Have you asked your children why they don’t have more friends? Or, are you concerned they have too many? Have you questioned their choice in friends? Have you had to pick up the pieces when they’re broken by how some “friends” treat them?

Many parents and educators are concerned about children’s relationships and how children treat their peers. Rather than listing the reasons here, since you probably have your own, let’s look at some solutions.

Understanding friendship skills increases the likelihood that relationships and friendships will be healthier. This means belonging, the third of five core needs, will be healthier. In last Monday’s blog, I explained its value and shared some ideas for meeting the need in healthy ways.

When you take the time to talk with your children and teach core principles of friendship to them, your children will also have healthier security and identity. If you take the time to read those two blogs, I believe you’ll see what I mean.

Friendship Skills

As you read this list, reflect on which ones you could improve. Relationships are complicated for adults, too. Ask yourself whether you’re modeling what you conclude your children would benefit from. And, then ask how you can talk about and teach these skills. We can’t just tell them; we must teach them during teachable moments on an ongoing basis and during planned opportunities over meals and car rides.


Children can be friendly to everyone, without being friends with everyone. Friendliness is a reflection of personal character shown through kindness, acceptance, and respect toward anyone you meet. Being friends should be a privilege that develops as a result of common interests, mutual likes and dislikes, similar goals and values, and positive character qualities consistently demonstrated in various situations with many different people. This is only possible when children know who they are and who they want to be.

Teenagers and mature children can learn to be friends even with those they disagree with and are different from. If we don’t help children believe and embrace this, many of the problems we’re noticing in our country and culture are likely to continue.

Discourage children from connecting through weaknesses. These friendships are almost always unhealthy and often increase negative behaviors. This is a main reason children must know their strengths while being humble about them. This is also why identity comes before belonging in the pyramid of our five core needs.

Choosing Friends

Friendships develop over the course of time. A true friend is willing to spend time getting to know the other’s character, likes and dislikes, values, and goals. Some young people open their hearts way too quickly, before they know if someone is trustworthy and mature.

It can help to talk with your children about “public information” and “private information.” “Public” is what can be learned by simply watching you. “Private” is how you feel about and respond to life’s situations. For example, the fact that your parents are divorced may be public information; the reasons for the divorce, how you feel about it, and the way your home life has changed because of it are private information. If children don’t take time to learn if a person is trustworthy, they might share private information too soon and be hurt if it’s used against them.

We’ve identified six relationship levels to teach children. For example, many want close friends and may not understand they have to start by looking to see who they’re acquainted with from school and other places. Then, by appropriately investing time with them, they’ll know whether to continue getting to know them or if they should move on to someone else.

  • Acquaintance – A person you “know about” from school, church, teams, or the neighborhood.
  • Attraction – This person’s personality has attracted your attention and you’d like to get to know him/her better.
  • Casual – There’s no personal investment yet. You’re simply observing behavior in order to learn his/her character.
  • Close – You’ve learned you can trust each other so you begin to share more about your feelings and values.
  • Intimate/Transparent – This level is not about physical intimacy, but trusting someone with who you really are – your true inner self.
  • Mature – Trust has been earned and you’re both willing to work through conflicts in ways that preserve and deepen your friendship.

Skillful Communication

Clear communication lets us represent ourselves well while learning more about others. Important skills include making introductions, speaking clearly and respectfully while maintaining eye contact, listening well, asking appropriate questions without interrupting, avoiding gossip and flattery, not multitasking with technology or in other ways without permission, and including others in group conversations.

Relationship Maintenance

Authentic friendships take time and energy to develop. This includes face-to-face time. Authentic friends have integrity, keep confidences, and deal with conflicts when they occur. They help others achieve their goals, give them space to develop their own interests, and respect physical, emotional, relational, and moral boundaries. They also learn to recognize whether a difference is based on something minor (likes/dislikes) or major (morals/ethics).

Conflict Resolution

Healthy, authentic relationships grow and flourish when friends resolve issues in positive ways, rather than fighting. (Resolution implies a respectful, mutually beneficial outcome; fighting implies a winner and a loser.) To avoid a fight, friends will confront an issue sooner rather than later, deal with attitudes involved and not just behaviors, and learn to make and accept sincere apologies.

Ending Relationships When Necessary

Not every relationship works out the way we want it to. It’s healthy and mature to end a friendship that’s emotionally or physically harmful to you or the other person. Children need guidance in determining what character qualities are non-negotiable and what behaviors, attitudes, and/or values are unacceptable for the relationships they will develop. Should a friend (at any level) consistently demonstrate those behaviors, attitudes, or values, it is appropriate to change the relationship and the amount of time and energy being invested in it. This should be done respectfully, leaving the door open to reconciliation should positive change occur. They may need or want to take someone with them when wanting to end or take a break from a friendship. Be available.


What do you think? Would investing time with children discussing these skill categories be beneficial? Watch and listen to determine which one to start with and which point I list to bring up first. Then, keep going….keep the conversation alive. Children will learn that you understand relationships are tricky and sometimes complex. This will help them feel safe to admit their struggles and ask questions.

** I am very grateful to Denice Crawford, a former staff member who worked hard with Nancy Matheis and me to develop explanations of these skills. Many of the words in today’s blog are hers.

[callout]All children and adults have been created by God with five core needs that must be met. In addition to reading my many blogs on this topic, my book, Finding Authentic Hope and Wholeness, explains them in detail.[/callout]