Practicing Friendship

I really think we could learn a lot about friendship from our kids, especially when they are young. I’m always amazed at how easily kids can make friends on the playground, at the ball park, or in line at the grocery store. Maybe it’s just easier to strike up play when you’re younger than conversation when you’re older. They also must have short-term memories. They are screaming at each other one minute and laughing together the next! That’s a lesson in forgiveness right there!

But knowing how to be a good friend over time is not always intuitive for our kids. My daughter, Sara, came in one afternoon as dramatic as any girl would . . .upset that no one liked her. It broke her momma’s heart. She just didn’t understand how no one wanted to play with her. If you knew my Sara, you would know she is sweet, fun, and creative. But she can also be a little bossy.

I was thankful for the opportunity to impart a little wisdom. Rather than coddle her and bash her “friends” like I was tempted to do, I pointed out that it’s not always easy to know how to be a good friend. And that maybe she could practice becoming a better one. Someone they would want to be around. When the time was right, I shared this advice with her:

1. People love it when you compliment them. Have you ever told your friends you really like their ideas? You liked what they were wearing? You thought they were funny?

2. Sometimes you have to sacrifice what you want to do —even if you don’t feel like doing what they want to do or you think your idea is better. Good friends give and take. Especially when it comes to sharing ideas, conversations, and activities. And no one likes to be told what to do, not even you!

3. Do what you wish they would do for you. Think of what would make you feel special, and do it for others. Bring them snacks. Let them borrow something you like. Write them a sweet note. But don’t expect anything in return. Because that’s what good friends do!

4. Don’t take it personally. Your friends are trying to figure out how to be better friends, too. We all tend to think about ourselves more than others, so sometimes you just have to give them a break.

I was intent on not lecturing, just offering some ideas that might help. But Sara didn’t seem to even be listening. I imagined she thought I was being ridiculous. Maybe she was still wallowing in her self pity. She was completely silent through her tears and never said a word in reply. Still, I let her know that no matter what, I loved her to the moon and back.

A couple of days later, she flew in the house—ecstatic. She said, “Mommy, it worked!!” I had no idea what she was talking about. She had to remind me, “Those things you told me to try, they worked!! I’m practicing how to be a good friend, and it’s working!”

I’m sure there’s no greater joy than to know you’re helping your children grow in areas where they might flounder on their own. I know you have your own wisdom to share with your kids on how to be a good friend. As far as my advice, I probably have some practicing to do, too!

How are you helping your kids be a better friend?

Karen Wilson works at Orange and is the Managing Editor for the OrangeParents blog. She and her husband Mark have two children, Elijah (10) and Sara (8).