If I stretch back in my memory, I can remember making my first real friend. It was early grade school, and I walked into a classroom with cutout letters and apples stapled to the walls. The desks were set up in a weird configuration, shaped like an “H”. I sat down, fingered my hair barrettes, and dared not talk to anyone, lest I break the rules (I was a rule follower even back then). My desk faced another little girl with a scrunchy in her hair, but I didn’t talk to her until free reading time. I grabbed my book, one in a series about girls and their horses (complete with collectible cards in the middle). When I looked up the girl across from me was holding a book from the same series. It was only a matter of time after that. We were meant to be friends.
Looking back at my own childhood friendships, and watching my children as they make friends now, it cracks me up at how easily young kids make friends – but keeping them is a different matter. By the third grade that girl and I split ways, never to talk horses or exchange collector cards again.
As a mom, I see how friendship is especially important to my oldest child, and though I am so glad when he makes a friend, I am secretly afraid too of the hurtful things that come along with friendships with other fallen human beings – even if they are children. I can’t protect him from being rejected or left out, I can’t protect him from being made fun of or drifting away from kids he once considered friends. The one thing I can do, something that will serve him well all his life, is to teach him what it means to be a good friend.
I have done a lot of thinking and searching Scripture about what it takes to be a good friend. Proverbs especially has so much to say about friendship, and if I tried to pull out all those points this post would be far too long. So I picked a few things that I think are most important to teach to kids about being a friend before they reach middle school – when everyone temporarily forgets how to be a good friend (I kid – kind of).
Consider others first.
“Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” Philippians 2:4
It is so important to teach kids to consider other people before they consider their own wants and needs. This is not just a friendship tip, but a principle from Scripture on how to handle all our relationships. It is the overarching principle for every other point I’m going to make here, and forms the basis for how we should treat other people – but it’s hard to learn. From the earliest stages, we as human beings struggle with considering others’ interests before our own. That’s why it is so hard to teach toddlers to share! But this one thing is worth all the effort you can give it, because if your kids have this down, all the specifics of being a good friend will come naturally.
Suggestions: Keep working at sharing, point out opportunities to consider other people’s feelings, teach your kids manners and discourage rudeness, and memorize the Scripture verse above together.
Be careful about how you joke.
“Even in laughter the heart may sorrow, And the end of mirth may be grief. ” Proverbs 14:13
Pretty early in my life I realized one thing – kids are mean. They don’t always intend to be mean; as an adult now I can recognize that often kids are innocently saying exactly what they think, or simply laughing at something they think is funny. But what looks like charming impertinence or innocent teasing from an adult perspective can be devastating when directed at a child, particularly if that child has a sensitive bent. I’m working hard now as a mom to help my kids recognize the difference between something that is innocently funny, and something that is funny at someone else’s expense.
Suggestions: Be careful about laughing at someone else’s pain, correct rude comments from your kids (even if you laugh about it with your husband later when the kids are out of earshot), help your kids learn to overlook gaffs or mistakes, teach your kids to think about others first (I told you these all related to the first point).
Be tactful and kind.
“The heart of the righteous studies how to answer.” Proverbs 15:28
“A soft answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:1
Our kids are going to someday find themselves in a situation where they must speak the truth when it is hard to do so – and I think to do it well they need two things: kindness and tact. The older I get, the more I realize that tact seems to be a dying art form. There seems to be a shift in media and the culture into rewarding people for honesty at the expense of kindness; we seem to have forgotten that we can have both. If “tact” is a term you haven’t heard in a while, I would define tact as simply speaking the truth with love and wisdom – and like any good friendship or life skill, you get better at it with practice! Many things are said and done within friendship that can result in hurt feelings, but if just a few words were shifted, or another phrase was added, the conversation could build the friendship instead of weakening it. This is hard to teach, but so important!
Suggestions: Proverbs has all kinds of verses that I think are related to being tactful, so my biggest suggestion would be to start there! If something is said in a less than tactful way, privately have your kids practice a better way that the same thing could have been said.
“A man who has friends must himself be friendly.” Proverbs 18:24
It is tempting for anyone, children included, to hang around with the people they are most comfortable with, especially in group situations, but I don’t think any of us want our kids to participate in (or be excluded from) a clique. I want my kids to be the ones that make everyone feel comfortable and welcome in a situation – I want them to be the most friendly ones in the room, to be the ones to reach out to a new child. This puts them in a position to not only be well-liked themselves, but provides a really practical way for them to show the love of Jesus to others.
Suggestions: Start young with monitoring those playdates, and pull your child aside if necessary to remind them to include everyone.
Thank God for your friends.
“We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father.” 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3
True friendships are hard to come by, and if your child is blessed with good friends – first, thank God for giving your child those friendships! Then teach your child to thank God for them too. We are less likely to take someone for granted and more likely to treat others as a good friend should when we value others and show gratitude to God for them.
Suggestions: I love Hannah Hall’s new book for teaching the value of friends to young kids, called God Bless My Friends. Like her other books, this one has adorable animal friends doing all kinds of fun things together and thanking God for what marks their friendships. This would be a great tool to remind our kids that friendship is a gift from God, and to pray for our friends who we love!
What are some things you want to teach your kids about being a good friend?