Like adults, children imitate those who they spend the most time with. That is why it is important that their friends are good influences who have their best interests in mind.
Studies show that children who make wholesome friends are more inclined to mimic their positive behavior while associating with a negative peer group can increase risky behaviors.
As a loving parent, you want your children to make good friends and have positive experiences in their school years. Unfortunately, not all the friends they make in school are going to be the right choice. You would never want your child to associate with bullies, troublemakers, or disrespectful students.
Instead, you want your children to have associates who are a good influence, who show respect, and make your children feel good about themselves. Here are three ways to help your child navigate challenging peer relationships and turn bad friends into good ones.
- Get involved by helping your child make good friendships
The number one piece of parenting advice when it comes to helping children with peer relationships is to get involved. This is especially easy when your child is still young.
You may find it helpful to set up playdates for your children. This way you have the choice of who your child is spending their time. Look for children with good qualities like honesty and a sense of humor.
Do not expect to put two children in the same room and expect them to become best friends. You will want to make sure they have something in common with your little one before setting up a get-together.
Here are some great parenting tips to remember once you’ve decided to get involved with your child’s social life.
- Plan for Brief Playtime. When planning play dates, it is a good idea to keep the group of children small, only inviting one or two children over at a time. This will give the children a better opportunity to get to know one another one-on-one and give you a better view of whether that child will truly be a positive peer relationship for your little one.
- Keep social interactions short. Of course, you can use your own judgement for this one, but a shorter playdate puts less stress on your child to make friends.
An hour or two is plenty of time for kids to get to know one another. It’s always better to have a great adventure be short than to let the experience overstay its welcome. The better the experience is for your child the more they will want to repeat the interaction.
- Pay attention to social media. As your children get older, another great way to stay involved with their peer relationships is to monitor their social media accounts. Of course, use good judgement respecting your child’s privacy, but also remember that bad influences and dangerous situations commonly lurk online.
Going through your child’s online friends’ list while they are sitting with you is a great compromise for respecting their space while remaining fair.
This way you can ask whether they know that friend in real life, if that person is a good influence, or if they are having any trouble with social groups online. This also gives your child an opportunity to reason why they should be allowed to keep certain online friendships.
- Deal with bad friendships and challenging peer relationships
A challenging peer relationship is someone who is giving your child trouble, such as a bully, an ex, or someone who is a bad influence on your child. Perhaps this friend enjoys drinking, recreational drugs, steals, or regularly practices dishonesty.
Bad peer relationships are also considered to be a friend who a child relies on to fill a “void” in their home life, thereby following what their friend says over parental instruction. Here is some great parenting advice for keeping bad friends out of your kid’s lives.
- Let them know what makes a good friend. Remind them that a good friend is trustworthy, has empathy, is not judgmental, is a good listener, and is overall a fun and dependable person.
- Watch your words. When a child is younger, you can easily squash bad friendships by simply not inviting the negative influence over any longer. However, as children grow into their teenage years they will be more likely to push back. They may defend their friend or be unwilling to end the relationship.
For this reason, it is important that as children get older you go about counseling their friendships in a different way. Do not speak badly of their friends or announce your dislike of them, as this may open up a terrifying Romeo and Juliet-type situation.
- Ask open-ended questions. Ask your child how they feel when they are around this negative or challenging peer.
Do they feel good after a social interaction? Do they feel pressure to be someone they are not? Do they find themselves participating in questionable behavior? Asking these questions will draw your child out and let them realize for themselves that this person may not be a good influence.
- Connect as a Family
The best piece of parenting advice regarding helping children navigate challenging peer relationships is to spend time together as a family.
Children who have solid home lives with married parents feel more confident and capable of saying no to potentially harmful situations. This is because they know they have a support system waiting for them, no matter what else is going on in their lives.
Here are some excellent ways to connect as a family.
- Create a weekly family night. This may sound old-school, but studies show that a weekly game night can actually have a positive influence on your child. For younger children especially, weekly games played with families can actually help improve motor skills, aid in problem-solving, improve grades and brain function, as well as bond you closer as a family.
- Encourage communication. Weekly family time is also a great opportunity to connect and build communication between parent and child. The closer your child is to you, the more likely they are to open up about any challenging peer situations they are dealing with. This gives you better insight as a parent on how best to help your child navigate friendships.
- Set a good example. Another great piece of parenting advice is to have your own friends over regularly and encourage your child to spend time with the adults. This way your kids will be able to see first-hand what good friendships are all about: people who care about one another and enjoy each other’s company.
- Communicate. Some essential parenting advice for steering your children toward beneficial friendships is to keep your lines of communication open with your young ones. Encourage your children to talk to you, teach them what makes a good friend, lead by example, and step in when necessary.
Don’t let your children be poorly influenced by negative peers. By following these three steps you’ll ensure your children are capable of fostering positive friendships well into their adult years.