t take the gospel seriously and not take your relationships seriously. Conflict with others is one of God’s mysterious, counterintuitive ways of rescuing us from ourselves. The problem with relationships is that they all take place right smack-dab in the middle of something, and that something is the story of redemption.” ~Tripp/Lane When your child has conflict with a friend, help them to see the scenario from their friend's perspective by asking questions: How do you think your friend would describe what happened? Why do you think your friend is upset with you? What do you think made your friend respond that way? If you reached out to your friend right now (even if you think they were the one in the wrong) how do you think they would respond? When you said _____, how do you think it made your friend feel?
8. Provide opportunities. I'm not a big "play-date" fan, but on the flip-side, if we don't provide opportunities for our children to spend time with others, they are not likely to develop friendships. We try to have a very kid-fun-friendly-house and so it is often full of children. It is important to plan times when your child's friendships can grow. This can be anything from inviting friends over, to incorporating an extra child in family activities, or planning a time to play at the park, or be willing to stay after church to let your child play with others, or lingering on the playground after school for a few minutes so that your child can connect.
9. Remind your child who their Ultimate Friend is and of your love for them. Children who have confidence in the love Jesus has for them, go forward into group settings with an extra measure of peace and courage. Children who have confidence in their parents' love for them, go forward into group settings with a more secure rooted-ness, knowing that no matter what happens, they have a safe haven of love waiting for them at home.
10. And pray again. If your child is struggling with friendships... Or even if not... Pray, pray, pray and Pray. Pray that God will provide friendships that will draw your child closer to Him. Ask Him to give your child courage and love for others. Pray with your child and encourage him/her to pray about this area of friendship.
*This past month's post-- 10 Ways to Grow a Friendship can be found here.
Kara @The Chuppies