Our second son is currently in grade 4, going into grade 5, and he is experiencing some of the same challenges with friends that his older brother had at that age. What is it about those grades? Maybe it’s because kids at that age are starting to think abstractly and it’s a bit unsettling. Or maybe they are just kind of mean… I don’t know exactly, but I do know that it can be rough. As parents, we know how important it is that our kids make good friends. In fact, we feel some pressure to help them. But, like it or not, we can’t make friends for them. There are, however, a few things we can do.
One: We can Listen
Many problems will feel smaller to our kids if they know that they have a compassionate parent who wants to hear their heart. Sometimes when our kids are overwhelmed they just need to spill. But if we want them to come to us in those times we are going to need to 1) be available and 2) actually listen!
You may think you are available, but if your kids have to wait to talk to you until the hockey game is over then you aren’t actually available to them (and they learn that their problems are not as important as the game). On the other hand, you may be a shift worker who needs to sleep during the day on Saturday and feel guilty about it! But if you are intentional with your car rides together, occasional lunch dates, or meals you can share, you are being available.
Remember to actually listen. Repeat back to them what they are saying. Ask a lot of “feeling” questions, and then ask them what they need before launching into a five-part “How to Win Friends and Influence People” lecture. Sometimes all the help they need is a cuddle in the midst of those painful tears.
Two: We can help them understand social etiquette
Sometimes, however, our kids actually just need to be less annoying. I am all for our kids being themselves and wonderfully unique. It’s a horrible thought to imagine a bunch of clones wandering the halls of school. On the other hand, sometimes our kids don’t have friends because they may not be a good friend themselves, or because other kids can’t relate to them. Then there are the purely annoying children. They act rudely, they don’t have manners, they tell inappropriate jokes or they are mean! This goes without saying, but if your kids are bullies, they aren’t going to have many good friends.
We need to help guide our kids through life, which includes helping them understand what friendship really is: respect for differences, celebrating other people’s achievements, and learning how to help when their friend needs it.
Three: We can pray with them for one best friend
Don’t underestimate the power of prayer. Get into the habit of regularly asking God to bring a best friend into your child’s life during your bedtime prayers. For someone who likes what they like and values what they value. This is important! We don’t just pray for friends, we pray for the right friends. It is better for our kids to have few or no friends than for them to have friends who are going to draw them away from Jesus.
That being said, God designed us for relationships, and I believe that He wants us to have many good friends. So ask Him!
Four: Remember that parents are the most important relationship
Friends come and go. Family is forever. So while we want our kids to have strong peer connections, we want their strongest connections to be at home. Gordon Neufeld writes about this in his book Hold on to Your Kids. Practically speaking, that means that you need to create great memories as a family. If every game night turns into a war zone then do something else! We outlawed “Risk” a few years ago because I always won and it ticked everyone off.
It is important that we let our kids pick the game from time to time as well, which includes playing video games with them! Fortunately for my kids, I like video games and I’m still pretty good at the “James Bond” games on my old Nintendo Game Cube. We have found that the best memories are made on vacations and we know how to do it on the cheap! We drive instead of flying. We find great deals on places to stay. We eat in. We make awesome memories!
We work hard to make good memories because when a time of crisis hits we will naturally go for help to the place where we feel most loved and accepted. If all their memories of home are unhappy, our kids won’t come home in a crisis. They’ll go to their drinking friends who are always accepting of them! This takes an investment of time, and even money, but if our kids are lonely and know mom and dad are there for them, they will be ok.
I was a bit of a loner growing up and it didn’t particularly bother me. My parents were there for me, but it was my grandma, in particular, I knew I could count on. We lived on the same farmyard and I would often stop by grandma and grandpa’s house on the way home from spending an evening by myself in the bush. Their door was always open to me and ten minutes with them, reporting what I had just seen, was all I needed to know that their living room was a safe place to go, if my world was ever falling apart around me.
Loneliness is a part of life. It’s ironic that as our kids get more connected digitally, they feel more isolated. The remedy is a vibrant relationship with Jesus, but at a young age, that need to be caught through healthy family connections.
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