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You Can Help Your Kids Pick Good Friends Without Being a Crazy Overbearing Parent!
We all know how important it is to surround our kids with good experiences. We want our kids to be happy. We want our kids to feel like they belong. We want our kids to be good students. We want our kids to not swear like sailors. Good friends have a huge influence on all of those things.
When our kids are small enough to carry, we have a lot of control over who they hang out with. If you don’t like what’s going on in a “play date” with little ones, simply swoop in and rescue them. As they get older, our control over those situations starts to dwindle a bit. I would find it quite challenging to pick up my 11-year-old son (who is suddenly over 100 pounds and wears men’s shoes!) and remove him from an undesirable social situation. This would be bad for my back and also for his social status… forever. So how do we ensure that our upper elementary/ middle school kids make good choices when it comes to friendships? The following are some of my thoughts.
GET INVOLVED IN THEIR SOCIAL LIFE
I know this is often easier said than done because of work schedules and a myriad of other reasons. But you must look for opportunities to get involved at your child’s school, in extracurricular activities, in the neighborhood, or at your church. When you are involved, you get to know the kids that your child is friends with. It also helps you to stay connected with your child. Whether or not they show it, kids want their parents to be involved in their lives.
This might mean doing things that are not exactly at the top of your “fun things to do” list. For example, my son decided that he wanted to participate in robotics this year. Guess who knows absolutely nothing about robots? Me. Guess who is now coaching a robotics team? Yup, it’s me. I am not sharing this to say that I am any sort of supermom because I am not (and I am certainly not going to win any awards as a robotics coach!) But I do my best to stay involved in my kids’ activities because I know it’s important.
STEP OUTSIDE OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE
Some of us are naturally social and some of us are not. That is a simple fact. But if you want to ensure that your kids are making wise friend choices, you have to get to know the families of your child’s friends. This might mean stepping out of your comfort zone. This might mean making slightly awkward small talk with the other parents at your kid’s holiday party when it would be much easier to just pull out your phone. When you socialize with other parents, it makes it much easier and comfortable to make arrangements for kids to get together.
When my son was in kindergarten, he really wanted to have a friend from school come over to play. So I called up his mom (whom I had never met) and asked if he could come over. She suggested that we meet at the mall and let the boys play in the play area. Sure, sounds like fun. It didn’t occur to me until after the fact, but she was totally screening me to see if she would feel comfortable letting her son come to my house. Smart lady! This is hilarious to me now because our sons continue to be great friends… and we are, too!
MAKE YOUR HOUSE THE COOL PLACE TO HANG OUT
My parents were masters at this one. At the time, I just thought I was really lucky because we had a basement where my friends and I could all hang out. It wasn’t anything super fancy, but we had a ping pong table, a pool table, a good spot to watch movies, and a fire pit out back. We felt like we had privacy, yet we were still under my parents’ watch. Genius! Throughout middle school and high school, our house was a frequent hang out zone.
I can’t say that I love having a house full of rowdy kids all the time (this might have something to do with the fact that my husband and I both work in schools all day), but I want my kids to invite their friends over. I want to get to know their friends. I want to be able to talk to my kids about situations that come up so they feel confident in dealing with those things on their own.
TALK ABOUT FRIENDSHIPS (AND EVERYTHING ELSE) ALL THE TIME!
I want my kids to feel like they can talk to me about anything. I encourage my kids to come to me with any swear words (or other interesting phrases) they hear at school or on the bus so I can tell them what it means and whether it’s something they would get in trouble for saying. Yes, you heard me right, I want them to come to me. I always assure them that they will not be in trouble for this.
I also ask my kids who they play with at recess and who they sit by on the bus. I encourage my kids to sit with a new friend or say hi to someone they don’t know very well. Sometimes we play the “What Would You Do?” game with situations like:
- a friend tells you she won’t be your friend if you play with another friend
- you see someone sitting all alone at lunch
- your friend tells you that he stole money from the teacher’s desk
- you hear that your friend has been talking bad about you behind your back
- a group of kids is making fun of your friend because of what she is wearing
- your friend asks if he can copy your homework
I like to think that talking through hypothetical situations such as these will plant those seeds so that my kids will know what to do in difficult situations. And, once again, I want my kids to feel comfortable coming to me when they need help.
To sum it up, here are
Three Ways to Help Your Kids Pick Good Friends
1. Talk to your kids.
2. Get involved in the things they like.
3. Get to know other kids’ parents.
Check back with me when my kids are in high school and see if I am still smiling!