Kids’ friendships are treasured and beautiful, but they are also difficult. With these tips,
we can help our kids navigate friendships well.
It was my favorite day ever: my 8th birthday. The sun glistened through the trees as I sat on our chain-link fence, staring down the street anxiously waiting for my friends to arrive at my party. I won’t lie. There was a moment when I wondered if anyone would come. But, one by one they pulled into the driveway, and I was surrounded by people who had come just to celebrate with me.
I’ve had many birthdays since that one, but it’s the one I hold most dear, probably because friendship at that point in my life was so simple. Since then I’ve learned that friends can be ugly. Friends can abandon you. Friends can move away. Friends can even betray you.
The truth is friendship is hard, and we only have a few short years before we learn that reality, which is why we need to be intentional about having our kids navigate friendships well.
1. Healthy friendships blossom out of a secure relationship with Christ.
Every person has a need for a constant and loving friend in their lives. Sometimes this desire can lead to poor choices in friendships or clinging to the wrong crowd, not out of a desire to do wrong, but out of a desire to be loved and accepted. When your child learns that Jesus is their constant, unbiased, unchanging, and ever-present Friend, their relationships will no longer be based on something their peers can’t give them.
Because Jesus is their Friend always and forever, your child’s relationships can be centered not around the need for someone to be there for them but around the desire to be there for someone else and to serve them.
2. Good friends seek out people who need a friend.
Sometimes kids have trouble making friends because of pre-established friend groups or people who don’t include them. (Flashback to middle school, right?)
When kids are not being included or just feeling lonely, they usually aren’t the only ones. Encourage your children to find the other kids who are sitting alone and show them kindness. This requires a different motivation for friendship. Instead of waiting for other kids to invite them into their circles, our children can learn to reach out to others and make them part of their circles.
Even if your child has many friends, encourage them to never let someone be alone. When your children learn to do this, they will always have a friend around!
3. If you want to make friends, be a good friend.
In order to make good friends, your child needs to learn how to be a good friend. We often spend so much time focused on good friendships and finding people we want to be friends with that we forget what friendship is at the very core. Jesus said …
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).
Friendship isn’t self-seeking. It’s others-seeking. That’s the bottom line. We don’t want to teach our kids to make good friends—we want to teach them to be good friends. The rest will come naturally!
Here are a few of the ways you can teach your kids how to be a good friend (these ideas are from the Bible study Navigating Friendships.)
- Friends keep promises.
- Friends are faithful.
- Friends are mentors.
- Friends stand together.
- Friends work things out.
- Friends listen.
- Friends celebrate each other.
- Friends pray for each other.
- Friends put each other first.
4. Not all friendships are the same (and that’s a good thing).
Not every friend is the same. This is something we know as adults, but it’s something we’ve learned over the years. It’s important to have this conversation with your kids and explain to them how different friendships work. I’ve done this by using the analogy of circles and the jobs you’ll find on a ship.
Your CAPTAIN is your closest friend, Jesus. He will ALWAYS be there for you, and absolutely no one else can fill His role in your life.
Your FIRST MATE is your parents. They comfort, protect, and provide for you. Like the Captain, your job is to obey them BECAUSE you love them!
Your SECOND MATE is your siblings if you have them. They’ve got your back in times of trouble. They won’t always be there for you as the Captain is, but your friendship with them will last a lifetime—much longer than other friends.
Your SHIPMATES are the friends that you meet in the different seasons of your life. They will come and go as you travel through life, some staying longer than others. These are the friends that you do life with. You get to pick them and should pick them wisely, as they will impact the direction your life is going.
EVERYONE ELSE is in your outer circle. That just means you are careful NOT to let these friends influence your life. You probably spend less time with these friends, possibly because of their lifestyle, but also because of circumstances, geographic location, or even just interests. Someone in the outside circle isn’t necessarily a bad influence; they just simply aren’t in a close enough relationship with you to influence your choices and decisions.
We are called to love everyone, but our friendships will look different with different people! This isn’t a bad thing! If all of our friendships were super close, we would be overwhelmed or at least exhausted. Plus, our relationships might be shallow. Helping your kids identify different levels (or closeness) of friendships will help them establish healthy boundaries and avoid harmful influences. (More in that in a moment.)
5. You can’t avoid harmful friends—learn to set good boundaries.
Sometimes peer pressure is good. It can encourage your children to do something a little out of their comfort zones or, if they have the right friends, keep them from making a bad choice. However, we all know that friends can truly harm your kids. So how do you keep your child from forming friendships with people that will not help them grow towards Christlikeness?
You don’t. Instead, you teach them the different levels of friendship (above), and you show them how to have a healthy friendship—with boundaries—with anyone they do life with. For example, when I was in college I worked at TGI Fridays. Let’s just say most of my coworkers were NOT living a lifestyle that would be a good influence on me. But I had to work with them several days a week, so I had to figure out how to foster a friendship with good boundaries.
The best thing you can do to help your kids with this is to teach them what the right kinds of friends look like. Teach them what the Bible says about friendships and make sure they have access to good friends. Most importantly, have LOTS of conversations with them often about their friends, good choices and bad choices, peer pressure, and everything else that comes up.
“Bad” friends are not always bad for your children. If you have older children who have many good, strong relationships and know well what they should and should not do, they can (and should!) reach out to other kids who are struggling or like their other friends. Friendships like this teach your child to welcome everyone, to not always listen to their friends, and to reach out to and influence someone else for good. I encourage my kids to have these friendships, but I also make sure that I’m close by when they spend time together. That way I can address issues and offer support.
6. God’s Word has all the answers for friendships.
Kids need to know that friendship isn’t easy. When we are young, we struggle to share. As we grow older, there are issues with envy or hurt feelings. Sometimes friends move away. Sometimes they find a new friend. If you don’t talk with your kids about friendships, they will really struggle to make and keep good friendships.
Most importantly, if we don’t teach them to go to God’s Word for help, we will fail to prepare them for the things we’d never expect or fail to imagine. Trust me, I know it’s difficult to teach your kids what God’s Word says about all of the things. Thankfully, you don’t have to do that. All you need to do is teach them to GO to the Word for all the things. Do that by giving them solid resources that point them to God’s Word!
We’ve written our Bible study, Navigating Friendships, to help you do just that! It’s your easy button for getting your kids into God’s Word for themselves and learning all that He has to say about friendship.
Through practical tools & Bible-based resources, Kim Sorgius is dedicated to helping your family GROW in faith so you can be Not Consumed by life’s struggles. Author of popular kid’s devotional Bible studies and practical homeschooling tools, Kim has a master’s degree in education and curriculum design coupled with over 2 decades of experience working with kids and teens. Above all, her most treasured job is mother and homeschool teacher of four amazing kiddos.