Is your kid hanging with the wrong crowd? Or do you just have the wrong impression about who they’re hanging with? Either way, it’s important to know how to talk to your children about what makes a good friend, how to navigate challenges with friends, and how to move away from friends who aren’t a positive influence.
Dr. Tonya Henderson, a board-certified pediatrician with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, says that it is important to talk with kids early and often about what it looks and feels like to have — and to be — a good friend. If that is established and discussed over time, then it is easier for kids to recognize on their own when someone isn't being a good friend to them. They can also recognize if they aren't being a good friend to someone else.
“As you talk with your child, point out what characteristics are important in a good friendship. Sharing, being kind, working together and compromising are positive attributes to talk about at every age,” Dr. Henderson says. “As kids get older, I would stress that good friends don't pressure you to do anything you’re not comfortable with, you know isn't good for you, is illegal or unsafe.”
Remember, kids will be kids
If you find that you are growing concerned about a child’s friendship with a specific person, Dr. Henderson recommends that before saying or doing anything, you should think about why you don't like your child's friend. Kids are growing, learning and, by definition, are immature, so some things that may rub you — an adult — the wrong way are nothing more than kids acting like kids.
“Ask yourself if there is a true safety concern or if, perhaps, you’re just feeling overprotective of your child,” she says. “Safety concerns need to be addressed immediately. But sometimes as parents, we rush to judgement or become overly protective, when what your child may really need is help managing normal emotions.”
Focus on the behavior, not the buddy
According to Dr. Henderson, it is always best to focus on the behavior you don't like rather than the person. A good question to ask your child is how a certain person makes them feel.
When talking about good friendships, you are likely to hear that a particular friend makes them feel happy, comfortable or “like I can be myself.” In less healthy friendships, your child might express less confidence and share that they feel they have to put on an act or prove themselves, somehow. They may also experience frequent shifting of alliances, which can be confusing and hurtful.
“No friendship is without some bumps in the road and kids do sometimes need help managing normal emotions that are likely to come up,” Dr. Henderson says. “Managing jealousy, the fear of being left out — especially with the use of social media as kids get older — new friends coming in, and friends moving on are all normal parts of growing up and learning about friendship. Your role, no matter how old your child may be, is to be there to help them learn and grow.”