Dear Dr. Robyn,
My child tends to be very trusting of her friends even when they don’t deserve the trust she gives to them…How can I teach her to be more discerning about her friendships and the people she trusts? — Cathy M, Seattle, WA
For many children, the desire to connect with their peers is joined by trusting too quickly. Telling secrets, investing time and
expecting promises to be fulfilled can be met with disappointment when the friendship is not founded on trust. When I present to parents, teachers or students about friendship I say; “Trust respected is a friendship protected.” In other words, without trust, friendships are vulnerable to deceit and regret.
How can we teach our children to be discerning about friendships?
(1) Ask them to define friendship: What words come to mind when you think of a good friend? Fun? Encouraging? Trustworthy? Helpful? Use these words to create a personal definition of friendship.
(2) Ask them how well their top friends adhere to their definition of a good friend: So if their words are “encouraging, trustworthy and fun,” how (and how well) do the people they deem “great friends” show these qualities?
(3) Determine if time together is toxic or beneficial: When your children are with their top friends, does the experience leave them feeling valued and good or frustrated and deflated? If your children come away with negative feelings each time they are with certain friends, that friendship may be toxic.
(4) Encourage discussion: If your children notice a negative pattern with a certain friend, encourage your children to talk, with kindness and candor, with the friend in question. You might teach them to say; “I like you and value our friendship. Lately, when we are together, you say mean things about my other friends. You don’t have to like them but I would like you to stop saying mean things about them. It makes me feel bad.”
(5) Teach that it’s OK to let go: Sometimes, friendships aren’t meant to be. When a peer consistently shows him/herself as a bad friend, it may be time to cut ties. Teach your child that it can be difficult but healthy to let go.
Here’s to your success!