Your Child’s Friendships

Encouraging and developing good ones.

Posted Jan 27, 2021

Jeorg Seemann, Pixabay, public domain
Source: Jeorg Seemann, Pixabay, public domain

Judith Rich Harris' research concluded that peers may affect children more than even parents do. Certainly, peer influence does affect a child's development and, yes, pleasure.

Here are some thoughts on how a parent can support a child in developing good friendships.

Ask

Go beyond “What did you do in school today?” Too often, the answer is “Nothin’.” Better to ask, “What the best and worst part of school today?” And if you’re trying to encourage new friendships, you might occasionally ask something like, “Which kid or two do you like best?”Then, without seeming like a police interrogator, vet that child, for example, “What do you like best about him or her?” If the answer makes you want to encourage the friendship, you might ask, consistent with COVID restrictions, “Would you like to invite Jamie to the house or to do something else after school or on the weekend?” If what your child says s/he likes best is, “He’s cool,” an additional question may tease out what “cool” means: friendly, relaxed, and liking to do what your child does, rather than “s/he threw a firecracker at a squirrel.”

If your child had befriended someone you like and hasn’t seen or spoken about in a while, ask something like, “You haven’t mentioned Jamie nor had him to the house in a while. Any problem with the friendship?” It could simply be that your child needed a reminder. Or if there is a problem, your question could yield an answer that opens the door to a conversation that solves it. For example, perhaps Jamie or your child did something that offended. A brief chat could generate a solution such as realizing that Jamie didn’t mean to hurt you, or your asking, “Do you want to apologize to Jamie?”

What about the child who lacks friends?

Some kids prefer to spend most discretionary time alone. I know a child who prefers to spend most discretionary time reading, watching TV, playing video games, listening to music, practicing the guitar, shooting hoops by himself, taking walks, and looking out the window. Pressure from his parents to be more social merely made him sadder and oppositional.

But if you’re not sure whether your child would be wise to be more social, consider asking your child if s/he’d like to make a good friend or two. If yes, ask, “Is there someone specific you might like to be friends with: a neighbor, someone from school or an after-school activity?” If your child offers a name or two, ask whether your child wants to, again consistent with COVID restrictions, invite that kid home, to play with him or her more at recess, or something else.

What if your child's efforts to make or keep friends usually fail? When I was a child, I had only one close friend (We're still BFFs, now 63 years later!)  and wondered why more kids didn't invite me to play, to their home, etc. I realize now that at least part of the problem was that I tended to show off, for example, correcting other kids. I wish my parent had gotten feedback for me by more closely watching me interact with other kids at home and at recess, or asked my teacher if s/he had any advice. It could have saved me a lot of angst.

Be a welcoming parent

Most kids are quite sensitive to whether they’re welcomed in someone’s home. So it’s worth doing the obvious: When the child arrives, smile with eye contact, perhaps offering a snack. But unless you have good reason to worry, for example, that they’ll be doing drugs, don’t hover. Most kids want and deserve privacy. That said, do feel free to ask if they’d like to join you in, for example, baking something, going on an errand together, whatever, and as the friendship deepens, sleeping over, joining the family on a weekend outing, etc.

Puppy love

Your child’s first foray into love and sexuality can, of course, be fraught. The goal is to strike the balance between being open-minded enough that your child feels s/he can talk with you but not so open-minded that you surrender your core values. For example, you might believe that your 15-year-old is too likely to be badly hurt if s/he had sexual intercourse and then the partner broke up. If you sense that puppy love is afoot, it’s probably time to ask, for example, “You talk about David quite a bit. Do you want to tell me how you feel about him?”

Dealing with a “bad influence” friend

Let’s you’re unhappy with one of your child’s friends. For example, s/he cuts school, does drugs, and encourages rebellion just for kicks. You probably want to be firm in trying to stop that relationship. Of course, your child could sneak, but you might want to say something like, “You've earned considerable freedom but I am concerned enough about Chris that I’m going to ask that you stop seeing him. Can you understand why?”

The takeaway

Individual situations require more nuance than can be jammed into a blog post, but the advice here will likely build the chances of most kids having friendships that both your child and you can feel good about.

I read this aloud on YouTube.

Also in this series: Friendship with Your Romantic Partner, Mentoring a Gifted Child, Platonic Friendship, and  Befriending Your Aging Parent.