Growing up, there was a lot my parents did that I hope to improve upon, or even do differently. But the one thing that I appreciate them putting such an emphasis on was people skills. They taught my sisters and I how to get along with anyone, even if they were very different from us.
As I have gotten older, their tips and advice have come in handy on numerous occasions. And now, I want to do my best to teach my kids about what it means to be a good friend, how to look for good friends and overall, how to get along with anyone and everyone.
I spend a lot of time teaching my kids how to be nice to others. To be respectful, selfless and look for those who need a friend or a helping hand. I want them to be kind to everyone. But who they pick for their closest friends is an important decision that needs to be done thoughtfully.
I truly believe that we can be guilty by association, and that we become most like those we surround ourselves with. So if I believe this, that means I want to surround myself with people that represent what I want to be or how I want to live my life.
Hopefully, by teaching my children this at a young age, they can save themselves some trouble when they hit the teenage years. (My fingers are firmly crossed.)
Recently, my daughter was with a big group of friends. In general, they were lovely little girls, and each one seemed to be having a lot of fun. But I saw some flickers of attitudes and character displays that were not appealing. To say it directly: had my daughter been the one to say some of those things to someone else, or to act in a disrespectful way, or permanently leave a mark on someone else’s wall, she would be in big, big trouble!
Thankfully none of this came from her, nor was it directed at her. But we both witnessed the behavior, and it offered the perfect opportunity to discuss choosing friends.
We talked about how even though the two girls in question were fun to play with, they did not always make the best choices. My daughter understood that even though the hurtful words did not come from her own lips, those words left another friend hurt in her presence.
During our conversation, I tried to keep our talk and the lesson to the point, so I said what I needed to say quickly and changed over to more light-hearted topics.
A few weeks later, an interesting thing happened. Now that my daughter’s eyes were open to this behavior, apparently she recognized it again at school. So completely on her own, she decided that she would still play with these two girls at recess from time to time, but wants to now focus on friendships and playdates with some other girls.
I never told her that she had to drop a friendship, because I believe in being nice to everyone. But I did advise her to look for good friends. And now, she chooses to spend her playtime with a few other girls who share her principles.
But back to my point about being friendly with everyone. My daughter is lucky to have so many friends. For her to alter who she spends a little extra time with was not a big deal, and probably even went unnoticed by others. And by remaining friendly with everyone, she saves some hurt feelings, and recess time can continue on in a fun way for all her classmates.
THE FRIENDSHIP CHALLENGE
So how can your child reach out to others and be nice to everyone? Recently, I came across a fun activity on Pinterest. It was a way to challenge your little ones to make friendly connections every day. When we tried this in my home, I was hoping that this experiment would help my kids make someone else smile, strengthen the relationships my kids already have, and maybe even encourage them to make a new friend.
I called this the “Friendship Challenge.” First, my kids got an old baby wipes container and decorated it. Next, we talked about ways to be a good friend and ways to make other people smile.
Here were a few of the ideas they came up with:
- Say “hi” to someone
- Hold the door for someone
- Let someone else pick first
- Sit with someone new at lunch time or circle time
- Play with someone lonely at recess
- Give someone who is not a close friend a compliment
- Share with someone
- Smile at everyone
- Make a card for someone who is sick or hurt
- Help a friend in need
We wrote down all the ideas on slips of paper. (You could also use popsicle sticks.) Then for the next week, each morning my kids pulled out a slip of paper and got their “Friendship Challenge” for the day. It’s been so fun to have them report back. They’ve even come up with new ideas to add to our container.
Somewhere along the way, between the conversations I’ve had with my children and the fun, creative activities we’ve developed, I realized that we parents have an amazing ability to help our children establish positive friendships in their own lives. And this skill will last them a lifetime.
Other ways kids can practice being friendly:
- Learn a joke
- Join a club
- Engage in conversations at home
- Rehearse ice-breaker questions like, “Do you have a pet?”
- Play “what if” with parents to figure out tricky social situations
Karissa Tunis is an author and the co-owner of parenting website adorethem.com.