The Practice Field
Teach your child about healthy friendships
By Karen Dockrey
Since the beginning of time parents have sought neighborhoods with great kids. We pursue peers who will play hard, play fair, and play well with everyone. Every neighborhood has these.
But every neighborhood also has children who run with scissors. Kids encounter bullies, showoffs, cruel kids, and any variety of “it’s-all-about-me.”
What can we do?
Wield Worry Wisdom
Certainly the Bible cautions against getting mired in worry. But worries about the bully on the block recognize that friendships matter. Friendships explore and solidify values. Friendships promote negotiation and problem solving, or they propagate pushiness.
So see your worries for what they are: a recognition of what could happen if you don’t parent on purpose. Let your worries become the prayer processes through which God shows you how to equip your kids for the neighborhood network.
Show your kids how to manage the choices of:
- Kind or cruel
- Real or fake
- Me or you
- Fun or pushy
- Contentment or whining
- Caring or criticizing
- Problem-solving or problem-starting
Trust Your Child’s Voice
Kids have a powerful propensity to tell the difference between right and wrong, caring and selfish. So when your child hesitates about a particular peer, pay heed.
Guide your child to trust his feelings and act according to them. Ask questions to help your child understand those feelings and what to do about them. Your conversation might go like this:
“It sounds like Sam has a propensity for daredevilry. I’ll be Sam, and you respond to me: ‘Look how low that wire is hanging! We can use it like a tightrope. C’mon!’
“Sam, everybody has choices, and I’m not liking yours right now. Yes, that power wire looks fun. But if it lets go, we’d be electrocuted.”
“You baby! Are you afraid of a little wire?”
“Actually, yes. It’s a smart fear.”
“Baby! Baby!” chants Sam.
“Babies don’t think; they do whatever they feel like. I think. I’m choosing not to participate,” your child concludes.
Though it’s unrealistic to assume a pint-sized preschooler can take on a 3rd grader, a marauder may be startled into halting by her firm: “NO! Don’t do that!”
Peers may stand tall alongside your child who speaks up.
The brute might even respect your child.
Children frequently need adult help. Coach her to always tell an adult about any cruelty — you, the teacher, a coach — because together we are stronger. Tell about a time you as a grownup asked another adult for help.
More tools to impart include:
- Kindness to all; closeness with a few: Show love for everyone; spend most time with friendly people (2 Cor. 6:14).
- Give alibis: Let your child blame you for anything: “I can’t go.” or “My dad will find out.”
- Identify friendship: Friends do rightly no matter what. They don’t hide wrongs. Friends hear our stories. They don’t betray us.
- Be the fun house: When neighborhood kids play in your yard you can enforce rules that help kids cultivate the happy play they crave.
- Don’t underestimate the cleverness of children: Perhaps three will decide to play fair no matter how many others cheat.
Play is the practice field for relationships that become marriages, work groups, church families, and world-wide communities — relationships that will honor God well or thoroughly betray Him. We can’t get away from the few in every group who do damage. But we can become ones who communicate directly, cultivate good, and overcome the weaknesses of pushy power. This is love. This is goodness. This is God’s answer to, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).
Karen Dockrey says, “healthy friendships are foundational, so please practice them at every opportunity.” Karen is a managing editor, curriculum specialist, and the author or co-author of over 30 books, including the Student Bible Dictionary: Revised and Expanded (2014) and Diccionario bíblico del estudiante: Edición revisada y ampliada (2014).
This article originally appeared in ParentLife Magazine (Junw 2017) ParentLife.