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Choosing Friends
by Jane Nelsen & Lynn Lott

An excerpt from the book Positive Discipline A-Z

Question:

I have one child who complains that she doesn't have any friends. Another child keeps choosing friends I don't like. How do I help my children become friends with children I approve of?

Answer:

Understanding Your Child, Yourself, and the Situation

We often forget to honor the different styles and personalities of our children and try to make them all fit one mold. This tendency can be most blatant when it comes to the secret dream of most parents-to have popular children. Some children are quiet and passive, some are active and assertive, some choose conventional lifestyles, and some choose unique lifestyles. The following suggestions focus on meeting the true needs of the situation-to help our children honor the uniqueness of each individual and feel comfortable with who they are.

Suggestions

  1. Allow your children to choose their own friends. (They will anyway.)
  2. If your child chooses a friend you don't like, invite that person into your home often and hope that the love and values you practice will be beneficial to him or her.
  3. If you are afraid a friend you don't approve of will have a negative influence on your child, focus on being a positive influence through a good relationship with your child.
  4. When your child has a fight with a friend, listen empathetically, but do not interfere. Have faith in your child to handle the fight (see Fighting, Friends).
  5. Don't worry about whether your child has the right number of friends. Some prefer just one best friend; some like to be part of a large group of friends.
  6. If your child complains that he or she has no friends, practice your listening skills. Try rephrasing your child's complaint using feeling words, such as, "You're pretty upset right now because you don't think You have any friends. Did something happen today between you and your friends at school?"

Often children will exaggerate and speak in absolutes when what they are really trying to say is that they are having a problem with one of their friends. Be a good listener to help your child think through the situation out loud.

Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems

  1. Help children who have difficulty making friends by exposing them to many opportunities, such as trips to the park, Scouts or other youth groups, and church groups.
  2. Do not expect your children to enjoy the children of your friends or insist that they play together if your child doesn't enjoy their company. Find time to spend with your friends without subjecting your children to feeling stuck having to play with kids they don't like or with whom they don't have anything in common.
  3. Go along with your child's wishes about clothing styles so he won't be embarrassed about not fitting in.
  4. Make your home a place where kids love to come because they experience unconditional love, safe and respectful rules, and plenty of fun, child-oriented activities.
  5. If you have issues about having enough friends yourself, don't worry about your child having the same problem or project your experience onto your child. Be careful not to put your judgments about friendships onto your children. You may think friends are forever, while your child may enjoy moving in and out of different groups of friends. Be a good observer and see how your child handles friendships.
  6. Children don't like to bring friends home when one or more of their parents is chemically dependent, because they are embarrassed and fear what they might walk into with their friend. If someone in your family suffers from chemical dependence, get help, because your children will be missing out on a lot if they are afraid to bring friends home.

Life Skills Children Can Learn

Children can learn that their parents are their best friends because they love them unconditionally, value their uniqueness, and have faith in them to choose friends that are right for them.

Parenting Pointers

  1. If your child is consistently choosing friends you do not approve of, look at your relationship with your child. Are you being too controlling, inviting your child to prove you can't control everything? Is your child feeling hurt by your criticism and lack of faith in her and trying to hurt back by choosing friends you don't like?
  2. Have faith in your children and honor who they are. Try to make the people your children choose as friends welcome at your home, even if they are not the friends you would choose.
  3. Your children may be making decisions about friends based on how you treat your friends. Are you acting how you would like your children to act?

Booster Thoughts

Peers don't make children what they are. Children choose their peer group as a reflection of where they are at the time. Drop a skater into a high school, and he'll find the other skaters by noontime. The same is true for cheerleaders, jocks, and brains. (As adults, when we go to a party, we tend to seek out people who have similar interests and avoid those who don't.) Sometimes teens think their lives are over if they don't have a friend. When we overemphasize the importance of having friends, children who choose to be alone will feel uncomfortable with that choice, believing they should have friends rather than learning to be a friend to themselves.

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