As children start back to school it's a good time to have a discussion about the importance of choosing good friends. If your children understand what constitutes a healthy friendship they will have a head start on finding the right kind of friends. A lot of tears are shed, particularly by girls, over problems with friends. Understanding a few basics about friendship can help prevent those tears from ever being shed, at least for any length of time.

First question

To begin the discussion, start by asking the question, "Why do you think it's important to have good friends?" Listen without interrupting, even if the answer is not exactly what you would say. Remember, you're talking with your children not experienced adults.

Second question

When your children have given their answers, ask this question, "What is it that makes a good friend?" At this point, we suggest you write down their answers. Use a large piece of paper and a marker so they can see their ideas and think about them. You can help them if they are struggling for ideas. Some answers may include the following.

A good friend is someone who

Makes me feel good when I'm with her or him.

Respects my beliefs.

Doesn't make fun of me.

Doesn't try to get me to do things that are bad.

Doesn't talk about me behind my back.

Can be trusted.

Helps me be better than I am.

How to choose good friends

Discuss what it takes to find a good friend. Encourage them to choose friends who will respect who they are. Review the list of what a good friend is and choose those who fit into that category. Be kind to everyone, but don't be drawn into a group of friends that will drag you down and lead you to do things you know are wrong.

When looking for a good friend sometimes all it takes is paying attention to someone you think you'd like to be friends with. Standing on the side lines wishing that person would be your friend rarely works. It takes a little effort. So, if you want someone to be your friend be friendly to her or him. That means saying, "Hi," whenever you see them, and do it with a smile. Invite that person to sit with you at the lunch table or to join you in a game or other activity. In other words, include them in what you enjoy doing.

If they hear you saying unkind things about other kids, they will easily figure out that you could do the same to them. Say good things about others. Stick up for those who are ignored or bullied. This will prove to your new friend that you would do the same for them.

Notice the good things your friend does and comment on it. "That was an awesome report." Or "You have a great voice. I'm glad I'm in choir with you." Or maybe it will be something as simple as, "Thanks for sharing your donut with me. That was really nice."

The wise philosopher and poet Maya Angelou said, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." When you do or say kind things to others it makes them feel good. That's the part they will remember. That's what will cause them to want to be your friend.

Be a good friend

Probably the most important element in having a good friend is to be one. Be all the things you wish your friends would be. Review your list of what a good friend is and then work hard at being that person. Good people can't resist wanting to be around other good people. When you make a mistake, apologize and do better next time. Also, be willing to forgive and accept an apology from others. We're all human, and we make mistakes.

Be sure your children know they can come to you and talk about problems with their friends anytime. They need to know you will listen without lecturing, and will love them through their challenges.

Having good friends is an important part of life. We all need them. Helping your children in this part of their young journey in life can be an important part of their education. Take it seriously and help prepare them. Good friends can be a great comfort now and throughout life.

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