How to help kids foster meaningful friendships: don't just be good, DO good.

Last updated: 02-25-2020

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How to help kids foster meaningful friendships: don't just be good, DO good.

There’s a magnet on our fridge that reads “Be not simply good; be good for something -Henry David Thoreau” and sits nestled above my daughter’s routine charts. It’s a gentle reminder for all of us to both be good, do good, and go the extra mile to make a difference.

Jenn started Kindergarten this year and for weeks we talked about the logistics of going to class, eating lunch, and enjoying a break at recess. We talked about making friends and how she was expected to treat others.

Even if they were mean. 

And honestly, though I knew she listened, I just hoped it would be something I could remind her about on that day in the future when she would come home crying because she got in trouble. That day is probably still coming, but I was pleasantly surprised to hear her chatter on about how she made a new friend one day.

“Ellory is always mean to everyone. But she fell and scraped her knee. So I went over and helped her. Now we’re friends.” Jenn mentioned. “I knew you said to be kind when others weren’t. And she was hurt”

My jaw hit the floor. My four, almost 5-year-old, was displaying empathy and building friendships even with those that others weren’t.

And so we elaborated on this situation. Because I know she may not make that choice every time. And I know friendships are complicated and are chared with emotions.

Of the many things you will teach your child in their lifetime, teaching them to be a good friend is an important one that will stick with them for the rest of their life. Many parents never stop to think about how this is a skill you acquire and not something people are just born knowing how to do (although some people are naturally better at it than others.)

Developing and maintaining friendships is an acquired skill and not just something we’re born knowing how to do… though some are naturally better at it than others.

So it’s not enough to assume that sending our kids into the world will force socialization. A few helpful words of encouragement along the way can help build great bonds and heal wounds in times of conflict. 

Of course this is the first point as it goes along with the story of Jenn reaching out to Ellory. It’s so important that we continue to stress to our kinds that just because they “were good” in how they acted that day doesn’t mean they “did good”. 

There is a difference between going the extra mile to make a difference in someone’s day and simply not causign a problem in the class or in a relationship.

So of course when instances like these happen, we praise them. When you see your child being a good friend, say something. Speak up and acknowledge what she did and tell her why she did a good job so it sets the precedent in the future.

In our home, we make meals for people when they’re going through a rough time, send them texts to let them know we’re thinking about them, or generally try to be involved in the lives of those around us. Show your child how to be a good friend by letting her see you be a good friend to others as well. Model the behavior you want to see in your child and vocalize it instead of it “just” being you cooking an extra meal or being on your phone. 

Saying sorry and learning to forgive are two of the most important life skills a child can learn. Life is full of mistakes and opportunities to overcome and if we teach our children to apologize, they’re learning to get along more civility in a world filled with incivility.

A phrase we often say to Emma and Jenn is “your sister is going to be a part of your life for a vey long time.” I have tried to explain that my brother was one of my closest friends growing up and it really shaped who I am today.

Even for kids without siblings, regular dates with their parents or grandparents can help them learn about healthy relationships and positive communication between two people.

A child with healthy, positive self-esteemwill always be a better friend. It will help them to choose friends who are good for them and also to be a good friend in return.

It’s also important to talk openly about what is expected from friendship, what makes a good friend, and what makes a bad friend. Show them examples when you’re out in public or watching movies. Positive examples always make a big impact.

Related: How to teach kids to set boundaries with their friends.

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