“Friendship is the only cement that will ever hold the world together.”
It can be so exciting when our children begin to form friendships. Their first ones typically are created with the children of our own friends who we have carefully chosen for ourselves. When they start preschool programs or activities we sign them up for they may start to explore new relationships of their own. And suddenly our antennas are up and we are on alert of who is influencing our child. We tend to not want them to be friends with kids whose parents have parenting styles that do not match up with our own or who display behaviors we are not comfortable with. We may even try to control their experiences and censor what they observe, but really this is the perfect environment to learn. What better way to know the difference between what works and what doesn’t than to experience it head on? When we see a behavior that we don’t approve of, this is the time to explore with them why this behavior can hinder them and what the uncomfortable consequences can be. When we see a behavior we feel good about, we can emphasize how well that behavior can benefit them (and us!).
When was the last time you made a new friend? You probably hit it off with them making small talk about something you both were interested in or maybe you liked their sense of humor or how kind they were, and then one of you put yourselves out there, took the risk and set up plans to spend even more time getting to know each other. Do you remember the slight hesitation you may have felt exposing yourself or setting yourself up for rejection? Or the satisfaction of realizing you had someone else who could relate with you and you could share with? This reaction was learned through experience, through knowing the difference between friendships that work and friendships that didn’t. If you had not had the opportunity to explore those relationships, you would have never known the difference. Your child needs to learn this lesson too and the longer you block them from learning, the longer it will take. We often concern ourselves with the idea that if they spend time with friends whose behaviors don’t match up with our values, their friends’ influence will be stronger than what we have hoped to instill. Who they choose to follow is not within our control, but creating opportunities to form open and consistent communication to discuss these relationships can be.
Let them choose based on what they are drawn to. We all learn about ourselves and the world through relationships and friendships. We grow through direct experience and interactions with how we treat others and how they treat us in return. We learn to trust our choices and decisions when they work and learn to alter our direction when they don’t, sometimes after repeated tries! We owe it to our children to let them make their own choices, but keep the lines of communication open so we can help them see what is a good relationship that works for them versus one that doesn’t. It is also important to note that if a relationship is causing them harm in any way, you will be compelled to discourage its continuation and appropriately so! You may not have the ability to stop them from spending time together in school, but you do control over who is allowed to spend time in your home.
So consider letting your child mix their own cement and learn how to create lasting bonds that will work for them, but be prepared to add a little more water if it starts to dry up too quickly before its ready to set. When these bonds finally do solidify into a friendship that helps support and inspire your child, experience gratitude. Nothing beats a trusted and wonderful friend.