“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy,
they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”
We have often heard the expression “you can’t choose your relatives, but you can choose you’re friends.” A common theme in my blog is the power of choice. Most children, although they want the right to choose, do not fully appreciate to what extent their choices have long lasting and even permanent consequences. They often believe they are victims of circumstance. The longer and stronger they believe this, the more this perception will shape their reality. That is why it is important to begin impressing upon children from a very early age that they always have a choice and there is always a consequence to that choice.
When it comes to friends, most parents can agree that choosing wisely can make a profound difference in a child’s life. However, the issue usually does not come up until you feel that your child has made a ‘bad’ friend or believe that a friend or group of friends is negatively influencing your child. But that’s not the time to begin lecturing your child on the importance of having good friends. From birth (yes, I did say birth!), you can prepare your child to surround herself with people that will enrich her life, to value the importance of true friendship, and to be a good friend. By teaching your child these things, she will grow up with more confidence, stronger self-esteem, and a philosophical framework that will help her make positive decisions in her life.
So where do we start?
1. Teach your child to be respectful and expect to be respected. Simple things like teaching good manners (yes, it sounds old fashion but good manners is just a outward manifestation of showing respect and appreciation), listening and paying attention when other’s talk, waiting your turn, and sharing, teach a child about give and take, showing consideration, and most importantly that our behavior is a reflection of our values.
2. Model positive conflict resolution strategies – when there are disagreements (between you and your child or anyone else within earshot of your child) or your child needs to be disciplined, do not act impulsively or out of anger. If things get emotional or heated, take a time out. Suggest that the issue be discussed calmly later. If you honestly do not know how to handle or react to a situation in a reasonable fashion, say so and take the time to think about it before making a decision. Always be prepared to listen but also expect to be heard and express yourself in a way that avoids attacking the person as opposed to the issue or the unwanted behavior.
3. Never threaten to withdraw love or support from your child! We all make mistakes in judgment, occasionally engage in inappropriate behavior, and even disappoint others. Children need to know that their primary relationships (parents and other members of their immediate family) are unconditional, loving, forgiving, and the people they can come to when all else fails. This foundation will give them the emotional strength to go out in the world, explore, take risks, and reject others who may prove to be harmful to them – because they always have a loving place to which to return. They are not alone in the world.
4. Never use humiliation as a way to motivate your child. You do not want your child to believe that humiliation and love come hand in hand. Criticism and put-downs are not constructive or empowering. Unwanted teasing or sarcasm in the guise of humor sends mixed messages and has the harmful impact of humiliation with a message that if it is meant to entertain, it is acceptable. It is a form of bullying. Belittling, by its very nature, is meant to make a person feel “less than”. Your goal should be to encourage your child to do the best they can, praise persistence and effort, and provide them with concrete suggestions that can help them reach their goals. Be their cheerleader and coach, not their rival or taskmaster.
5. Be trustworthy and encourage your child to not give away information confided to them (but also letting them know that there should not be any secrets between you and your children). Being trustworthy also means being reliable, knowing people can count on you. The expression “your word is your honor” should be understood. People may not always be able to follow through on what they have said or promised, but they should make an honest attempt and go back to the person to let them know if they cannot do what was promised. “Blowing people off” is a statement about our ability to make commitments and caring about the consequences of our actions.
6. Do not engage in idle or insensitive gossip or unnecessary criticism or judgment of others. We all have participated in gossiping at times or commented on what a person has worn or how they acted in a particular situation. But when it becomes malicious, ongoing, or elevated to a form of entertainment at someone else’s expense, we are not only teaching our children a form or bullying but also, whether we like to admit it or not, a way of making ourselves feel good by putting someone else down. When your child engages in this behavior, do not encourage it and try to have your child empathize instead of criticize.
7. Show an appreciation for diversity. Demonstrate a genuine interest in customs, traditions, and histories of other people. Take the opportunity to celebrate with people of other cultures, participate in various ethnic or religious festivals in your area, and encourage learning and discussion about other countries and belief systems. Avoid making sexist or racist remarks, or any disparaging generalities about any group of people. Encourage your child to judge people as individuals, and appreciate people’s differences. Also, children must learn to accept that there will always be people who are richer and poorer than them, prettier and less attractive than they are, smarter and less intelligent, more or less popular, and more or less talented in any given area. There will be people with whom they have more in common and have more fun. But all people deserve to be treated with kindness and respect. Resentment, envy, arrogance, and impatience are feelings we all have but it is our responsibility to manage them as they are a reflection of who we are and not the people who may have triggered these emotions in us. These negative emotions will rob us of our joy and it is our choice to act on or be imprisoned by them.
8. Demonstrate loyalty to people we care about. It is never easy to balance all of our important relationships, especially when there may be conflicts. Do not try to drag your children into family conflicts or force them to take sides. If friends complain about other friends, try to stay neutral or encourage them to try to see things from the other point of view. If friends or outsiders criticize family members, do not encourage them or participate in the discussion. Do not allow them to speak disrespectfully about them and make it clear that you need to honor your primary relationships. Constructive suggestions and advice is one thing, but insulting language and encouraging divisiveness is unacceptable.
9. We all make mistakes, some are worst than others. The best approach is to admit your mistakes and apologize. You are not only doing this for the benefit of the other person. Each time you acknowledge you are imperfect and take responsibility for your actions, you are making a statement about yourself. You are ingraining the belief that you are a person with integrity who has values, who is accountable, and resilient. You are defining who you are and who you would like to be. If you model an admission of guilt or error as a weakness, you will encourage your child to lie and hide their mistakes, never learning and growing from them. And since all humans make mistakes, it will lead to insecurity and self-loathing.
10. Encourage your child to be active and involved. Not only will you provide your child with outlets for their energy and creativity, they will learn that they are part of a larger community to which they can make a positive contribution. This will enhance their self-esteem. In addition, the more interests and skills they have, the more they will have to contribute to any relationship.
When people are positive, interesting, empathetic and engaging, they are more likely to naturally attract friends of a similar nature. With a clear understanding of what it means to be a good friend and the confidence needed to believe that they deserve to be respected and appreciated, children will tend to choose friends that are supportive of who they are and what they would like to achieve. They will also be better prepared to let go of toxic relationships, reject negative peer pressure, and be able to bounce back from being rejected themselves. Most importantly, if parents lay a foundation of open communications, high expectations, and unconditional love, when things do get rocky or confusing, children know they always have a safe place to turn to for guidance and support