Teaching kids to be good friends

by Brittany Gilbert

Being a good friend isn’t something we are born knowing how to do. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

We are born with a self-preservation mode to look out for ourselves. This isn’t a bad trait to have; it keeps us alive. It also means some other traits need to be learned. As toddlers and preschoolers, kids are naturally ego-centric. It’s all about me, me, me. They approach everything wondering what they will get out of the situation. Unfortunately, this doesn’t translate well in relationships.

As teenagers and adults, we tend to gravitate toward the friends who listen and share in our joys and struggles. Likewise, we avoid those who lack balance and make everything about themselves. Kids have to learn somewhere along the way what it takes to make a good friend because by nature it goes against their default setting.

As parents, we need to start by modeling friendship for our kids. After all, their first friendship is with their family. When they’re little, we dote on them all the time. We want to know how they’re feeling, what they did during the day, what they’re playing, reading, etc. There’s nothing wrong with this, it shows we care about our children, but it also creates a one-sided situation. We want to know all about them and we give them a platform to share their thoughts and feelings constantly. It’s easy to see how this translates in to their peer friendships.

One easy way to model friendship is at the dinner table. Take time going around the table and everyone getting a chance to talk about their day.

I wanted more thoughts on this, so I asked a friend, Melissa Tyler, who is not only a great friend to me, but her children are also great friends to those they meet. I love what she had to say about modeling friendship for her kids. “Kids are going to take in and emulate more of what they see than what you tell them,” she said. “If you are talking bad about someone in front of your kids or being selfish with your things and not sharing or not going outside of your busy schedule to help someone, then how can you expect your kids to know what it looks like to be a good friend?” This is an excellent point that is beneficial not just for kids, but also for adults. Strengthening adult friendships will encourage your kids to be good friends.

Teach kids how to handle conflict. I was amazed when I heard a friend say she praised her child for hitting another child who cut in line. There is a better way! In the Tyler family, one way they approach conflict is by putting others first. “It’s a biblical principle,” Melissa said, and it isn’t always easy, but it pays off.

Melissa and her husband also want their kids to show compassion to others, even when other children aren’t being good friends. She wants them to put themselves in the other child’s shoes and try to consider why they aren’t making good choices and being a good friend. “What if someone hasn’t taught them how to be a good friend? We need to be like Jesus and have compassion and grace.”

Use teachable moments. Even when watching TV, Melissa says they try to avoid shows where they know the characters do not act as good friends. In both good and bad moments, those that either reflect their values or not, they point it out and discuss with their children if the right choices were made or what they could do differently. They make sure to point out when their child is being a good friend, especially if it was hard. If a friend comes over to play with one of her children and they offer their friend their favorite toy, Melissa said she would say something like “look, you made their day better” as a way to encourage them in being a good friend.

Whenever I need help or encouragement, it helps to look at examples of families that are doing it well and their children model the values that are also important in your family. Don’t be afraid to reach out to friends and other parents with children who are grown in order to gain wisdom and insight.

“The ultimate reason we are a good friend is because God calls us to be a good friend,” Melissa said. “It isn’t to be popular or because we expect something in return. We do it because it’s the right thing to do. We show God’s love to others whenever we are good friends.”


Brittany Gilbert is a former FACS teacher at Maumelle High School. She and her husband, Levi, have two sons and a daughter and live in Conway. Brittany can be reached at [email protected].