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Mark Hutten, M.A.
Re: Helping Your Child to Choose the Right Friends

How can I help my son choose the right friends?

Between the ages of 5 and 12, making friends is one of the most important missions of middle childhood - a social skill
that will endure throughout their lives. Developmentally, school-age kids are ready to form more complex relationships.
They become increasingly able to communicate both their feelings and their ideas, and they can better understand
concepts of time- - past, present, and future. At this age they are no longer so bound to the family or so concerned
mostly about themselves but begin relying on peers for companionship, spending more time with buddies than they did
during the preschool years. Day by day they share with one another the pleasures and frustrations of childhood.
Choosing friends—

A number of factors can come into play as your
youngster selects his buddies. If he fools good about
himself, and if he has been loved and respected within
the family, he is more likely to make good choices of
friends. If you and your spouse relate to each other well,
and if your youngster has caring and supportive
relationships with his brothers and sisters, he will have
seen and experienced positive examples of how people
can relate, and he will carry these impressions over into
his own friendships, including the buddies he chooses.
On the other hand, if those family experiences have not
been supportive and confidence-boosting, he is likely to
seek out peers who have similar types of troubles.
Take some time to help your youngster understand why he chooses the buddies he does. This is an opportunity to
discuss his values, feelings, and behaviors.

Healthy friendships—

A healthy friendship is one in which both kids are on an equal footing. Neither youngster should dominate the other to
make all the decisions on what activities to pursue. They should share and make an effort to please each other. They
should also be capable of problem-solving on their own: If one boy wants to play with a particular toy that belongs to
his buddy, they will probably work out a time schedule so that each can have a turn. Or they might devise alternative
activities that they can do together.

Language skills are essential for building and solidifying a good friendship. During middle childhood, buddies learn to
communicate clearly with one another, sharing secrets, stories, feelings, and jokes. Kids with language or speech
problems often have difficulty making friends, frequently using inappropriate words and missing out on subtle
messages and cues - verbal as well as nonverbal - from their peers.
A "best" friend—

In middle childhood some youngsters concentrate their social
activity on a single best buddy. In these relationships kids
usually match themselves with someone with whom they feel
completely compatible, someone who is capable of meeting
their needs for companionship, approval, and security.

These can be wonderful friendships, the kind that seem
as though they will last a lifetime - sometimes they actually
do. Even though moms and dads often worry that exclusive
friendships can be confining and stifling, and that their child
has too much invested in this single relationship, most
experts disagree. Sharing experiences, thoughts, and
feelings with one special pal can often be more satisfying
than spending time with a large group, as long as these two
buddies are having a positive influence on each other and
are not excluding themselves from a broad range of
experiences.
Negative peer influences—

Dealing with negative peer influences is a challenge, but there are solutions. Some moms and dads may demand that
their own youngster stop spending time with this "bad influence," but this may not be the best strategy. In most cases a
better strategy is to reinforce positive friendships with other kids whose behavior and values meet with your approval.
Encourage your youngster to invite these kids over to your house to play. Arrange activities that are somewhat
structured, mutually enjoyable, and time-limited, such as bowling, bicycling, or watching a sporting event.

At the same time, do not hesitate to express your displeasure over the less desirable playmates. Speak calmly and
rationally when you explain why you would prefer that your youngster not spend time with them. Let him know the
consequences if he ends up adopting the unacceptable behavior that you have seen in these other kids, while still not
absolutely forbidding him to play with them. This approach will teach your youngster to think more logically and assume
responsibility of his actions, and show that you trust his growing capacity to make the right decisions.