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The Power of Friendship

by Carolynne Holmes

Parents play a crucial part in teaching their children how to develop and maintain healthy friendships. By modeling and discussing the virtues necessary, you can protect your child from many of the heartaches stemming from unwise associations.

Essential virtues for healthy friendships

Honesty. By teaching your child to be truthful, she will be more likely to develop friendships with those who don't lie.

Loyalty. By teaching your child to be faithful, she will be less likely to be a fair-weather friend — and will more likely stand up for her friends in times of trouble.

Respect. By teaching your child that everyone has a sense of dignity, she will be more likely to show consideration and thoughtfulness to others.

Compassion. By teaching your child to understand the hearts of others, she will be more likely to offer sensitivity to those who are hurting or needy.

Acceptance. By teaching your child to reach out to those who are different, she will be more likely to build friendships with those whom others reject.

Nurturing your child's self-confidence

Building you child's confidence is a key factor in helping her learn how to establish meaningful friendships early in life. And a healthy self-esteem will increase the likelihood of her making wise choices about whom she decides to spend time with.

  • Affirm your child's strengths by congratulating her when she does something well.
  • Spend time with her on an individual basis. Go out for ice cream, take a walk or play a game together.
  • Teach your child how to reach out to the needy. Take her to visit the elderly in a retirement complex or nursing home, or sponsor a child in an underdeveloped country.
  • Involve your child in socially interactive activities, such as sports or music.
  • Encourage your child's friendships. Throw birthday parties and invite one of her friends over for dinner ever other week.

Avoiding clichs and accepting others

Teaching children to not be exclusive is an important aspect in developing valuable friendships — and in learning to treat others the way we would like to be treated. Some of these steps may prevent your child from succumbing to a clique mentality:

  1. Have your child invite someone new to his birthday party each year.
  2. Discourage an attitude of superiority.
  3. Read books that present the message that everyone is unique and has something valuable to offer.
  4. Ask your child to reach out to a classmate who is playing alone at recess or eating by himself at lunch.
  5. Help your child become involved in activities that promote teamwork.

The cootie phenomenon

I remember my very first friend. His name was Chris, and we were almost the same age. Because our mothers were friends, the two of us spent hours together as infants and toddlers. I had no idea that boys had cooties until I started kindergarten. Although Chris had been my best friend up to that point, we rarely spent much time together after we started school; I couldn't risk getting cooties.

Unfortunately, the cootie phenomenon never quite goes away. It just shifts. As years go by, children tend to choose their friends based on classmates' achievements, athletic abilities, appearance and social status. If Katlyn correctly answers most of the discussion questions, she's a snob. If Karlie wears mismatched clothes, she's a geek. If Jacob's dad drives an old beater, he's a loser.

Likewise, Megan becomes friends with Hannah because they sit near each other in class, wear similar clothes and score well on math tests. They don't talk to Allison because she keeps a messy desk, wears hand-me-downs and gets A's on her spelling tests. Unless influenced more objectively, children make their friends based on the cootie phenomenon — by association.

In many ways, my mom helped me establish friendships — by arranging for me to get together with other children my age, and by nurturing my self-confidence.

For example, one of my best friends to this day I met when I was 6 years old. She was a year ahead of me in school, so we had no interaction there. But we would get together two or three times a week after school, overnight or on weekends. What started out as mutual indifference turned into a compatible, long-lasting alliance.