By the time kids hit upper elementary, they begin to realize their first major crisis: Friendship.
Kids wonder if they have any friends and if their peers will accept them. To avoid rejection, they consider changing who they are no matter the cost.
This isn’t just something that happens to our fourth and fifth graders. Believe it or not, research is beginning to show that by kindergarten many kids are testing the power of their influence and seeking connections with friends at any cost.
Meaning, there’s a very small window of time where kids can learn how to become friends before they actually have friends. As soon as they become aware there are other people in the world besides themselves, they start making decisions based on the sort of friends they want to attract.
So there’s a bit of a problem. We’re teaching kids how to be friends while they’re already experiencing their first taste of friendship. This would be like training for your first marathon while you’re running it. You might get a lucky mile here and there, but overall the race won’t end well without some serious help.
Here are a few ways you can help your elementary kids develop friendships.
When a child is self-confident, they’re less likely to find identity in their friends. Help them find their identity in who God made them to be. Not in what they can do or who thinks they’re cool.
Widen the circle.
Eventually, parents will face a time when their kids won’t want to talk to them about friendship issues. This is where small groups come into play. Kids need a trusted leader who they can turn to when life gets hard. Encourage SGLs to model friendship in their groups. Cultivate an environment where kids feel like they have a tribe who gets them and likes them. Church should always be a place where kids find friendship.
You can’t influence kids if you don’t understand their point of view. Ask them open-ended questions about what it’s like to be a friend to other kids at school or church. Talk through the issues that come up and give practical suggestions to help solve them. They may even find comfort in hearing other kids’ stories and realizing they’re not alone.
Don’t freak out.
As you create a safe environment where kids can be themselves, they’ll feel comfortable opening up about what’s happening with friendships at home or school. They may tell you something that makes you want to run screaming to their parents. But here’s the thing. Every time they tell you something like that, they’re wondering how you’ll respond. Responding with grace and truth without freaking out will build trust. That trust will encourage them to come to you the next time they’re facing something difficult.