As children reach adolescence (11 - 13 years), they start to form strong friendships and slowly start moving out of the parental orbit. This is also the time when they are physically undergoing many changes and their hormones are changing. They also start to slowly question what they are being told by their parents and start to get closer to the friends more. Parents cannot expect to control our children's choice of friends at this age. What we can only hope, is that they make friends wisely. We can help by inculcating the key skill listed below.
The most important factor in the child's ability to choose their friends, is confidence. The child must feel comfortable with their own choices, and should not feel the need to become friends with someone because the latter is popular or because your child wants to be cool or popular. In such a case, your child may adopt the negative habits of the other child, just so they can become friends.
You can build up a child's confidence by encouraging them to stretch and take risks, helping them build up arguments that support their stand even if it is different from someone else's, not discouraging them (eg., "I don't think you can do that"), motivating them to be persistent etc.,
It is important that child understand the need for fairness and flexibility in a relationship. She must understand that a relationship needs to produce a positive effect on both her and her friend. This can be fostered in a child from the early years, through social interactions where they have to take turns, share their things, help each other, work together to achieve a common goal etc., This can help your child treat their friends fairly.
But it is also important that a child recognize that their friends should also treat them fairly. Confidence is important here. A child who has low confidence may feel the need to do anything in order to keep a friendship going and it starts becoming a one-way relationship very quickly. A confident child will choose to address the problem and if not successful, will walk away from a friendship where things become unfair.
Often, we are quick to make snap judgements about other people and our children learn this from us. We and our children need to learn that appearances can often be deceptive. For example, we parents sometimes make a favourable judgement about our child's classmate if they dress well, and an unfavourable one if not. We should be careful not to transfer these prejudices to our child. You can help your child understand the need to look past the superficial, by telling them stories of how you formed friendships or discussing how you had more advantaged friends who had more toys and better vacations than you did, but how you continued to be good friends or of you and less advantaged friends. Teach children and show them that what mattered was the camaraderie and commitment and not the materialism.
Teach your children that friends are special, even though they are different from family. They need to be aware that friendship is an important relationship and needs attention, to grow. Use the analogy of a gardener and flowering plants. If there are too many plants, the gardener cannot water all of them. This awareness is important so children realize that they should not go around making everyone they meet, their friends. You can make them aware of this in many ways. When your children meet your friends, tell them stories of the special relationship you and your friends share. When your child's friends make them feel special in any way (eg., like inviting them first to see the new videogame console they got as a gift), highlight to your child how nice she felt when her friend invited her first, because of the close friendship they have.
By teaching children, the importance of friendships and how to make friends wisely, we can set them on the path to happiness and social success.
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